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by Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant



The Purpose of the IDF Southern Command

This is an opportunity to describe professionally the situation in the Southern Command, with a focus on the issue of Palestinian terror in Gaza. The purpose of the Southern Command is to defend the sovereignty and the borders of Israel in the south and to protect the lives of its civilians. There are five major tasks: to plan and command a military campaign in case of an emergency in the south; to combat the terror infrastructure; to deter the enemy and to provide early warning; to command the IDF forces stationed in or assigned to the south; and, finally, to reinforce and develop southern Israel and the Negev region as part of the Israeli national mission.

Over the last few years in the south we have seen the global Islamic Jihad acting against all the countries in the area, including Israel, which gives us a certain common interest.

New Terror Threats

Disengagement caused the terror organizations to turn to new terror methods such as Kassam rockets, tunnels, and crossing over from Gaza to Sinai and then into Israel's Negev, as happened in January 2007 with a suicide bomber in Eilat. Egypt's Sinai Desert is three times larger than all of Israel and global terror organizations and Palestinian terror organizations are able to carry out attacks from its territory.

Cooperation among Hamas, Iran, Hizballah, and other global terror organizations creates a knowledge base and enhances motivation, which is helping Hamas. In Gaza, there is high motivation to hit Israel, and there are many people with military and operational experience, who are in contact with the outside world, especially with Iran, and receive backing and know-how, ammunition, and explosives.

All of the various factions in Gaza are acquiring more terror infrastructure. Rocket launchings toward Ashkelon, Sderot, and other places is a daily occurrence, averaging 50 to 60 rockets per month, or almost two a day. Attacks along the security fence continue. They try to bypass the fence by digging tunnels. No one can detect a tunnel twenty meters under the ground. They are also trying to infiltrate into Israel through the fence, without success, but now they have the 200 km. border between Sinai and Israel available to them. Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees are making great efforts to infiltrate suicide bombers into Israel. Hamas is not active right now, but it is ready to attack at a moment's notice.

The Palestinians Made a Choice

According to Israel's estimation, Gaza will remain unstable because of certain basic factors having to do with population, territory, and resources. The population in Gaza is around a million and a quarter. The birth rate has decreased a little but so has the mortality rate, thanks to the Israeli medical system. Most people in Gaza are under the age of twenty (approximately 60 percent). The average per capita income in Gaza is about $800 a year (five percent of Israel's). This, together with an uncertain civilian infrastructure, creates an unstable situation.

The demography is part of the life of the Palestinians. The economy is something that the world can help with. The ideology is the Palestinians' choice. They choose to follow Hamas and this is part of the problem.

Israel left Gaza almost two years ago, and the Palestinians were left with natural gas, greenhouses, and fields. In other words, they had the option to take another route. However, they chose the terror route and elected Hamas, which does not recognize Israel or any agreements signed with the Palestinians at Oslo and afterwards.

Hamas' leaders may give up using terror temporarily, and will compromise about the Palestinian government, but they will never give up their ideology. Knowing this helps Israel understand that even though a ceasefire cuts down on terror, it does not create a solution to the problem, since it is only temporary.

The Palestinians in Gaza are well organized in four brigades: the northern brigade, the Gaza City brigade, the central brigade, and the southern brigade, each with its own commander. They have battalions, companies, and platoons, as well as special forces dealing with sniping, infantry, explosives, and anti-tank weapons. All the know-how is brought in from abroad -- from Iran, Syria, and Hizbullah, and everything is following a plan. This is an organization with leadership, a doctrine, structure, training, weaponry, manpower, and a goal -- to establish a serious military force in Gaza.

The Iranian Factor

The source of most of the knowledge of using mines, explosives, and anti-tank missiles is Iran, which is influencing Iraq, Lebanon, and Gaza. It is now possible for terrorists to move freely between Gaza and Egypt, and from there to Syria, Lebanon, and Iran for training. Iranians also come to Gaza to inspect the situation and hold training exercises. The Iranians are using whatever they can in order to attack the West, and this is a major change in the situation in the region.

Fatah's Al Aqsa Brigade is already an Iranian organization similar to Islamic Jihad. This has occurred because the Iranians understood that it was easy to connect with its members, even though they are Sunni and not radical Muslims. This is where money makes the difference. A few years ago, the Al Aqsa Brigade in Judea and Samaria was bought out by Iran and activated against Israel according to Iranian instructions.

All the terrorists groups are not the same and have major problems among themselves, but right now they have a common goal -- to push Israel, as well as the Americans, from the area.

The Fight Against Palestinian Terror

Fighting terrorism is unlike a regular war when the more power you use, the better. Fighting terror that takes cover among the civilian population requires accuracy so as to hit only the terrorists. This means that Israel is not using its full potential in the fighting because this is our law and our moral system, and because it would not be in Israel's best interests to do otherwise.

Hamas understands that Israel has many military advantages, and most of them are connected to technology, determination, understanding of the situation, and fighting under night conditions. Hamas, an Iranian proxy, is trying to close the gap through explosives and missiles which can penetrate tanks and armored vehicles.

Israel has a stable peace agreement with Egypt and is working with the Egyptians to find solutions to tactical problems, including infiltration from Sinai into Israel. Sooner or later Israel will create physical obstacles along the border with Egypt, but that will take a few years.

There are more armed Fatah people than armed Hamas people in Gaza, including the so-called Palestinian security organizations, but this does not mean they will defeat Hamas. Right now, the determination and the organization is found on the side of Hamas. It is not up to the West, including the American and the Israelis, to decide the result of such a struggle. If Fatah decides it wants to take over, it will succeed.

Hamas is using the current informal ceasefire as an opportunity to build up its power. Currently, Israel prefers to give the ceasefire a chance and, at the same time, to prepare for war.

Hamas has imported 30 tons of explosives into Gaza during the last year and it is not for use against Fatah, but rather against Israel. They think that Israel will be deterred by their capabilities, but Israel will be able to deal with the situation.

Since the disengagement there have been more than 2,000 rocket attacks, most of them Kassam rockets. There have been almost 300 attacks using explosives. This is the Palestinian terror answer to the Israeli disengagement, which gave over to the Palestinians the responsibility for their future. They decided against peace -- and Israel is defending itself.

Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant was appointed Head of the IDF Southern Command in 2005, after serving as Military Secretary to Prime Minister Sharon. He also served as Head of the Gaza Division, and as Head of the Naval Commando Unit. This article was published as a Jerusalem Issue Brief -- Vol. 6, No.28 -- 19 April 2007 -- by the Institute for Contemporary Affairs. It is archived at: 111&FID=443&PID=0&IID=1549&TTL=The_Strategic_Challenge_of_Gaza Contact JCPA


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