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Operation Cast Lead: Background & Overview

(December 2008 - January 2009)

On Saturday, December 27, 2008, the Israel Defense Forces launched an airstrike against Hamas terrorist cells in the Gaza Strip. Since the beginning of the operation, Palestinian sources claim, approximately nine-hundred Gazans were killed - most of whom were Hamas militant forces. Israel military officials state that over 500 Hamas gunmen have been killed in Operation Cast Lead's ground incursion.

- Background
- The Operation: Stage I
- The Operation: Stage II

- The Humanitarian Corridor
- Israel's Humanitarian Aid in Gaza

- Proportionate Force
- Truce Talks
- A Unilateral Ceasefire
- Violence Continues After Ceasefire


Israel's Operation Cast Lead comes after three years of suffering thousands of daily Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel's southern cities.

Since the start of the operation, Hamas has increased their number of attacks and has fired hundreds of rockets into Israel. Hamas is firing an average of 80 rockets into Israel each day. Rockets were fired into Ashdod and Ashkelon and, for the first time, Grad rockets have been hitting Beersheba. It is clear that Hamas widened their rocket range in response to the incursion in Gaza.

Due to Hamas's endless and widespread barrage of rockets on Israeli towns, the IDF Home Front Command has expanded their security precautions to all towns within a 19- mile radius of Gaza.

Schools in Ashdod, Ashkelon, Beersheba and other southern cities are closed as Hamas continues purposely firing rockets into civilian centers including multiple kindergartens in all major cities. Since the Israeli airstrike began, four Israelis have been killed and over 176 were wounded while hundreds are being treated for shock. Israel's southern citizens have been forced to move into bomb shelters as their community's schools, buildings and roads are destroyed in front of their eyes.

In two weeks, Hamas has fired 500 rockets into Israel's southern cities. Many of these have been the more deadly Grad katyusha rockets. On January 6 a three-month old girl was wounded from a Grad rocket that was fired into Gedara. On January 8 four people were wounded as a mortar shells were fired at the Eshkol region.

Early Thursday morning, January 8, Palestinian terrorists fired multiple rockets into Nahariya, an Israeli city on the border of Lebanon. One of the rockets hit a retirement home and two were wounded. Three rockets were fired again from Lebanon on January 14 into Kiryat Shmona. Israel is holding the Lebanese government responsible as it is Lebanon's job to prevent all attempted rocket attacks on Israel.

Syria is also involving itself in the conflict: On Sunday, January 11, Syrian citizens fired shots at IDF troops and civilian workers who were repairing a fence along the border. Israel has filed a complaint with UNIFL and is still investigating the incident.

On January 11-12, the volume of Hamas rockets decreased but their firing range has widened. On January 12, 30 rockets were fired into the South as opposed to the usual average of 80 rockets per day. For the first time, a Hamas-fired Kassam rocket was able to reach the Kiryat Gat area.

For images of the rocket attacks please see Hamas Rocket Attacks on Israel

The Operation: Stage I

Since Saturday, December 27, Operation Cast Lead has successfully destroyed hundreds of terrorist enclaves, rocket launching pads and Hamas operative headquarters in Gaza.

Israeli Air and Naval Forces have struck Hamas terrorist cell headquarters throughout the Gaza Strip including a Hamas training base and outposts as well as Hamas government complexes. They also attacked rocket launchers and Grad missile stockpiles. Houses of senior Hamas and Jihad terrorists were targeted along with dozens of tunnels that have been used to pass weaponry into Gaza.

Each time an airstrike was planned, the Israeli government warned the Gazans so as to give civilians enough time to take cover. The IDF has made it clear that their main targets are the terrorist cells, Hamas operatives and Qassam rocket launching pads in the Gaza Strip. Unlike Hamas's indiscriminate firing on Israeli civilians in the Negev, Israel does not wish to hurt innocent Palestinians.

