Sunday, April 20, 2008

20-Apr-08: Putting an attack on a humanitarian crossing into perspective

To put Saturday's "smash-and-grab" terrorist attack on Kerem Shalom into some useful context, a little background is needed.

The place-name is Hebrew for "vineyard of peace", and refers both to a kibbutz founded in 1966 adjacent to the tri-border Gaza/Egypt/Israel area by members of a Zionist youth movement called Hashomer Hatzair, and to a border-crossing. Both are called Kerem Shalom.

The kibbutz members chose the name because the word shalom conveys the idea that the location would play a role in establishing peace and ending the Arab-Israeli conflict. Israeli optimism has never been in short supply.

As a border crossing, Kerem Shalom plays a vital humanitarian role. Since March 2006, it has been used to bring cargo - in particular, humanitarian supplies - from Egypt into Gaza. Pallets arriving on trucks from Egypt are offloaded in Kerem Shalom and Palestinian trucks carry them from there into the Gaza Strip. The turnaround time for the transfer is about 45 minutes, which allows between 15 and 50 truckloads daily. The crossing is managed by the Israel Airports Authority and supervised by European monitors from the European Union Border Assistance Mission Rafah who use it to get to the Rafah Border Crossing. When Kerem Shalom is closed, the Rafah crossing also closes.

Did we say humanitarian? Given the barbaric nature of terrorism in general and of Hamas in particular, any place that fulfills a humanitarian role for the benefit of the Gazan Palestinian Arabs is, by definition, going to be a prime terror target for them. And so it has been. On 25-Jun-06, an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit was abducted by terrorists near Kerem Shalom who crossed into Israel via a tunnel from Gaza and killed two of his companions. The 19 year-old has been held hostage since then. In January, Palestinian Arab terrorist materials were intercepted at the crossing, hidden in a consignment of humanitarian materials.

This brings us to yesterday (Saturday), the eve of Passover, a day on which Jews throughout the world make final preparations for the festive retelling of the Exodus narrative. In other words, the day we recall the transition from tribe to peoplehood. What better day for the Hamas to mount a sophisticated attack intending to grab additional hostages? And if the humanitarian crossing that provides Gaza's families with their meager supplies is destroyed or shut down - well then, that's just a bonus for the terrorists.

Hamas sent two explosives-packed jeeps and two armored vehicles. The jeeps, which were detonated by suicide drivers, broke through to the Israeli side of the Kerem Shalom goods crossing early Saturday, April 19. Terrorists jumped out of the first armored vehicle under cover of the explosions as well as mortar fire and heavy mist, and attacked the Israeli position guarding the terminal. This vehicle, painted in IDF colors, was captured and the assailants driven back. The second armored vehicle, rigged with explosives, headed for the Kissufim crossing further north. IDF tank fire blew it up before it reached its target. (Thanks to Israel Insider for the narrative.)

Thirteen IDF soldiers were lightly or moderately wounded in foiling Saturday's attack. A senior IDF official quoted by Ynet said: "This was an obvious attempt to make an operational statement. The creativity demonstrated by the terrorists, was meant to carry out a 'quality' attack. Dead or kidnapped troops would have dramatically changed the situation in Gaza both over the holiday and in the future."

Following the attack, the Israeli Air Force located and destroyed terrorist rocket crews in Gaza. A cell of four group members was killed by IDF fire Saturday evening en route to launch rockets at Israel. Two additional terrorists were killed in two separate strikes on Saturday night and Sunday morning. The body count, however, is not so straightforward, as Snapped Shot points out:
Reuters is claiming FIVE Hamas gunmen were killed by Israeli air strikes in retaliation to an earlier attack against an Israeli border crossing. No, wait. The AP says it was SEVEN. No, wait again - AFP claims it was ONE. No, THREE. What the hell, lets just add them together and call them civilians... SIXTEEN Palestinian civilians were killed in IDF air strikes!!
Leaving the problematic news-agency reporting aside, YNet points out that one of those terrorists killed yesterday was one of the Hamas senior figures behind the attack and a senior official in the group's military wing – the so-called Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades. And an earlier report carried by UPI now makes more sense than it did earlier: An IDF Bedouin battalion on Thursday fired on three Palestinian gunmen who moved into the Palestinian side of the Kerem Shalom crossing and who were trying to infiltrate the Israeli side. It's now evident that Thursday's small-scale move was a dress rehearsal intended to figure out how the Israelis might respond to something larger.

The outcome of yesterday's attack was, fortunately, quite different from what Hamas and its thuggish associates planned. The absurdity of it is that Israel, after some period of keeping the crossing closed and trying to figure out how to protect the personnel who man it - will continue to protect this crossing point from the future Palestinian-Arab terror attacks that are sure to follow. Israeli soldiers as well as civilian fuel workers will continue to place themselves in harm's way to ensure a constant flow of the very items - fuel, food, medicine - that the terrorists want to stop so that they, and such apologists for their terrorism as European Parliament vice president Luisa Morgantini, can continue bemoaning "collective punishment" and "humanitarian disaster".

Collective punishment is the right term for describing the humanitarian disaster inflicted by a jihadist leadership on its own people.

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