Last updated on: 1/18/2012 1:28:25 PM PST

What Was the 2008 Gaza War?

General Reference (not clearly pro or con)

GazaWar1 GazaWar2
            Hamas militants with rocket launchers ride through Gaza City          Palestinian men help survivor of Israeli aerial attack
Sources: "Gaza War in Humanitarian Terms,", Dec. 28, 2008
"Israel Rejects UN Council Backing for Gaza War Crimes Report," The Guardian, Oct. 16, 2009

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th edition (2009), in an entry titled "Gaza Strip," provided the following definition:

"As a result of ongoing rocket attacks into Israel, Israel tightened its blockade of the Gaza Strip in Jan., 2008; the resulting shortages led Hamas to force open the Egyptian border, which had mainly been closed since 2005, for several days. Continuing rocket attacks led to Israeli air and ground attacks against targets in the Gaza Strip.

In June, 2008, a six-month cease-fire was established with Israel that included a partial reopening of the border. The cease-fire largely held until a significant outbreak of fighting in Nov. 2008, and was officially ended the next month. Late in Dec., 2008, Israel mounted an offensive against Hamas, with ground operations in Jan., 2009. Some 1,300 persons, about half of whom were civilians, died in the Gaza Strip before Israel and Hamas separately declared cease-fires in mid-January and Israeli forces withdrew; more than 20,000 buildings were damaged or destroyed."

2009 - Columbia Encyclopedia (6th edition) 

Daniel Byman, PhD, Professor in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, wrote in his 2011 book A High Price: The Triumphs and Failures of Israeli Counterterrorism:

"After Hamas seized power in June 2007 Israelis wrestled with the question of how to confront the terrorist organization that had become the government of territory on Israel's doorstep. Israel sought to end rocket attacks from Gaza, force Hamas to release Gilad Shalit, and, ideally, weaken Hamas's hold on power or at least stop it from becoming stronger. Israel arrested Hamas members in the West Bank, pressured Gaza economically, and conducted limited military strikes on Gaza itself. Israel also negotiated with Hamas indirectly and accepted a curious ceasefire for several months. Nothing worked...

Hamas worried, with good reason, that rocket attacks... could lead Israel to escalate at a time when Hamas itself wanted calm. Just as Hamas used attacks on Israel to embarrass the PA, now its rivals could do the same to Hamas. It regularly cracked down on these groups or tried to persuade them to stop attacks. In November 2007, PIJ (Palestinian Islamic Jihad) agreed to stop attacks if Hamas brokered a ceasefire with Israel, and on June 19, 2008, Hamas declared another truce...

The always prevarious ceasefire ended on December 19, 2008. Hamas launched dozens of rockets to mark its ending and the next day announced it would not extend it. Hamas's logic in ending the ceasefire was a mix of hope and miscalculation. The organization thought Israel would not launch a sustained ground operation, in part because a new administration was about to take power in Washington and because it viewed [Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert as a lame duck prime minister. Hamas also believed the Qassam Brigades would inflict serious casualties on the IDF and that Hamas rockets would in turn make Israel sensitive to the risk of civilian casualties...

The 2008-09 war between Israel and Gaza was not just another round in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict: the violence was off the charts. In a few short weeks, from December 27 to January 18, more than a thousand Palestinians died, many of them noncombatants. As always the specific numbers are disputed... The clash differed considerably from Israel's past wars, or even other limited military operations like Defensive Shield and the 2006 fight in Lebanon. This 'war' was more like a raid, with most of the suffering and destruction being on the Palestinian side. In addition to the body toll the operation destroyed or damaged thousands of homes and dozens of factories: twenty-two of Gaza's twenty-nine concrete factories suffered severe damage, as did 60 percent of its agricultural land. Israel also hit Gaza's Legislative Council and the Ministries of Justice, Housing and Labor. Israeli casualties were far, far lower: thirteen in total, three of them civilians. Indeed friendly fire killed four of the ten soldiers who died.

The IDF dubbed its operation Cast Lead. Few non-Israelis recognized this classic Israeli folk song reference to the tops spun at Hanukah, a holiday being celebrated as the fighting began... When the strikes came, Hamas was caught by surprise. In the first wave of air strikes Israel hit Hamas bases, rocket launch sites, the homes of Hamas leaders, and the governing infrastructure, including police training camps and offices. Israel also struck hospitals, mosques, and schools, citing evidence that Hamas was storing weapons in or near these or otherwise using them for military purposes... Israel also claimed that Hamas deliberately prevented civilians from leaving the strike zones, using them as shields. Hamas believe that if IDF continued to attack knowing they would kill civilians, it would still win the propaganda war by blaming Israel for murdering innocents... Rocket firing continued throughout the conflict. All told, six hundred rockets hit Israel, killing three civilians and one soldier...