The IAF has taken extreme measures to avoid civilian casualties and have gone so far as to call apartment complexes that are known to house Hamas forces and warn the civilian residents of coming airstrikes. 90,000 Palestinian homes in Gaza received phonecalls in warning of an airstrike. After receiving phonecalls, resident dissidents often climb to the roof in an effort to dissuade the IAF from firing. The IAF then fires a very small, harmless rocket to just graze the apartment building so as to scare the civilian dissident away. Only then, when it is believed that the complex is empty of civilians, does the Air Force strike the building.

No other army in the world has ever gone to these measures so as to save innocent lives.

Meanwhile, despite the frantic pleas of the Palestinians, Egypt refuses to fully open its border with Gaza. Egypt's President, Hosni Mubarak, has rejected demands from the Arab world that he open the border and assist Hamas in their struggle. Egypt's Foreign Minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, maintains that the Arab terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah want only to create unrest and do harm in the world. He states that he will not allow Egypt's “honorable forces” to take part in the group's actions.

The Operation: Stage II

On Saturday, January 3, one week after the start of Operation Cast Lead, the IDF moved into Gaza in a ground operation. By Tuesday, January 6, IDF units in Gaza had killed or captured dozens of Hamas armed operatives. In addition, over 40 weapon smuggling tunnels had been destroyed. Ammunition warehouses and weapon production factories have been damaged as well.

Israeli forces continue to weaken Hamas's infrastructure. Their main targets are weapon caches, weapons smuggling tunnels and rocket launching pads. The killing of Hamas gunmen is not a feasible goal as many more Palestinians are anxious to volunteer for this terrorist organization.

The IDF ground forces are not fighting alone. The Israeli Navy and Air Forces continue to supply force and intelligence. From January 5-6, the IAF struck 50 targets in Gaza.

Combat units have been sent in to retrieve Hamas militants and have been struck by a barrage of grenades and mortar shells. On January 5 the IDF began operating in the densely populated urban centers of Gaza as they attempt to weaken Hamas's infrastructure at its core. Hamas continues to blast Israeli soldiers with rockets and anti-tank missiles as the units move about through northern Gaza.

On January 5 an IDF unit in northern Gaza stopped a suicide bomber who had been planning to detonate himself and kill the entire unit. On January 8, Israeli security forces were able to stop a Palestinian terrorist trying to blow up a gas station near Jerusalem. On Saturday, January 10, a Hamas-sponsored suicide bomber was shot just before he detonated his bomb in the midst of an IDF unit. Israeli security forces are concerned that Hamas-sponsored terrorists and suicide bombers can easily enter Israel through tunnels dug along the border with Egypt.

Dozens of IDF soldiers have been wounded in the ground fighting with Hamas. Operation Cast Lead's first casualty, Dvir Emanuelof, 22, died of his wounds after his Golani unit was attacked by mortar shells in Gaza.

Four more soldiers were killed on Monday night. Three soldiers were killed and 24 wounded after an errant IDF tank shell hit the house in which they were taking cover in Gaza City. Another paratrooper was killed on Tuesday morning. The soldiers were St.-Sgt. Nitai Stern, 21, from Jerusalem; Yousef Moadi, 19, from Haifa; Capt. Yehonatan Netanel, 27, from Kedumim and Maj. Dagan Wartman, 32, from Ma'aleh Michmash.

A sixth soldier, Alexander Mashevizky, 21, was killed Tuesday, January 6 in nothern Gaza after his IDF unit was ambushed. On January 8, Maj. Roee Rosner was killed after his unit was hit with anti-tank missile by Hamas gunmen. In a separate sniper attack on January 8, Sgt. Amit Robinson was killed in northern Gaza. Late Thursday, January 8, Captain Omer Rabinovitch, 23, was killed when his Golani unit exchanged fire with Hamas gunmen.

Israel's goals in its ground offensive include overtaking rocket launching pads and stopping terrorist forces in Gaza. Israel simply wants security for its country and has no intention or desire to take the Gaza Strip back again. On the contrary, Israel wishes to live side by side with a legitimate and peaceable Palestinian government in Gaza.

