By AFP & The Daily Star ∙ December 29, 2008
OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: Israel took extraordinary care to lull Hamas into a sense of complacency ahead of its deadly onslaught of the Gaza Strip, officials and media said on Sunday. Disinformation and secrecy were essential elements that Israel took in the week before the bombardment to coax Palestinians into believing that no major attack was imminent, they said.
When militants fired some 70 rockets and mortar rounds into Israel Wednesday - the largest bombardment since before an Israeli-Hamas truce took effect in June - Israel held its fire.
Palestinian fighters have retaliated on a near-daily basis since Israel shattered the truce with a deadly invasion of Gaza on November 4 and subsequent assassinations in the coastal territory and Occupied West Bank.
The security cabinet met for five hours that day, but did not issue a statement afterward, leading Hamas to mock the government "that holds meetings to discuss decisions to take to stop the rockets" fired in response to violations of the Egyptian-mediated cease-fire.
On Thursday Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni vowed to strike back at the group while on a visit to Egypt, but still the Israeli military took no action.
On Friday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak eased the Israeli blockade of the territory, allowing in dozens of truckloads of humanitarian supplies in what a senior official in his office told AFP was a calculated ruse.
"Allowing the humanitarian aid into Gaza was also meant to act as a deception against Hamas and give them the sense that the operation wasn't imminent," the official said.
The UN and nations around the world have repeatedly called on Israel to end its crushing blockade of Gaza, where roughly half of the 1.5 million population depends on international humanitarian aid. Since its November invasion, Israel has virtually sealed off Gaza from all aid deliveries, forcing UN programs to almost shut down completely.
Also on Friday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office took care to repeatedly tell journalists that the Israeli Cabinet would meet Sunday to discuss any major operation in Gaza.
That announcement prompted widespread speculation that the attack would not come before Sunday, particularly as Israel's Southern Command was sent on leave on Friday.
"Hamas was watching and listening," said the Haaretz daily.
Further adding to the element of surprise, the operation was launched on the Jewish Sabbath.
"The decision to attack on Saturday was a stroke of brilliance: Israel isn't supposed to start wars on the Sabbath. The element of surprise increased the number of people who were killed," the mass-circulation Yediot Ahronot daily said.
At least 280 Palestinians have died in the raids, including women, children and scores of freshly graduated traffic police. Seven of the dead were teenage schoolchildren killed while waiting for a bus, as the attacks commenced as schools were sending children home.
"We left them in complete shock and awe," boasted the Maariv daily.
Preparations for the operation began more than six months ago, when Israel and Hamas were still negotiating a cease-fire through Egyptian intermediaries, Haaretz said. - AFP, with The Daily Star