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      Analyst: Take Over Gaza Now!

      Veteran military correspondent Ron Ben-Yishai of Israel's largest daily, Yediot Acharonot, explains why a massive military offensive in Gaza is Israel's best alternative to fight the Kassams.
      By Hillel Fendel
      First Publish: 11/21/2006, 8:07 PM / Last Update: 11/21/2006, 2:26 PM

      In a scathing attack on Prime Minister Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz, Ben-Yishai writes that the two political leaders "want us to believe that it is not our government and defense establishment that are to blame for the attacks on Sderot, but rather the anarchy in Gaza and the Hamas government. [They want us to think] that therefore all we have to do is to strengthen Abu Mazen and hope that he will finally come to a unity-government agreement with Hamas [which] will call a ceasefire, stop the arms-smuggling, and free Gilad Shalit in exchange for [hundreds of terrorist] prisoners..."

      "Until this happens," he writes, "our government will activate temporary solutions, such as busing the children of Sderot to other towns, stepped-up fortifications in the Negev, and a 'Color Red' early-warning system in Ashkelon as well."

      However, Ben-Yishai feels that there is a better way to "reduce the Kassams... greatly reduce the smuggling on the Philadelphi Route, and even speed up an agreement for a ceasefire agreement" - namely, a "comprehensive military offensive, unlimited in time."

      Senior military figures and government ministers are in favor of one or another variation of such a plan.

      Ben-Yishai does not claim to have a program that will totally stop Kassam fire. He says that "via continued localized offensives, [a large offensive] can create new conditions that will enable a gradual decrease in rocket-launchings and smuggling to a tolerable level that the Negev residents can live with."

      Comparing it to the IDF's successful Operation Defensive Shield in Bethlehem and Samaria in 2002, Ben-Yishai says a broad military offensive in Gaza could create an intelligence infrastructure in the area that will help in thwarting future terror attacks. "In addition, penetrating deeply into the area and remaining there for several weeks would allow the IDF to destroy the existing military and weapons-producing infrastructures. The army would then be able to enter the areas easily and relatively safely to arrest wanted terrorists, destroy terror infrastructures being built, etc. It will also enable the destruction of the smuggling network in southern Gaza, and will also create crisis conditions that will lead to negotiations with Egypt and the PA about stopping the smuggling."

      The Sooner, the Better
      "If Hamas is allowed to continue getting stronger, the IDF will have to carry out a comprehensive mission in a few months from now, or years, and then the price will be much higher in terms of victims among Negev residents and IDF soldiers. But if the IDF goes in now, after appropriate preparations, with large forces that take over the entire Gaza area at one time, we can assume that the number of losses on both sides will be lessened significantly."

      Might be better to wait for Abu Mazen to reach an agreement with Hamas instead of undertaking a dangerous mission? Ben-Yishai says no: "As of now, Abu Mazen has shown little ability to enforce his authority, and Hamas continues to raise its price - such that the long-awaited deal is being delayed while the Negev and Sderot residents continue to get hit. Even if an agreement is signed soon, it can be assumed that Israel will have to pay a price - even though nothing in the deal would prevent Hamas from getting stronger and presenting us with a much worse situation in the not-far-off future when they decide to call off the hudna [ceasefire]."

      "Olmert knows this," Ben-Yishai concludes, "but the American pressure, and the fear that an offensive might fail, cause him to rely on that weak straw. It looks like because of the war in Lebanon, Olmert and Peretz have lost confidence in the IDF. They also know that the Kassams won't stop immediately, but will rather decrease gradually over the course of months - creating an impression of failure which they are not willing, or possibly unable, to absorb politically."