Since the start of stage two of Operation Cast Lead, tens of thousands of army reservists have been called up for training. Many reservists who have not been called have volunteered themselves. On Sunday, January 11, Operation 2.5 went into effect with reserve forces entering Gaza for the first time since the start of the conflict.

The “Humanitarian Corridor”

Israel maintains that it has allowed more than enough supplies to enter the Gaza Strip since the start of Operation Cast Lead. The United Nations, however, claims that the Gazans are without necessary medical and food supplies.

On Wednesday, January 7, Israel called a temporary humanitarian truce and paused their operation in the Gaza Strip to allow truckloads of supplies to enter the area. During the three-hour “humanitarian corridor” Israel hoped that Gaza's civilians would be able to go into the streets in order to collect necessary goods. The corridor was also meant to allow Gazans to repair damaged infrastructure. An Israeli-led three-hour lull is expected to occur daily from 1:00pm until 4:00pm.

On Monday, January 12, Hamas again disturbed the three-hour humanitarian recess, bombarding Israel's cities with Kassam and Grad katyusha rockets precisely during the lull. Despite Hamas's lack of cooperation, Israel has continued to allow this daily recess in its own operation.

Hamas operatives ended the temporary ceasefire first when they fired multiple Grad rockets into downtown Beersheba at 4:00pm on January 7. The IAF had no choice but to retaliate.

On January 15, Israel lengthened its daily humanitarian recess to four hours instead of three in order to allow more Gazans to get the supplies that they need. The decision to increase the time span of the pause came from Israel Joint Humanitarian Coordination Center (JHCC)

Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that trucks carrying humanitarian aid supplies will reach their intended delivery points. Hamas operatives often steal food and medical supplies from civilians and have hijacked entire aid trucks to use for their own gunmen.

For more on Hamas's abuse of its citizens, please see Hamas's Human Shields.

Israel's Humanitarian Aid in Gaza

Since the operation began on December 27, over 8,000 tons of humanitarian aid supplies have been allowed into Gaza through the blockade. In addition, dozens of wounded and sick Gazans have been transported into Israel throught the Erez Crossing already.

Meanwhile, Magen David Adom, Israel's emergency ambulatory service, has been put on high alert and is operating 600 ambulances in Gaza to help the wounded in the area.

Foreign nationals and those Gazans with dual citizenship have been allowed to leave.

See Israel's Humanitarian Aid in Gaza for more information.

Proportionate Force

While left-wing media is quick to call Israel a “Nazi regime”, any claims of a Palestinian “massacre”come from a clear misunderstanding of the situation: Israel's military is seeking to weaken Hamas - a self-proclaimed terrorist organization - in this operation. Hamas seeks to destroy Israel and all of the Jews who live there. This is why Hamas fires rockets into kindergartens and community buildings, hoping to kill as many men, women and children as possible. The Israeli Air Force, on the other hand, has gone to extreme lengths to avoid civilian casualties.

The Israeli Embassy came out with a statement on December 31 saying: “The IDF will continue its mission, attack the infrastructure and buildings that Hamas is using and will operate against terrorist organizations and anyone who provides support to terrorism.”

Palestinian terrorists are infamous for using women and children as shields. For years Israel has lost many of its own soldiers because the military could not bring itself to kill civilians in order to get to these terrorists. Defense Minister Ehud Barak has finally stated that, those civilians choosing to hide and shield terrorists are themselves to be considered terrorists. In response, Israel has rained down pamphlets and have made appearances on Palestinian television, pleading to the Gazans not to act as human shields for Hamas operatives.

Instead of facing IDF troops, Hamas prefers to hide itself among the civilian population. Hamas gunmen shoot into alleyways from windows of residential buildings and then have the audacity to cry “massacre” as they leave their civilians to endure retaliatory shots from the IDF. Any civilian blood in this operation is truly on the collective hands of Hamas leadership.

