On Saturday, 27 December 2008, Israel launched Operation "Cast Lead" to protect the citizens of southern Israel who were being subjected to daily Hamas rocket and mortar fire. More than 8,000 projectiles have been fired at Israel’s cities in recent years. Although the situation improved somewhat under an Egyptian brokered "state of calm," Hamas resumed its attacks in recent weeks, unilaterally declaring the “calm” null and void.
Israel began Operation "Cast Lead" with air operations against Hamas command centers and terror infrastructure, with the purpose of deterring further attacks against Israeli citizens. Yet, one week later - after Hamas continued firing against Israeli citizens, launching about 450 rockets and mortars (including more than 60 of the more lethal Grad Kaytusha rockets) - Israel had to take further action. Consequently, on Saturday, 3 January 2009, Israel expanded its operations in Gaza to include ground forces. Their primary mission is to take control of key rocket launching sites in the Gaza Strip and to combat the terrorist forces operating there.
This upgrading of military activity was necessary to achieve the goals of Operation "Cast Lead" - to deal the Hamas terror machine a crippling blow and to enhance long-term security for Israel’s southern population.
It cannot be emphasized enough that Israel has no intention of reassuming control of the Gaza Strip. The expansion of the operation is intended solely to achieve its aforementioned goals.
During the first week of Operation "Cast Lead", the capabilities of Hamas to continue its terror campaign were greatly weakened - hundreds of commanders and terrorists were killed, its senior leadership fled to underground bunkers, ammunition storehouses were demolished, its weapons production facilities were damaged, and many of the tunnels used for arms smuggling from Egypt were destroyed.
Yet at the same time, the Iranian-backed Hamas continue to fire Kassam and Grad rockets at the civilian population living in southern Israel. The Hamas military wing has acted to harden its terrorist deployment. Many terrorists, including Iranian-trained commanders and operators, have been deployed to reinforced combat positions, including underground tunnels and bunkers. Some of the terrorist infrastructure remain intact, while increasingly lethal weapons and longer-range rockets are being used.
Not only does Hamas retain the means to continue its attacks on Israeli civilians, it still has the will to do so. Dozens of Kassam and Grad rockets are being fired daily at an ever-expanding range of towns and cities in southern Israel. Almost a million Israeli civilians are living within the range of these rockets, approximately 15% of Israel's total population has become the constant target of deadly weapons being shot at their homes, schools and businesses.
No democratic country in the world would allow its sovereignty to be violated and its citizens to be subjected to terror attacks from the sky on a daily basis.
Israel would have preferred that the situation not develop in this way. Israel only embarked on Operation "Cast Lead" after it had exhausted every other possibility. For years, in the face of constant terror attacks from Gaza, Israel acted with restraint and made every attempt to avoid a confrontation. Israel agreed to the "state of calm," even as Hamas exploited the arrangement to build up its forces, rearm and fire hundreds of rockets and missiles at Israel.
Eventually, Hamas terminated the calm, launching up to 80 rockets at Israel a day. By this time, Israel no longer had a choice. The daily situation of the residents of southern Israel had become unbearable and Israel had to exercise its right of self-defense.
Israel has made it very clear that its target is Hamas, an extremist Jihadist group recognized as a terrorist organization by not only the United States, but also the European Union, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and Japan as well.
While determined to confront Hamas terrorism. Israel has no desire to harm Palestinian civilians living in Gaza. Israel is making every effort to avoid a humanitarian calamity in Gaza, and currently there is no crisis - international aid groups have even asked that Israel briefly suspend shipments since there is no more room in their Gaza warehouses. Israel will continue to transfer to Gaza all humanitarian aid that is sent, in coordination with aid organizations. During the first week of the operation, 400 trucks with humanitarian supplies, including food and medical equipment, as well as 10 ambulances entered the Gaza Strip from Israel.
Similarly, on the operational level, Israel is doing everything possible to avoid harming uninvolved Palestinians. These actions include issuing warnings prior to attacks, giving Palestinian civilians time to leave the affected area, despite the damage to the element of surprise and the added risk to Israeli forces.
Although every innocent casualty is a tragedy, statistics indicate that Israeli operational methods have had a large measure of success. The Palestinian-reported ratio of casualties among uninvolved Palestinian civilians vs. Hamas members stands at about 12% (50 out of 400 killed). This is much lower than any similar past event, including NATO’s bombing in Kosovo and Afghanistan, despite the more difficult conditions in Gaza, given the location of the terror infrastructure in the midst of the civilian Palestinian population and the documented Hamas use of civilians as human shields. Indeed, the IDF operation in Gaza has revealed that private homes, mosques and public institutions are being used by Hamas as bases of operation and as storage and manufacturing sites for arms and ammunition. Hamas alone is responsible for the suffering of the civilian populations on both sides of the fence, and bears full responsibility for any harm to Palestinian civilians as a result of attacks on legitimate Hamas military targets purposely located in populated areas.
The Hamas represents the extremists of the region, those bent on never-ending Jihad and destruction. Together with its allies and sponsors, such as Iran and Hizbullah, Hamas wishes not only Israel’s destruction, but the destruction of all pragmatic forces in the region - those who would seek a negotiated settlement to outstanding issues and a compromise two-state solution to the Palestinian question. It is Israel’s hope that Operation "Cast Lead" will be concluded quickly, will weaken the influence of Hamas and its ideology, and will bring a new security reality to both Israelis and Palestinians alike.