Ephraim "Effie" Eitam is a Brigadier General (reserves) in the Israel Defense Forces and a Member of the Knesset, Israel's parliament, where he serves as a senior member of the Security and Foreign Affairs Committee. He is a much decorated war hero, and was the commander of the elite special forces unit, the Sayeret Golani, during the legendary Operation Entebbe. An religiously observant Jew, MK Eitam may be the only person in the world who is able to say that he studied both at Mercaz HaRav Kook Yeshiva in Jerusalem and the British Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst.
This morning the Kosher Hedgehog participated in a one-hour conference call briefing by MK Eitam delivered to Jewish-interest bloggers, organized by One Jerusalem. You may listen to the entire briefing here.
MK Eitam indicated that the Israel Defense Forces have divided Gaza into three sectors and have surrounded Gaza City. As a result of the airstrikes on weapons stores and the actions of the IDF ground forces, while Hamas can still fire mortars and rockets into Israel, it no longer can replenish its supplies. MK Eitam stated that in a short while Hamas would essentially have depleted its supply of rockets and mortar shells, and would no longer be able to launch an effective barrage at Israel, although it might still be able to occasionally launch a shell or missile.
MK Eitam informed us that over the next number of days, Israel will open a secure corridor out of Gaza City, to an area some five kilometers south of the city, and will notify the civilian residents of the Gaza City that they have safe passage to walk out of Gaza City to humanitarian camps that Israel will set up, where food, water and medical care will be available. Of course, Hamas might choose to fire on refugees who try to take advantage of the offer of safe refuge, but that would clarify for the world who the real war criminals are in this conflict. Eitam stated that Israel intends to provide for 300,000 to 400,000 civilian refugees at the temporary encampment. By emptying out Gaza City of non-combatants, Gaza City would become a free fire zone, and the IDF would be able to treat anyone who remained as a legitimate Hamas target. After a relatively short period of time, the IDF would be able to clean out Gaza City of Hamas combatants and allow the refugees to return to their homes.
I am uncertain whether this plan will prove practical. We have seen that the world little cares about Arabs killing other Arabs--only if an Israeli kills an Arab is there an international outcry. It is quite possible that Hamas would be able to frighten much if not all of the non-combatant population of Gaza City to remain in place as human shields, since the certain risk of death from a Hamas gunman may outweigh the possible threat of Israeli bombs and shells. MK Eitam himself related reports from the current fighting where Hamas leaders grabbed children on the street to use as human shields in crossing from building to building. If Hamas follows its usual cowardly course of action, and a substantial non-combatant population remains in Gaza City, one may safely predict that making the City a free-fire zone would further blacken Israel's name in international opinion. It is a double standard, it stinks, but that is the world we live in. It appears that this time, however, unlike in Lebanon in 2006, Israel may have the resolve to absorb the diplomatic cost of defeating Hamas.