Fatah and the Palestinian Authority are blaming Hamas for the operation in Gaza. Fatah officials consider Hamas members to be murderers and criminals wishing to undermine the work of moderate Arab nations.

While three years of Hamas's rocket attacks on the Negev have been largely ignored or, even worse, forgiven by international opinion, the world continues to hold Israel to an impossible standard. Israel has always been expected to show restraint toward all Palestinian terrorist attacks. Israel showed restraint during the First and Second Intifadas when hundreds of Israelis died at the hands of Palestinian murderers.

Israel is not using disproportionate force in Gaza. The world, for some reason, is simply quick to excuse the actions of terrorists and to use Israel as a scapegoat.

Truce Talks

Outraged Arabs around the world called on Israel to end its operation in Gaza. Hundreds of pro-Hamas protests have ocurred throughout the world in which Israeli and American flags were burned.

The United Nations Security Council unveiled a new resolution on Friday, January 9, calling for an immediate ceasefire between Hamas and Israel. Hamas continued immediately to fire rockets into southern Israel. The IDF has continued its operation in Gaza.

On January 7, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Egypt's Hosni Mubarak delivered a ceasefire agreement proposal to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Since then, the United States has become a supporter of an Egyptian-brokered peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians.

On Monday, January 12, President Bush stated in his final press conference that any sustainable ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas must include an end to Hamas rocket attacks on Israeli towns. He continued to say that Israel has an absolute right to defend itself from these attacks.

On Wednesday, January 14, Hamas representatives in Cairo stated that they would consider accepting the Egyptian peace proposal. No statement was made about Hamas's willingness to end its rocket fire attacks on Israel.

On January 15, Israel gave indication that it would soon accept Egypt's peace proposal. The proposal would call for a 10-day truce during which Israeli troops would remain in Gaza and the heads of government would be involved in permanent peace talks. Amos Gilad, the head of the Defense Ministry's Diplomatic-Security Bureau, returned from Cairo to brief the cabinet on Egypt's proposal.

On January 16, the United States and Israel signed a “Memorandum of Understanding”. By this agreement the U.S. pledges to help Israel through resources and technology to inhibit Hamas's smuggling of weapons into Gaza by way of Egypt. The countries agree that any ceasefire agreement made must, within it, prevent Hamas from rearming in Gaza.

According to both Iranian and Egyptian officials, Iran is strongly discouraging Hamas from signing a ceasefire agreement with Israel. Egyptian officials state that Iran has threatened to cut off Hamas's supply of weaponry and funds if they enter into any kind of peace agreement.

Hamas officials originally expressed that the organization is not interested in a ceasefire agreement with Israel. Moussa Abu Marzouk, deputy head of Hamas's political bureau stated that Hamas will continue its resistance until Israel ends its “occupation”. He continued to say that Hamas is unwilling to stop its rocket attacks and is demanding a one-sided truce in which Israel must halt its operation, open all borders and withdraw from the Gaza Strip. Of course, Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 and has not been “occupying” the territory for three years.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni released a statement on January 4 saying: “Israel is conducting a campaign against terror which strikes at its citizens. Other states in the world do likewise, and sometimes also enjoy the direct support of other states. Israel is not asking any other country to fight in its stead - this is our responsibility towards our citizens - but I expect the support and understanding of the international community for the actions that Israel must take. Hamas is a threat not only to Israel, it is a threat to the region. The action that Israel is today taking against Hamas represents the struggle of the international community against the extremist forces. This is how it should be perceived. Israel must do what it must do, and will not be a state that it attacked without response.” 

After sustaining three years of rocket bombardment against its civilian population, Israel's leaders have finally decided that a military response is necessary to defend its people. The United Nations and the rest of the international community were silent while thousands of rockets rained down on Israelis for years and now, when their interest is piqued, they have no moral authority to judge Israel's necessary actions. The world's disinterest in the lives of Jews reminded Israelis once again that they can only rely on themselves for their survival. The Gaza operation will continue until Israel can ensure the safety of its citizens - just as any nation in the world under constant attack would be expected to do.

