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Massive Israeli air strikes in Gaza open Operation Lead Cast against Hamas

By David Eshel

IAF Air Strikes Destroy Palestinian Tunnels Under the Gaza-Rafah Border Line

The Israeli Air Force continues to demonstrate high precision attack, based on superior intelligence collected despite the Israeli disengagement from Gaza in 2005. In an air raid that lasted only four minutes the IAF attacked today about 40 supply tunnels dug underneath the Gaza-Rafah border with Egypt, which was the only available supply line serving the besieged Gaza economy. Although hundreds of active tunnels are known to be operating in the Rafah area, targeting this essential supply line has a psychological effect on the Palestinians, already hard hit after yesterday's air strikes. The IDF experimented engaging palestinian tunnels with JDAM weapons before the 2005 disengagement. Back then, tunnels were dug deep since the IDF has permanent presence in the area. Therefore, such attacks had marginal effect and posed risk to friendly forces. Apparently, the IAF improved their methods to enable effective destructions of such targets.

The Palestinian retaliated on the Israeli attacks launching rockets over distances never before achieved. SOme 20 rockets were fired on Sunday (December 28, 2008). By morning , five Grad type rockets were launched at targets between Ashdod and Ashkelon, at ranges of about 40 km. From preliminary examinations of the long range rockets retrieved from the sites near Ashdod experts assume one is a new Grad type 122mm rocket modified for extended range of up to 40 km. The other is a standard Grad rocket capable of reaching 35km.

The Israelis are preparing for a long battle, which could also be expanded to ground operations. On Sunday the Israeli government approved mobilization of 6,500 reservists to duty and the home-front command is preparing for emergency conditions, under emergency law declared by the government today.

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Saturday December 27 was one of the bloodiest days of the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak indicated that the battle will be long and difficult, "but the time has come to act and to fight back" Barak said. Overnight, the IAF continued its attacks against weapons caches and suspected rocket firing tems. Other targets attacked overnight included the Hamas television station, but apparently the broadcast continued from a mobile unit.

Israel hammered Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip on Saturday, the first day of operation "Cast Lead", as some 60 Israel Air Force aircraft and helicopters pounded over 50 Hamas military targets in Gaza over the span of just a few minutes, killing at least 280 people and wounding over 600 sins the campaign started by Saturday noon, in retaliation for unprovoked massive rocket attacks by Palestinians, fired against Israeli civilians over the past weeks. Israeli military spokesman Avi Benayahu said some 250 attacks were carried out since the offensive began.

The Palestinians replied with sporadic rocket attacks, totaling over 60 rockets launched at Israeli cities and villages around the Gaza strip, killing a single Israeli man and wounding several others. According to the Associated Press report, one rocket struck close to the largest city in southern Israel, Ashdod, some 23 miles (38 km) from Gaza. It reached almost twice as deep into Israeli territory as ever before and confirmed security officials' concerns that militants are capable of putting major cities within rocket range. According to official military sources in Israel, since the campaign began, more than 110 rockets and mortars have bombarded southern Israel.

Hamas said the strikes destroyed its security structures across Gaza and killed three senior officials - the Gaza police chief, the police commander for central Gaza and the head of the group's bodyguard unit. Israel is expected to continue and pursue top military targets, while political leaders could also be among Israel's hit list. The Israelis are expected to continue their pursuit of Hamas' infrastructure, especially rocket production and storage sites, while hunting down rocket launching teams preparing to launch rockets at Israeli targets. One such team was spotted and terminated before launching its rockets on the evening of the first day of the attack.

Although the Israeli attack was prepared for weeks, careful operational security and a well planned psychological deception campaign left the Palestinians completely surprised, despite their expectance of the incoming attack. Deception tactics employed known tactical limitations, such as weather operational limitations, and extensive and prolonged political deliberation and indecision among the Israeli interim caretaker government, which kept the enemy, and the Israeli public, unsuspicious about the imminent strike.

Today's confrontation came after the final collapse of the Egyptian brokered six-month Israeli-Hamas truce that expired a week ago, on December 19, 2008. The Israeli attacks caught Hamas unprepared, causing severe casualties especially in areas where militants gathered after days of preparations for the Israeli action. Nevertheless, Hamas swiftly responded by firing several almost 60 rockets into the Jewish state, killing one Israeli and wounding several civilians. However, the Israelis are not alluding themselves about their opponent's capabilities, and are preparing themselves to absorb more and heavier hits in the coming days, as operation "Lead Cast" continues. Emergency Martial Law has already been declared by the Home Defense Command covering almost 30 kilometers range of possible rocket strikes.