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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Hamas undeterred, building back its arsenal, command structure

WASHINGTON — Israel, despite punishing air strikes on the Gaza Strip, failed to deter the Hamas regime, a U.S. report said.   

Meanwhile, the Hamas regime has pledged to launch an immediate effort to rearm its military.

The Hamas military said its losses in the 22-day war with Israel did not significantly damage either the command structure or weapons production facilities. The military said the rearmament would be largely through smuggling of missiles, rockets and other weapons from neighboring Egypt.

"We in the Al Kassam Brigades hereby confirm that our rocket capabilities have not been affected," Hamas military spokesman Abu Obeida said. "We hereby stress that our rockets are being developed and are accumulating."

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The Foreign Policy Research Institute said the Israeli government goal to deter Hamas from attacking the Jewish state was either misguided or mendacious. In a report by Michael Radu, co-chair of the institute's Center on Terrorism, Counterterrorism, and Homeland Security, Hamas and other terrorist groups were said to be incapable of being deterred by conventional militaries.

"The very concept of deterrence is based on a number of premises, none of which applies to Hamas or any other religion-based terror group," the report, titled "Gaza Conflict: Deterrence and Other Missed Points," said. "The first is that the Hamas leaders actually care about and/or fear for their lives and those of their families — hence that they will 'deal' if in personal peril. That is a doubtful assumption."

Radu, author of a recent book on insurgency groups, cited Hamas cleric Nazar Rayan. He said Rayan refused to leave his home in the Jabalya refugee camp outside Gaza City despite an Israeli warning of an imminent air strike. In the end, Rayan and his family were killed.

"When terrorist leaders care little about their own lives, it should be no surprise that they care even less about those of 'civilians,'" the report said.

The report dismissed the repeated statements by the government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that a key goal of Operation Cast Lead, the military attack on the Gaza Strip, was to deter Hamas from missile attacks on the Jewish state. Radu said Olmert as well as Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni know that Hamas nor any other group deemed terrorist could be deterred.

"If they mean it — and that is still unclear — they are dangerously misguided and misleading their public," the report said. "Moreover, they are sending Israeli soldiers to their deaths for an illusory goal."

Radu compared Hamas and other groups deemed terrorist to the Soviet Union under Josef Stalin or the Nazi Party under Adolf Hitler. He said Hamas was a totalitarian regime that maintained complete control over Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, and used them as human shields.

"Hamas also understands, as the UN people in Gaza — not to mention the emotional and irrational crowds demonstrating in London, San Francisco, or Paris -- do not, that the very concept of 'civilians' is largely meaningless," the report said. "Certainly some women, and all infants, are innocent victims of the conflict. But Hamas successfully makes all women and all 'children' victims, knowing that the sob sisters/brothers of the West accept this for their own reasons. Those reasons may vary, from cultural anti-Americanism, historic anti-Semitism, or the peculiar European adoration of everything Third World."

Radu said the Olmert government's refusal to destroy the Hamas regime resulted in the death of both Israeli soldiers as well as Gaza civilians. He said the Israeli elite is "more Western than is good for them or their people."

"The implicit message of the Israeli officials' claim that 'regime change' in Gaza is not an objective of Operation Cast Lead is problematic," the report said. "If sincere, Tel Aviv is wasting lives — Jewish and Palestinian — for very short-term success. If not, the problem is worse, because it only creates confusion — in Israel, among Palestinians, and elsewhere. As it is now, Israel's claim that the goal is not Hamas' removal from power in Gaza is either dishonest, a PR statement, or delusional."

The report said Hamas must be destroyed as the first step toward stability in the Gaza Strip. Radu said this must be followed by the return of the Palestinian Authority, which he acknowledged could renew civil war in the Gaza Strip.

"The destruction of Hamas' military/terror capabilities would make it unattractive to Gazans, who like winners — if they kill Israelis," the report said. "Anything else would convince most Gazans, who are always ready to be convinced, that Hamas is the way to go, electorally or practically. If Israel and those who truly seek calm in the Middle East in the long-term are serious, they should support the total military defeat of Hamas, rather than spill tears over the loss of 'civilians.'"

[On Jan. 20, Hamas renewed mortar and missile fire toward Israel. At least two projectiles landed in Israel's Negev desert. There was no immediate Israeli military response.]

Hamas said it fired about 980 missiles, mortars and rockets during the war with Israel. Abu Obeida said Hamas launched 354 Kassam-class, short-range missiles, 213 BM-21 Grad rockets and 422 mortar shells. He said Hamas also fired 98 anti-tank missiles toward Israeli military vehicles.

At a Jan. 19 news conference, Abu Obeida said Hamas destroyed or damaged 47 Israeli main battle tanks, armored personnel carriers and bulldozers and struck four helicopters and an unmanned aerial vehicle. The UAV was said to have been downed. Israel has not confirmed any of these details.

"We stress to the entire world — in accurate and credible words — that whatever military capabilities we lost in this war were extremely insignificant," Abu Obeida said. "And we have already restored most of what we lost in the war, even before the war ended."

"Bringing in pure weapons and manufacturing resistance weapons is our mission," he added. "We know very well how to obtain weapons."

Hamas's military reported 48 casualties in Israel's invasion of the Gaza Strip. The Israeli military has assessed that at least 500 Hamas and Palestinian militia fighters were killed in Operation Cast Lead.

Islamic Jihad reported 34 casualties; Fatah, 37; Popular Resistance Committees, 17, and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine 13.

Abu Obeida, whose face was covered, said Hamas struck Israeli strategic facilities during the war. He would not elaborate.

"The enemy is still silent about the sensitive targets that we shelled in retaliation for this criminal war, targets that were hit for the first time in the history of the Zionist entity," Abu Obeida said.

Hamas officials said the regime was stunned by the massive strike by the Israel Air Force on Dec. 27, which targeted several cities in the Gaza Strip. But they said Hamas's military recovered within a day and organized missile strikes and other operations.

"On the first day we were quite shocked, especially because they didn't battle the fighters," Hamas Interior Ministry spokesman Ihab Hussein said. "But by the second day we were working well and maintaining order."

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