A Unilateral Ceasefire

On January 18, 2009, Israel declared a unilateral ceasefire and halted its operation in Gaza. The ceasefire agreement was initiated by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The Israeli Cabinet approved the initiative with the knowledge that it was signing a one-sided agreement. Hamas did not, nor was the terrorist group asked to, approve Egyptian-led agreement.

While Israel agreed to stop its operation in Gaza, Prime Minister Olmert clearly stated that any future attack on Israel would be met with force.

To read Ehud Olmert's statement please see: Prime Minister Ehud Olmert Declares Unilateral Ceasefire

Immediately following the signaled start of the ceasefire - 2:00 am on January 18 - Hamas rockets were fired into Israel. At least 15 rockets were fired on Sunday, January 18.

As of January 19, Hamas pledged a week-long ceasefire, giving Israel that deadline to withdraw its troops from Gaza.

Hamas and Iran have publicly announced a victory for the terrorist group, claiming that Israeli forces did not weaken their military strength. Israeli military, of course, has stated that IDF forces significantly hindered Hamas operatives, killing at least 500 gunmen and destroying hundreds of weapons smuggling tunnels and warehouses. Despite the ceasefire, Iran has pledged to continue to smuggle weapons into Gaza.

On Sunday, January 18, Prime Minister Olmert met with a European Union envoy consisting of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian President Silvio Berlusconi, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek. All of the representatives pledged to help Israel prevent the rearming of Hamas in Gaza, agreeing that daily rocket fire on Israel is unacceptable.

Violence Continues After the “Ceasefire”

On Tuesday, January 20, Hamas operatives fired mortar shells and gunshots at IDF troops in two separate attacks. This marked the first violation of the unilateral ceasefire agreement. In response, Israel destroyed a Kassam rocket launcher in the area. No casualties were reported.

One week later, on Tuesday January 27, One IDF soldier was killed and three were wounded when their army vehicle drove over a roadside bomb on the border with Gaza.

Israel immediately retaliated. The IAF hit and wounded one Hamas gunman. IDF forces also fired into the area and entered Gaza to look for the terrorists responsible for the bomb.

Meanwhile, Hamas officials met with Egyptian leaders in Cairo after the ceasefire was declared, rejecting Israel's 18-month offer of a peace treaty. Hamas offered a one-year temporary truce instead.

Ironically, an Iranian ship allegedly carrying weaponry and missiles to be smuggled to Hamas was intercepted by Egypt and was being held at the Suez Canal. The United States Navy boarded the boat to search its contents. Israeli officials believe that Iran is attempting to supply Hamas with longer-range missiles and the U.S. Navy confirmed that there were indeed weapons on the ship.

January 28 and 29, Palestinian militants in Gaza undermined the fragile ceasefire and fired Kassam rockets into Israel. No casualties were reported. In response, the IAF hit a weapons factory in Gaza on January 28.

The start of February brought an even more serious breach in the ceasefire agreement. On January 31, one grad rocket was fired into Ashkelon. On February 1 a barrage of mortar shells flew into the Eshkol region. At least 15 rockets and shells struck the Negev on February 1.

A gunmen resposible for the attack on Eshkol was targeted and killed by IAF forces on February 2. Immediately following, a rocket was launched into a civilian area in Sha'ar haNegev kibbutz.

Defense Minisiter Ehud Barak maintained that these attacks were the petering out of Hamas's stockpile of rockets which, thanks to Israeli forces, had been significantly diminished. Barak also admitted that Israel would strike Hamas again if the need arose.

Sources: Channel 10 Israel; Yedioth Ahronot (January 15, 2009); Embassy of Israel; The Jerusalem Post (January 20, January 27, January 27, February 2); IDF Spokesperson; Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Haaretz (January 6, Feburary 1, January 29, January 19, January 14); Bloomberg (January 20)