A definitive judgment on Cast Lead is difficult to make. Israel hoped to damage Hamas's hold on power, but it failed to recognize how strong the organization had grown in Gaza. The picture on deterrence looks more promising. Political Hamas did not lose out to its rivals despite its military defeat... Polls taken after the war indicated that Hamas's leader, Ismail Haniyeh, would win a presidential race against Mahmud Abbas, while those before the war showed Haniyeh down ten points... Although the fighting set Hamas back militarily, after it ended Hamas again smuggled weapons and tons of explosives into Gaza. It also used the lull in violence to build more tunnels and prepare for another round of Israeli strokes. In short it is unclear if Cast Lead altered Hamas's strategic situation. The organization remains firmly in power, its leadership alive and well... Smuggling from Egypt continues... Even so it is too simple to say Cast Lead had no impact; the decline in rocket attacks that followed Cast Lead suggest Hamas felt hard-hit by Israeli strikes and did not want to give Israel a reason to renew attacks on Gaza. Hamas's infrastructure, both civilian and military, took severe hits during the fighting... Perhaps most damaging to Hamas, it did not emerge with the aura of victory..."

2011 - Daniel Byman, PhD 

MidEastWeb for Coexistance, an Israeli-based non-governmental organization, posted the following on its website (accessed Jan. 17, 2012) under the section "Israel and Palestine: A Brief History":

"Extensive indirect negotiations brokered by Egypt led to a truce between Israel and Hamas that went into effect June 19 2008... Israel was forbidden to attack within Gaza, while Hamas and others were to refrain from rocket and terror attacks on Israel. Israel claimed the truce covered arms smuggling, but this was denied by Hamas. Despite several instances of rocket and mortar fire by the Palestinians, the truce held at least initially...

Hamas and affiliated organizations continued to launch rockets into Israel and announced that they would not be renewing the truce agreement on December 19, 2008... Hamas unilaterally announced that that the truce would run for six months only. Reports claimed that while Hamas leadership in Gaza wanted to renew the truce, Khaled Mashaal, the exiled Hamas leader controlled by Syria and Iran, refused to assent. Israel appealed to the Egyptians and to the UN asking for an end to the rocket fire. On December 24 Hamas bombarded Israel with some 60 rockets and mortar shells. On December 27, Israel began Operation Oferet Yetzuka (Operation Cast Lead, named for the Hanukka driedl [top] of cast lead in a Hebrew children's song by Haim Nachman Bialik). In a single Saturday morning, in the space of a few hours, the Israeli Air Force flew about 100 sorties, destroying arms caches, arms factories, smuggling tunnels, missile launching sites, and Hamas command and control centers in Gaza. About 225 Palestinians were killed. This toll grew to about 300 in a few days. UN estimates claimed that about 51 of the dead were civilians. Hamas sources claimed that 155 of the dead in the original attack were civilians. Many of the casualties were cadets in a graduation ceremony of the Hamas police. Israel claimed that Hamas deliberately used human shields, and Hamas television programs indicated that they were proud to use civilians as shields. Hamas responded to continuing air attacks with Grad rocket attacks that reached as far as Beersheba and Yavneh - about 45 km. Hamas attacks had killed 3 Israelis by the end of the year, and the Palestinian death toll had risen to about 400. Hamas refused to stop firing the rockets and Israel prepared for a ground operation in Gaza. The UN Security council issued a statement December 28 calling for both sides to stop the violence, but US objections prevented a binding cease fire resolution.

The major fighting ended on January 18, when Israel declared a unilateral cease fire. Hamas likewise declared a cease fire. About 1,300 Palestinians were killed along with 13 Israeli citizens. Israel claimed most of the Palestinian casualties were combatants, while the Palestinians claimed they were mostly civilians. Human rights groups cited a large number of fatalities among children, but Israel claimed that many of the 'children' in these reports were actually adult Hamas fighters. However, Israel did not release any public casualty lists. The results of the operation were not decisive. Israel achieved a military victory at relatively little cost to itself, but the problems of Hamas rule in Gaza, the kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit and the constant flow of weapons smuggled in via tunnels were not solved, at least initially. Rocket launchings and retaliations continued until after Israeli elections on February 10, 2009."

Jan. 17, 2012 - MidEast Web for Coexistence