Crossfire War – RAPID FIRE NEWS=TEHRAN – GAZA – BEIRUT WATCH – West Asia – North – Northeast Africa Theatre: Tehran – Riyadh – Tripoli – Khartoum – Baghdad – El Arish – Nablus – Damascus – Beirut – Gaza/Jerusalem – Paris – Rome – Cairo – Amman – London – Washington; Israel Assembles Tanks – Artillery on Gaza Border – Engineering Units Already in Gaza – Real Objective of Offensive to Remove Hamas Government – US Sends Warships Off Lebanon Coast in Support of UNIFIL – Ashkelon Under Code Red Alert – Ashdod Could be Targeted Next
Night Watch: NAHAL OZ – Israel has already begun to position forces as final preparation for their long planned invasion of the Gaza Strip. Xinhua reports the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth mentioned the Israel Defense Force (IDF) has positioned an artillery battery north of the Gaza Strip while the tanks in the photo are near the Kibbutz Nahal Oz also on Gaza’s northern border and one of the main targets of Qassam rocket fire for the past several years. This year’s invasion will be much more extensive than Israel’s “Summer Rains” offensive into Gaza during the summer of 2006 since Hamas and Palestinian militants are much more heavily armed now with the addition of the Katyusha rocket and are well dug in with fortifications and bunkers. Tehran has also supplied them with anti-tank rockets and missiles. Not only will the offensive be more extensive it will also be more intense as both Israel Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Military Chief of Staff Lieutenant-General Gaby Ashkenazi have spoken of Israel achieving a “quick victory.” Even Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has indicated Israel is quite prepared to inflict large numbers of Palestinian casualties. [XINHUA]
Cairo – That was definitely the case during the Israel Air Force (IAF) air raids over Lebanon in 2006 as the IAF destroyed so much of the country’s transportation infrastructure to limit the movement of supplies to Hezbollah and also hit neighborhoods in south Beirut were Hezbollah as a lot of support. The immediate regional impact of this imminent invasion has been the head of Egypt’s intelligence service, Omar Suleiman, canceling his visit to Jerusalem next week. INN reports Suleiman is seen as the second most powerful man in Cairo, after President Hosni Mubarak which probably means he is the second most insulated. Suleiman’s mission was to organize Egypt-Israel cooperation over the Rafah Terminal but that cooperation was blown up by Tehran-Hamas last month. Cairo has only just become concerned over the weapons trafficking when they finally realized Hamas was ready to use them to subvert the authority of Egypt’s government in Sinai and Israel will be more involved in re-settling the Gaza Strip than to cooperate with an ineffective, suspicious Egyptian government. I assume the scheduled visit to Israel and Egypt by U. S. Secretary of State Dr. Condoleezza Rice will still take place next week. [INN]
Defense Minister Barak has already informed European Envoy to West Asia, Tony Blair and Suleiman, in a phone conversation, the real objective of the offensive is not to “merely” reduce the Qassam-Katyusha fire but to remove the Hamas government.
El Arish – INN reports the Israel Foreign Ministry released this statement on the Katyusha (Grad) rocket fire, “In the past 24 hours, over 15 heavy rockets were fired from Hamas controlled Gaza, against Israel’s southern port city of Ashkelon. The Grad rockets fired today were apparently smuggled into Gaza from Iran via Egypt through tunnels and the breached Rafah border fence.” The Katyusha was originally manufactured and exported from the Soviet Union but have since been made in Iran as the Grad and shipped to regional Axis partners, Syria-Hezbollah-Hamas. The fire yesterday at Ashkelon has forced Israel to place the city under its Color Red alert system which provides residents 15-20 seconds of warning before a rocket hits an immediate area. It is also being reported Ashdod, nine miles to the north may now also be subject to attack. The range of the Katyusha is about 16 miles. [INN]
Gaza – Hamas staged a rally in Gaza to psychologically prepare the population for full scale war. The Jerusalem Post/Reuters report one of the speakers, Fathi Hamid stated due to the organization’s improved rocket technology Hamas can now hit “any target in Israel.” Hamid must know Tel Aviv is more than thirty miles from Gaza and beyond the range of the Katyusha, but he may know Hamas members could be prepared to launch some from the West Bank and from there the rocket could hit Tel Aviv which would be a major shock to Israel. Not even Tel Aviv was hit during the 2006 war. Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh surfaced to speak at the rally and said concerning Israel’s offensive, “Such an operation would end in total failure for Israel, just like the rests of its operations in the past. Israel is living under a delusion if it believes that it can topple the Hamas regime in Gaza…Even if Israel kills our leaders it can’t damage the purpose of our struggle.” [JPOST]
But this is not 2006 when Jerusalem was indeed operating under the delusion it could defeat its enemies on their border with limited military attacks. That is what limited Israel’s offensives in both south Lebanon and the Gaza Strip doing only marginal damage to Hezbollah and Hamas as both have since become stronger militarily and politically. Israel Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna’i gave a very real indication there will be no such restrictions this year when he warned Friday, “As long as the rocket attacks escalate, the Palestinians are bringing upon themselves a bigger Shoah (Holocaust).” That prompted Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zhuri to respond Hamas is in “war against the new Nazis.”
Malta – Israel is not the only government preparing for a wider regional war. Al Jazeera reports the USS Cole, a guided missile destroyer, left Malta on Tuesday and headed for the Lebanon coast to take up a station “just off the horizon.” Washington’s former Ambassador to Syria, Richard Murphy, actually stated the move was a sign the U. S. had no idea what to do about Lebanon. But this obviously is an expression of Washington’s realization diplomacy has run its course and will be confined to its wartime role of maintaining direct contact with governments one can still work with and indirect contact with hostile governments, with the latest war news affecting everyone’s latest position, where we are determined by where we are on the frontline if anywhere, retreating or advancing. [ALJAZEERA]
Hassan Fadlullah, Hezbollah MP in Lebanon’s Parliament responded, “The American administration has used the policy of sending warships to support its Allies in Lebanon before, and that experiment failed and backfired. We don’t succumb to threats and military intimidation practiced by the United States to implement its hegemony over Lebanon.” I really don’t believe this is Washington’s way of trying to intimidate Hezbollah, Damascus or Tehran but as a last minute, desperate show of support for the 13,000 European units in south Lebanon serving under UNIFIL who may not only need some extra firepower but also evacuation. They may be out of sight but not out of mind as UNIFIL is about to caught between an enormous crossfire, exactly what Iran wants.
Off the Horizon – Debka reports the USS Cole rendezvoused with a six ship strike force led by the amphibious warship USS Nassau and its compliment of 2,800 Marines, flight crews and sailors. Another strike force is reportedly headed for the same area. It is possible that force could include an aircraft carrier. European governments have maintained support ships off Lebanon’s coast and they can also use the British base at Cyprus. [DEBKA]