(Southern Israel, January 7, 2009) --
"When you go out to battle against your enemies and see horses and chariots and people more numerous than you, do not be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, who brought you up from the land of Egypt, is with you. When you are approaching the battle, the priest shall come near and speak to the people. He shall say to them, 'Hear, O Israel, you are approaching the battle against your enemies today. Do not be fainthearted. Do not be afraid, or panic, or tremble before them, for the Lord your God is the one who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you." (Deuteronomy 20:1-4)
Please forgive me for not writing for the past few days. I flew to Israel on Sunday and arrived Monday morning, joining several colleagues in southern Israel to assess the situation and help direct The Joshua Fund's relief efforts. It's been an intense 48 hours, and it's currently 5:54am Wednesday morning Israel time. Allow me, therefore, to make a few brief observations, and I will write more later.
* First and foremost, the situation is very intense here. Hamas has fired more than 500 rockets at innocent Israeli civilians over the past ten days or so. They are coming in at 40 to 50 rockets a day. More than 500,000 Israelis live within range of these instruments of terror, and many are traumatized by the fear of injury and death, not only for them but for their children as well.
* Six Israeli soldiers have died in the fighting so far. Israelis throughout the country are mourning their loss, name by name, family by family. That said, Israelis are also overwhelmingly relieved that their government is finally taking strong action against Hamas after some 2 1/2 years of doing virtually nothing.
* Some 1.5 million Palestinians who live on the Gaza Strip are being held hostage by Hamas. Hundreds are dead and thousands have been injured because of Hamas' evil reign of terror that finally provoked an Israeli response. The latest example came Tuesday when Hamas fighters fired mortars at Israeli forces from a U.N. school. This forced Israel to bomb the school to suppress the attacks. In the end, some 42 Palestinians - including the terrorists - died, and more than 50 were injured.
* Where is the world outrage against Hamas? The Palestinian people desperately want and need to be liberated from Hamas, and would privately welcome Israeli success against the terror leaders.
* Rather than mounting pressure on Hamas to stop the rockets, international pressure is steadily and aggressively mounting on the Israeli government to agree to a temporary ceasefire before the Hamas leadership and terror infrastructure in Gaza are crushed. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and French President Nicolas Sarkozy met in the Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh yesterday, teaming up to push for a ceasefire resolution they hope will end the fighting immediately. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice immediately said the U.S. supports the Mubarak-Sarkozy plan.
* Hamas is increasingly desperate for a ceasefire. Its top leaders are being killed. Scores of its best trained fighters are being killed. Its arms depots and government buildings are being bombed to smithereens. So are its vital smuggling tunnels along the Egyptian border. Reports the Jerusalem Post: "Palestinian journalists in the Gaza Strip said on Monday that the general feeling was that Hamas does not exist any longer as a governing body. 'All their government institutions have been destroyed,' said a Gaza City reporter. 'The Hamas leaders are now behaving like al-Qaida's Osama bin Laden and [his deputy] Ayman Zawahiri. Their only public appearances are through recorded messages aired on Arab TV stations.'"
* Preciously for this reason, now is no time to let up on Hamas. Israel should absolutely refuse to agree to the Mubarak-Sarkozy plan. As currently drafted, the agreement does not even suggest -- much less mandate -- the creation of an international force to prevent Hamas from re-arming. Even if it did, why should Israelis believe such an international force would be effective? The U.N. force in southern Lebanon is doing absolutely nothing to prevent Hezbollah from re-arming. To the contrary, it is now believed that Hezbollah has more than 30,000 rockets and missiles aimed at Israel, far more than ever before.
* The Israeli public has been duped by such international nonsense before, and thankfully they want no part of it. A new poll here by Channel 2 news finds that 81% of Israelis believe their government has done the right thing by sending ground forces into Gaza to stop the rockets and crush Hamas, and a stunning 60% of Israelis oppose talking to Hamas to obtain a cease-fire.
* That's certainly the sense I have after talking to Israelis here -- they want victory and they define victory as the destruction of the Hamas military and political leadership and the liberation of southern Israel from the constant threat of Hamas rocket, missile and mortar fire. Anything less than the accomplishment of these goals, they tell me, would make the situation worse because it would effectively be a victory for Hamas a defeat for Israel. Israelis don't want to see a single soldier of theirs die, but they believe now is the time to intensify the attack on Hamas, not let up.
* Regardless of how the public feels, however, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his government may very well accept a temporary and premature ceasefire. They accepted a premature ceasefire in Lebanon in 2006, and Defense Minister Ehud Barak signalled from the earliest hours of this conflict he wanted a quick ceasefire. The next few days will be critical to see what kind of resolve the Olmert government has this time around.