Israel's plan for a massive invasion of the Gaza strip is gathering momentum and the army has already started calling reserve soldiers in. The operational plan, first revealed by Kol Ha'ir ("Gaza First," 26 Apr.) was finalized six weeks ago, and almost implemented. According to sources in the military, the invasion's main goals are defined in the operation's orders as crushing the Palestinian Authority's institutions, and terrorist infrastructure, and preparing the ground for an alternative administration. The projected administration would be composed of submissive local elements, or of international forces that would govern the Gaza Strip for a limited duration. Still, the plan includes supplements on governing an occupied territory, and instructions for commanders in an occupied territory.
The army estimates that some 20,000 explosive devices will be used against its forces. In a briefing given to one of Givati Brigade's top units, soldiers were told to be mentally prepared for the fact that not everyone will come back alive from this operation.
The atmosphere in Gaza grows tense from an unexpected direction. Last Saturday night an international embarrassment almost took place on the Israel-Egypt border, near Rafiah. An Israeli tank - in violation of the Israel-Egypt peace accords, which mark this area as a demilitarized zone - identified two figures next to the border and immediately opened machine-gun fire at them. The order to open fire was hastily given by an officer newly arrived at the area and unfamiliar with it. He should be so happy the two were not hit.
The shot-at figures were Egyptian soldiers patrolling the border. Hitting them with a tank, in a supposedly demilitarized zone would have put Israel in a tight situation. Egypt's motivation to avoid a diplomatic incident with Israel helped prevent this. The Gaza division is investigating the incident, and opening fire procedures have been revised to make them clearer. It appears that the officer in charge will be punished.
The Egyptian embassy in Tel-Aviv is aware of this event. Mas'ud Tawfiq, the embassies press attaché has said the embassy prefers not to comment about it. Until press time the IDF spokesperson has not responded to Kol Ha'ir's questions on this issue.
The Chief Armour Officer may be advised to check his soldiers' heavy fingers on the triggers of tank machine-guns. Saturday night could have led to a diplomatic incident with Egypt; on Sunday a Palestinian woman and her two children were killed from a tank, near Jenin, by soldiers who mistakenly thought they'd driven on a mine; two months ago a tank shelled a Palestinian car in Al-Bireh, killing a woman and five children of the Abu-Kqik family; this is but a partial list.
Estimates regarding the number of explosive devices the army expects to encounter in Gaza are based, among other things, on continuing talks between the Coordination Administration and various groups in the strip. According to IDF intelligence different organizations in Gaza are tightly coordinated on a daily basis. Other information suggests that Palestinian activists have been digging holes in the ground that look like cesspits, and filled them up with explosives. Other activists have been producing mines and booby traps.