Gaza War Update: Week Two
Written by David Dolan
With the anticipated Israeli army ground operation now underway in Gaza, I am already getting messages with fervent prayer requests from Israeli friends with sons and brothers and husbands and close friends in harms way. This is the nitty gritty reality of any military conflict in a small country like Israel...everybody knows soldiers directly involved.
I have said publicly since Hamas violently seized control of the Gaza Strip in mid June 2007 (I actually listened to the fighting raging in the distance that day while doing business in Tel Aviv) that the IDF would inevitably have to return to the crowded coastal zone once again to deal with the radical Islamic group that lives and breathes for Israel's ultimate destruction. And so they are doing even now as I write.
Israeli troops did not want to return to Bethlehem or Nablus or Ramallah (Arab cities that they evacuated in late1995 as part of the Oslo peace process) but were forced to do so when Nobel peace prize winner Yasser Arafat allowed them to become hotbeds of terrorist activity (and in the case of Bethlehem, rocket attacks upon southern Jerusalem Jewish neighborhoods, which I vividly recall living near there at the time). With Hamas targeting Israel's thirteenth largest city (Ashkelon) for nearly one year now, and more lately Ashdod (the fifth biggest city, and a major seaport) and now also Beersheva (sixth biggest city with a large university), it became unavoidable that a substantial ground operation to halt the immediate rocket attacks, and, more importantly, to prevent future attacks, was on the horizon. And now it is here...
WHERE ARE WE HEADING?
As the conflict enters a new phase and its second week, I am being asked by friends and acquaintances where I think the fighting is heading. I can only assume that unless Hamas leaders have entirely lost their minds (and they ARE sincerely dedicated to their Islamic-conviction that a Jewish state on land once ruled exclusively by Muslims is a hideous contradiction of their faith) then they had some important strategic reason for firing around 200 rockets into Israeli civilian centers in the days after they ended the Egyptian-mediated ceasefire with Israel on December 19. After all, they must have understood that Israeli government leaders, facing new national elections in February, would have little choice but to respond to such unprovoked attacks on their cities and towns in a significant military fashion.
This begs the question-who might be pushing Hamas to force Israel into a major ground conflict that the radical group says will prove to be a "graveyard" for Israeli soldiers, and could easily spiral into a larger regional conflict? I can only point to Iran, which although a Shiite, non-Arab Middle East country, has become the main external backer of Hamas, along with its surrogate Lebanese Hizbullah militia force, also backed by Iran's main Arab ally, Syria.
Along with some other analysts, I strongly suspect that Iran is attempting to get the Israeli military preoccupied and bloodied with a major conflict involving Hamas and possibly Hizbullah, if not Syria, in order to deflect a very possible Israeli Air Force operation against their internationally condemned nuclear program sometime later this year. If so, we could be witnessing the opening stages of the first major Israeli-Muslim wintertime war.
I well recall that in the mid-1980s, when I was a member of a weekly prayer meeting held at the home of Jerusalem-based author and speaker Lance Lambert, we had an unsolicited "prophecy" sent to us by a woman in Australia. She wrote that the Lord had given her a literal vision of a wintertime conflict that would "set Kuwait on fire." Later she wrote that a good portion of northern Israel would also be engulfed in flames. She actually did not know that Kuwait was a small regional Arab country, but enquired if it might be a kibbutz community in Israel! Well, several years later, in January 1991, Kuwait was indeed literally on fire as hundreds of oil wells and buildings burned out of control in the initial days of the Gulf War to drive Saddam Hussein's occupying Iraqi forces out of that country. While we did receive more than our share of Saddam's Scud missiles, they thankfully did not cause anything like the damage she foresaw in Israel.
While it was remarkable that a portion of this woman's message to us was so precisely fulfilled several years after we received it, we never saw the second part of her reported vision come to pass as the years went by-not that we were eager to do so!!. Of course, the north of Israel did suffer much fiery damage during the Hizbullah rocket blitz of 2006, but it still did not seem to be on the level that she had described. Could it possibly be fulfilled at this time? I have no way of saying of course, but I have always kept it in the back of my mind over the intervening years, thinking a major conflagration involving the Palestinians, Lebanon, and possibly Syria and Iran might indeed take place in the winter months, unlikely as that seemed from a strategic perspective.
However large the currently escalating Gaza Strip conflict becomes-and I naturally hope it remains relatively localized in the Gaza area-it is obviously an excellent opportunity to pray for all the folks in the line of fire, and especially those civilian Arabs who do not long or work for Israel's destruction, and the young Israelis fighting yet again to simply insure that their cities are free of Muslim terror and rocket attacks.
I am in the meantime beginning to file radio news reports on the situation for the American National Public Radio (NPR) network, the country's largest and oldest non-commercial network, and file reports for other network programs as well, and of course write the monthly Israel news updates that you receive via this e mail list. There should sadly be no lack of dramatic news to report on in the coming weeks and months.
DAVID DOLAN is a Jerusalem-based author and journalist who has lived and worked in Israel since 1980.