Israel’s air strikes on Gaza, known as Operation Cast Lead, may have set out to create shock and awe among the Palestinians but the ultimate goal is straightforward, say defence officials.
It is not to topple the Hamas regime or to replace Hamas with Fatah. Instead, the purpose of the operation is to “change the reality in southern Israel” and to make Hamas understand that it is against its interests to launch rockets into Israeli cities.
The way to do this was to shock Hamas by killing hundreds of its operatives and destroying its bases, training camps, weapons warehouses, laboratories and tunnels used for smuggling weapons.
The operation had been in the planning for almost a year. In recent weeks, as Defence Minister Ehud Barak publicly called for restraint, he was putting the finishing touches to the operation intended to set Hamas back several years. He led Hamas to believe an operation was being delayed by opening the Gaza crossings on Thursday and then leaking to the press that the security cabinet would meet on Sunday to discuss the Gaza situation. In reality, the Air Force was arming its jets.
The IDF’s Psychological Warfare Department has also been breaking into radio broadcasts in Gaza to transmit messages to residents that the operations are aimed solely at Hamas and not civilians. Palestinians said they received phone calls to their mobiles and landlines from the IDF and heard a recorded message ordering the immediate evacuation of homes that were next to terror infrastructures or were being used by Hamas.
Israel says it will not stop the operation until it receives assurances from Hamas that there will be no more rocket attacks against the South. Hamas demands that Israel open all the crossings into Gaza as well as the Rafah Crossing into Egypt. Officials said that it was likely that the operation would end in a ceasefire between the two sides, probably mediated by Egypt or a European country.
Until that happens, the IDF will continue trying to inspire shock, awe and surprise.