By Ze’ev Schiff The two operational successes notched by Hamas in the Gaza Strip have left the organization with a sense of victory that it hasn’t felt for a long time, if ever. Hamas’s sense of pride allows the organization to claim, for the first time, that it resembles Hezbollah in its fight against Israel. At the same time, it allows the organization to perhaps feel that over the past two days it has managed to avenge the assassinations of its leaders, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz Rantisi, and rid itself of its failure until now to carry out strikes within Israel, as it promised on numerous occasions. From the point of view of the Israel Defense Forces and Israel, there is another question that the public wants answered: Were the two brutal incidents that took the lives of 11 soldiers random, or are they indicative perhaps of a severe operational fault? The truth is, a third incident can be added to these two: the ambush carried out against the IDF by Hezbollah in the Har Dov area Friday night that left one soldier dead, with the enemy sustaining no casualties. It appears, from an operational point of view, that we are dealing with two incidents that took place in the Gaza Strip as two separate events. They were two successes for the enemy and failures for the IDF. They remind one of the blowing up of Merkava tanks last year by large explosive devices in the Gaza Strip, which also inflicted heavy casualties. One incident followed another, with each involving some kind of a mistake on the part of the forces hit in the attacks.
There is the question, for example, of why there is a need to keep dozens of kilograms of explosives in armored personnel carriers, which are very vulnerable to the firing of rocket-propelled grenades and large roadside bombs. The APCs are not immune to such attacks, and this has been known for a long time, even since the time of the Yom Kippur War. One should not conclude from this that there is no need for the APCs, but it is clear that carrying large quantities of explosives in such vehicles only increases the damage and human cost in the event they are attacked. The decision to hold onto the Philadelphi Route even after the implementation of the unilateral disengagement plan devised by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is a decision of strategic significance; but it also has operational implications. Clearly holding on to the area following a withdrawal will be more difficult because of its very narrow nature. The IDF has demolished dozens of Palestinian homes in the area over the years. It is clear that whoever wishes to hold the Philadelphi Route after the disengagement will have to come to a decision to widen it, i.e., to demolish more Palestinian homes in Rafah. Palestinian public opinion is of course pleased with Hamas’s successes, but there is also concern about the possibility of harsh Israeli responses that will affect numerous Palestinian civilians. The fighting in the Strip is turning the area into a large no-man’s land. Under the current conditions, with no one around to intervene and mediate, the no-man’s land is getting wider and deeper, and with it comes more bloodshed.