Israel Moves To Stifle Hamas Rocket Attacks

Israel's incursion into Gaza has continued for more than a week. Best-selling author Michael Oren is a senior fellow at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem. He's also a reservist working as a spokesman for the Israeli military. He tells Ari Shapiro that this large-scale military operation should succeed in deterring Hamas rocket attacks while previous smaller operations failed.

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ARI SHAPIRO, host:

And now we turn to Michael Oren. He's a best-selling author and scholar of military history in the Middle East. In more normal times he would probably be sitting in front of his keyboard at an office in Jerusalem. But today he is in his army uniform near the border with Gaza where he is a reservist working as a spokesman for the Israeli military. And he joins us now. Good morning.

Dr. MICHAEL OREN (Senior Fellow, Shalem Center, Jerusalem; Author; Journalist): Good morning, Ari. How are you?

SHAPIRO: Fine thanks. Israel has made previous incursions in Gaza in recent years, and they have not stopped the rocket fire. So why will it be different this time?

Dr. OREN: I don't think any previous incursion has been of this magnitude and this duration. And I think that the amount of military components that Israel is devoting to this operation far exceeds anything that they have devoted in the past. And I think that even the public mood in Israel is very much in support of the operation, achieving a goal which at minimum would stop the rocket fire that has been terrorizing close to a million Israelis who have been under pretty much continuous rocket fire, including from where I'm talking to you right now. We were interrupted several times last night by barrages of rockets.

SHAPIRO: But Israel has said it doesn't want to keep troops in Gaza indefinitely. As soon as the troops leave, won't Palestinian militants just start making more rockets or smuggling them back into Gaza?

Dr. OREN: Well, the hope is to deal Hamas a decisive defeat that it will either learn its lesson and not engage in rocket fire again and perhaps engage in civilian development and economic development, or that Hamas will not be able to recover at all and that it will be some type of different regime put in place in Gaza, perhaps by the international community. In any case, you're absolutely right. Israel and the Israel Defense Forces have no intention whatsoever of reoccupying Gaza. They don't want to stay in Gaza a moment longer than they have to.

SHAPIRO: So if you say one of Israel's goals here is to deal Hamas a decisive defeat, does that mean Israel really would like to see Hamas ousted as the governing party in Gaza?

Dr. OREN: Well, I don't think anybody, certainly on the Israeli side, I don't think many people in the West, and indeed many, many Arab leaders among the moderate Arab states do not want to see a continuation of Hamas ruling Gaza. It is not Israel's explicit goal to topple the Hamas government. That is not the explicit goal. That's not the stated goal of this operation. If it happens, I think that, again, there will be many people happy about it and I think that it will be - make a great contribution to the future prospects for peace in this region.

The stated goal to restore security to the southern part of Israel - again, we're talking about close to a million Israelis who have been under continuous rocket fire for the last 10 days, and they have been the targets of over 7,000 rockets since Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005.

SHAPIRO: Well, describe for us how Israeli troops are operating in the Gaza Strip. Are they staying in their armored vehicles? Are they getting out and going street to street on foot? How exactly are they operating?

Dr. OREN: The fighting is quite intense and it is street to street, though Israel is trying to avoid inserting its troops into densely populated areas. Israel has learned many of the lessons from the Lebanon campaign of 2006. A, that you cannot stop rocket fire by air power alone. You have to put troops on the ground. They have to get into the nitty-gritty work of taking out those rockets. But they also learned the lesson not to advance in cautiously, to take the operation slowly, which in a manner that will not only safeguard Israeli troops to the degree that you can, but also minimize the number of civilian casualties on the other side.

SHAPIRO: Well, how do Israeli troops function in these very densely populated areas without inflicting excessive civilian casualties?

Dr. OREN: Well, it's unavoidable. It's unavoidable in any military conflict.

SHAPIRO: I'm sorry. Are you saying excessive civilian casualties are unavoidable?

Dr. OREN: No. Civilian casualties are unavoidable - not excessive. I think that so far well over three quarters have been armed gunmen, and that is a percentage which is very rarely attained in urban warfare. We're dealing with an enemy that specializes in fighting from in the midst of civilian neighborhoods. We actually have pictures of them shooting rockets out of schools, even using hospitals as headquarters. There is no division between civilian and military. It makes it extremely difficult.

So, civilian casualties are unavoidable. Keeping those civilian casualties less than excessive, as you would say, is the great task of the Israeli Defense Forces. And I think that up to this point we are doing very admirably in that one.

SHAPIRO: Thank you, Michael.

Dr. OREN: Thank you.

SHAPIRO: Michael Oren is a distinguished fellow at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem. And he's temporarily serving as a spokesman for the Israeli military.

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