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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

War report: Israel's air force scored with intel, drone support; 'Hamas is not Hizubllah'

WASHINGTON — The Israel Air Force has achieved significant gains in the war against the Hamas regime, according to an assessment of the conflict.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies said the Israeli air force combined manned and unmanned aircraft to target and strike Hamas operatives and facilities throughout the Gaza Strip, Middle East Newsline reported.

The Washington-based center, said to be close to members of the incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama, said the air force has eroded much of the Hamas command.

"One should not underestimate Israeli success in purely military terms," the CSIS report, titled "The Fighting in Gaza: How Does It End?" said. "The IAF flew roughly 150 sorties on December 27, the first day, and over 100 the next three days. Hamas quickly dispersed both its personnel and weapons and equipment, but the IAF has continued to have excellent targeting support from its unmanned aerial vehicles and other technical intelligence assets, and support from anti-Hamas elements inside and outside of Gaza."

[On Jan. 8, at least two Katyusha rockets were fired from Lebanon into Israel, injuring two Israelis. Israel responded with mortar fire toward unspecified positions in southern Lebanon.]

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The report, authored by former Defense Department official Anthony Cordesman, said Israeli air strikes have eroded Hamas's military command. Cordesman cited such air force targets as Hamas weapons tunnels, shelters and other facilities.

"The IAF may not be able to find and hit every target, and some tunnels and sheltered areas, but Hamas has clearly lost some key leaders and is losing most of its key facilities and much of its equipment," the report said. "It may be able to fire limited numbers of rockets indefinitely into the future, but it will lose a significant amount of its weapons, as well as its training facilities and communications facilities."

Cordesman said Hamas has failed to reach the military capabilities of the Iranian-sponsored Hizbullah. The report said Hamas does not have the training, experience or the equipment of the Lebanese-based militia.

"Hamas is not Hizbullah," the report said. "It has not fought the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] for years. Its forces are limited in training and experience, and do not seem to have had anything like Hizbullah's access to the more modern and lethal manportable and crew served weapons -- although it may well have some anti-tank guided weapon and manportable surface to air missiles in reserve."

CSIS determined that the Israeli military could quickly overpower Hamas in urban strongholds in the Gaza Strip. The report cited the lack of a Hamas military infrastructure, hampered by the refusal of the rival Fatah movement to battle Israel.

"For all of the talk about the difficulties of house-to-house fighting, it is important to note that most urban combat is over quickly unless both sides have extensive combat equipment and support capabilities, and that insurgent defenders generally take massive losses relative to the attacker," the report said. "Hamas may inflict casualties in a few clashes, but it also has not yet demonstrated that it can bring together any kind of broad Palestinian resistance that has any effectiveness."

Cordesman said the Israel Army would not be required to attack all Hamas strongholds. He said the Israeli military could rely on the air force to flatten suspected Hamas facilities in urban areas.

"It [Israeli military] can secure and isolate such strongpoints, attack only those strongpoints that have key value, and use airpower instead of house-to-house fighting," the report said. "The problems the IDF faces because it was committed to a static war against far better defended areas long the Israeli-Lebanese border do not apply in Gaza, and Israel has had two years in which to retrain and improve its capabilities for joint warfare. Unless its political leadership repeats the mistakes of 2006, it does not need to fight the wrong kind of urban warfare."

Still, Cordesman appeared to dismiss the prospect that Israel's military would stabilize the Gaza Strip. Regarded as a leading U.S. defense analyst, Cordesman doubted whether the military would defeat Hamas or its insurgency allies.

"While no one should judge the outcome of any clash or series of battles before they are over, the more serious question will be whether IDF tactical successes have lasting strategic value, and produce any kind of stable political outcome," the report said.

"The deafening silence of the Israeli government in describing the broader goals behind Israel's operations raise much more serious questions here than its military operations to date. It seems very unlikely, however, that any amount of Israeli tactical success can — by itself — bring an end to the war process."

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