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January 30, 2009     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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January 30, 2009

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PAGE 12A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JANUARY 30, 2009 Did Israel win the war against Hamas? Mark Neyman/GPO/BPH Images Israeli President Shimon Peres visits wounded soldiers and their families at Beilinson Hospital in Petach Tikvah on Jan. 19. Critics from the left wonder ff the IDF could have stopped sooner, while critics on the right think it didn't go far enough. By Leslie Susser civilians in southern Israel, cal, too, aboutwhether Egypt JERUSALEM--With a cease-fire in place, Israelis are asking whether the 22-day war against Hamas in Gaza achieved its aims. The government argues that the overwhelming vic- tory in the field will advance what was Operation Cast Lead's primary goal: bring- ing a long period of quiet to freeing them from the tyr- anny of cross-border rocket attacks from Gaza. Critics on the right, how- ever, say the government did not go far enough. They maintain that by stopping the fighting too soon, the government let slip by a golden opportunity to topple the Hamas regime. Right-wingers are skepti- and other members of the international community will be able to keep their commitments to prevent the rearmament of Hamas in Gaza. Meanwhile, critics on the left say the fighting went on too long, that its relatively modest goals could have been achieved much earlier and that the large number of Palestinian civilian casu- alties, deplorable in and of itself, will hurt Israel's inter- national standing and breed a new generation of Palestinian fanatics unwilling to make peace on any terms. Jerusalem hoped to achieve its goal of quiet for south- ern Israel by destroying as much of Hamas' military infrastructure as possible, preventing it from being replaced and creating a new deterrent equation to make Hamas think twice before again provoking Israel. Judged by these standards, the war seems to have been an outstanding success. The Israel Defense Forces achieved both strategic and tactical surprise. Hamas did not expect anything like the ferocity of the Israeli on- slaught; it was caught on the first day unprepared for war, and it was surprised again later when the army was able to jam remote control devices meant to detonate scores of booby-trapped buildings on advancing Israeli soldiers. During the fighting, the military said that more than 500 militiamenwere killed and the vast majority of Hamas weapons' stores and rocket manufacturing workshops were destroyed--including dozens of medium-range Grad rockets supplied by Iran. Israeli military intelligence says the IDF's performance in the war, its firepower, relatively low human losses, accurate intelligence, and pinpoint Coordination be- tween air, ground and naval forces has gone a tong way toward restoring Israeli deter- rence-not only with regard to Hamas, but in the Middle East as a whole. This sends a two-fold mes- sage: To the radical Iran- Syria-Hezbollah-Hamas axis, it warns not to take Israel lightly; to the moderate, pro- Western Egypt-Jordan-Saudi Arabia camp, the message is to be bolder in confronting extremist rejectionists. The war also leaves Hamas facing a huge dilemma: whether to spend the meager resources it has on acquiring new weapons, how to smuggle them into Gaza if it decides to buy them and whether to risk another massive Israeli retali- ation if it uses them. "I don't think they will do it again soon, and if they do they will be hit hard again," Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said. The Israeli government is also confident that a string of new agreements with Egypt, the Europeans and the United States on blocking arms traffic into Gaza will prove effective. Officials say there is a new seriousness to do so by Egypt, which has both regional and domestic reasons for wanting to keep Hamas weak. The Egyptians have no desire to see the long arm of their bitter regional foe Iran being strengthened on their door- step, nor do they want to see further showdowns between Israel and Hamas. Such con- fmntations inflame Egyptian public opinion and strengthen domestic Islamic opposition led by the Egyptian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas is an ideological offshoot and ally. Until now, the Egyptians have failed to stop local Bedouin and others from conducting lucrative arms trades through the Sinai Desert and in tunnels under the Egypt-Gaza border. As they approached Gaza, the Bedouin, who were paid enormous sums by Hamas, often would bribe Egyptian border guards to let them through. The question is whether the government in Cairo will find ways to ar- rest this deeply embedded practice. The Americans and the Germans have offered Egypt state-of-the art equipment to detect smuggling tunnels and pick up would-be smugglers. The United States and some of the European countries--no- tably Britain, France, Ger- many and Italy--want to cut off the arms even before they reach Egypt. They are offering to patrol the high seas to intercept any potential armsshipments from Iran to Egypt or directly to Gaza. In Washington last week, Livni signed a new memorandum of understand- ing with the United States on arms smuggling. A secret appendix talks about close intelligence cooperation on Iranian maritime move- ments. The memorandum also specifically gives Israel the go-ahead to attack smuggling tunnels along the border if all other efforts to stop the flow of arms from Egypt into Gaza fail. Six key European lead- ers-from Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the Czech Republic--came to Jerusalem on Jan. 18 in a remarkable show of support for Israel. Their backing for the Jewish state was at least partly a public statement of their recognition of the fact that they and Israel are on the same side when it comes to fighting Iranian-inspired Islamic terror. This despite the fact that, in most cases, the media and the public in their home countries have been strongly critical of the widespread destruction and heavy civilian casualty rate in Gaza caused by Israel in the war. Egypt, which hosted the six leaders earlier in the day, has emerged as the main regional victor in the crisis. It brokered the new Hamas-Israel cease- fire, is taking on a major role against arms smugglingandis pressing Hamas and the more moderate Fatah organization, which runs the Palestinian Authority, to establish a na- tional unity government to rebuild Gaza and talk peace with Israel. Whether Gaza is rebuilt withWestern, Arab or Iranian money, by Fatah or by Hamas, could be crucial in shaping the political orientation of its beleaguered people. : Not surprisingly, :the out- come of the war is also having a major impact on the Israeli election, which is three weeks away. During the war Defense Minister Ehud Barak, the architect of the war and leader of Israel's Labor Party, saw his poll numbers rise at the expense of right-wing opposi- tion leader Benjamin Netan- yahu of Likud. That delivered gains to Livni, who has been running a close second behind Netanyahu. But with the fighting now over and criticism of the war gaining traction, the pendu- lum is swinging back toward Netanyahu and, even more so, to Avigdor Lieberman of the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party. Whichever side is able to dominate the narrative of the war's outcome likely will de- termine who becomes Israel's next prime minister. Spring fashions to highlight JP Connections luncheon JP Connections, a member- ship event sponsored by the Jewish Pavilion, is expecting 100 women at its kickoff lun- cheon on Wednesday, Feb. 18 at 11:30 a.m. at Bonefish Grille in Longwood. The festivities will include avegetarian lunch and a fashion presentation led by Marie Johnson from Stein Mart. Johnson will talk about spring fashions and display samples from the store of the latest wardrobe trends. "She is very entertaining and informative' says Pat Rubenstein, chairwoman of JP Connections. The JP Connections event costs $20. Membership in the Jewish Pavilion is required Pat Rubenstein is chair- woman of JP Connections. to attend. Annual member- ship is $36 and runs from September through August. Membership dues benefit the operations of the Jewish Pavilion, which enriches the lives of 200 elderly Jews who can no longer care for them- selves and reside in 50 assisted living and nursing homes in greater Orlando. On-going care for each senior costs the agency approximately $1,000 a year. Staff and volunteers work in partnership to pro- vide regular visitation, rab- binical counseling, Shabbat and holiday meals and other special events each month. For more information on the program contact Nancy Ludin at the Jewish Pavilion at 407- 678-9363 or nancyludin@