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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Notes On Today's Conference Call On Gaza

Today at 12pm EST there was conference call via phone sponsored by America's Voices In Israel, in conjunction with the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Israeli Consulate of New York. The purpose of the call, was to brief bloggers and broadcasters on the latest developments regarding Israel's response to continued rocket and mortar fire from Gaza. Among the speakers was Malcolm Hoenlein, head of Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Brigadier General in Reserve Relik Shafir of the Israeli Air Force and Deputy Chief of Mission in the Israeli Embassy in Washington Jeremy Issacharoff. Questions were answered from everyone who had something to ask.

I took notes, which I would like to share. I am solely responsible for any errors, unintentional misrepresentations, omissions and misspellings of names.

The conference started with a mention of 2 particular sources of information:
A new group on YouTube: IDFnadesk, which has videos--mostly illustrating the care the IDF has taken in the bombings of Hamas infrastructure. As a side note, Noah Pollak of Contentions has noted that YouTube has started to remove some of those videos.

Daily Alert which is prepared by Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and has summaries of and links to the key stories of the day--with an index of past issues.
Malcolm Hoenlein gave a short introduction, saying that putting aside the policy side of things, people forget why the current Israeli operation started. It is important to keep the context of how we got to this point, the kind of context that we do not get from the media at large.

He noted the truce just ended, which began in June 19--how incomplete it was and how it ended. He pointed out that since 2001 there have been over 8,000 rockets/mortars fired. The reason for conflict is that Hamas at the end undermined the truce that it did not keep to begin with.
Israel tried coordinating with Egyptians to renew the truce, but Hamas had a different agenda.
The rate of rocket fire has increased since the truce—and even during the truce also, Hamas increased ranges of their rockets and fortified structures.

The key point is that Israel did go for diplomatic option first.

A second point Hoenlein made was that Hamas wanted this crisis, that Abbas has been getting more support from moderate countries and Hamas has therefore felt isolated.

In terms of Israel's operation:
o The goal is to cripple the terrorist infratstructure that provides a threat to Israeli citizens---Israel is not interested in ending up with a situation that is worse than they started out with. Israel wants to stop Hamas's military goals. They know about the collateral damage, and regret it. On the other hand, in terms of Hamas--their only target is civilian.
o Israel is very sensitive to the humanitarian effort—89 trucks of humanitarian aid have been allowed through till yesterday with more added in south Gaza and another 5 ambulances provided by Turkey.
More than 2700 trucks carrying aid have been allowed into Gaza over the last year.

Gen. Shapir from Ashkelon came on the phone. He was speaking from Ashkelon which had taken about 29 hits from Qassam. There were not many on streets there. From the Airforce's point of view, it will be a long and tedious battle and they hope to avoid collateral damage.

Israeli Ambassador Jeremy Issacharoff was also present and answered some of the questions.

Questions and Answers

Israel Matzav asked about the exit strategy and what the long term goal for Gaza was.
The Ambassador answered that the goal now is the pinpoint attack. Israel is currently monitoring and assessing the situation. Cannot look at the current conflict in conventional terms.
Malcolm Hoenlein added that it is just too early for an exit strategy. It is Hamas that needs to worry about an exit strategy
Atlas Shrugs asked how Israel intends to take guns out of hands of Hamas while at the same time leaving Hamas in place? And what about world criticism?
The Ambassador answered that if Israel takes weapons out of their hands, then it does not matter so much what their goals are. First and foremost is to defend citizens and keep them out of range of the missles.
General Shapir added that Israel is in for the long haul, and cannot tolerate the current situation. They cannot bomb each place from which Hamas bombs Israel because that entails colloratoral damage. Going about it the way Israel is doing it will take longer.
I had trouble hearing who asked the next question. It sounded like "Allen Nathan from Babylon Network". He asked what they thought about Hizbollah's threat to come in from the north to help Hamas. He asked whether based on Nasrallah's comment in 2006 of not anticipating Israel's strong response if Israel was concerned
The General recalled Teddy Roosevelt's comment about talking softly and carrying a big stick, that Nasrallah knew what to expect from Israel if Hizbollah interfered.
The next question sounded like it came from Ralph Levy from a kibbutz who asked about whether Israel was contemplating re-occupying Gaza to any degree.
The answer was that Israel will not go in. They will respect the sovereignty of Gaza and that there will be no buffer zone established via occupation. By the same token, no one will be allowed to shoot at Israel--if they do, they will face the consequences.
Jerry Gordon of Israpundit asked about how effective have the sorties against the tunnels in the south of Gaza been and how Israel would create from the air a zone free from bombers.
The General answered that they have taken out tunnels from first day by bombing entrance and exits. Most tunnels have caved in and are now unusuable. When the IDF sees movement on the border they will bomb again.

The IDF cannot guarantee a complete stop to the bombings, they can only guarantee that if they see terrorists, the IDF will shoot them. They will not bomb where ‘uninvolved’ citizens may be hurt. Israel has warned Gazans through leaflets and phone calls that they should move out of the area before bombs are dropped. That is why there has been a minimum of causualties.
I asked for further detail about the final goal--if it was just for a ceasefire with Hamas.
The Ambassador said it is premature to say much more but there will be no return to the status quo—that is not an option.

The General said that Israel wants to be sure that security is dramatically changed and that there will be new rules of the game.

He introduced the idea of having a legitimate representatives of the Palestinians, the Palestinian Authority assert itself in Gaza and how Hamas is eventually phased out of control. He stressed that there are a lot of different things to address in such a ceasefire, such as smuggleing arms form Iran. Israel is still not sure if it is at that point yet; they are still assessing.
Mere Rhetoric asked about the avoiding the danger of an artificially short deadline how Israel can resist international pressure.
The Ambassador noted that during the time that Hamas was raining rockets on Israel at will, the world did not run to the Security Council for a truce. But now when the world sees Israel taking steps to defend itself—then there is a reaction.

Malcolm Hoenlein noted that there is goint to be a meeting of the Arab Foreign Ministers tomorrow.

He stressed the importance of getting out as accurate a picture as possible.

He said again that Israel is still in the mode of the operation and that Israel does not want to go back to status quo.
Gateway Pundit asked that though Israel has the support of the current US Administration, whether there are any concerns over the incoming one.
The Ambassador's response was to paraphrase the quote from Obama when he was visiting Sderot:
"If someone was sending rockets on my house where my daughters were sleeping at night, I would do everything to stop it," added the US senator from Illinois, who spoke in front of book shelves filled with mangled Kassam rockets that had been fired into the area.
"And I encourage Israel to do the same."
He said that though the new admininstration had not yet taken office, there have been communications. He also stressed that there has been no thought given to the timing of the operation against Gaza vis-a-vis when Obama would be taking office.
Rick Richman of Contentions asked about Israel's concerns about a new front developing.
The Ambassador said that Israel was watching closely, mindful of the 2006 kidnappings.

The General said that Israel had made it clear to Hizbollah and anyone else that Israel will this time provide any response necessary. If Hizbollah acts up, they will have to deal with a repeat of of 2006--Israel was not happy with the war in 2006, but learned the lesson that if you have to fight, then you fight. Israel has shown this to Hamas and will show Hizbollah too if need be.

Malcolm Hoenlein concluded the conference call, reiterating that “the truth is our strongest weapon.”

He pointed out that currently there were now ½ million Israelis now within range of Hamas and their rockets. He stressed that Hamas is not a ragtag group--it has an army of 15,000 plus support from others.
The conference call concluded with a reminder that there will be other calls.

Please let me know if there are any corrections to be made to my transcript.

Update: Check out Memeorandum for more!

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