The surprise missile attack on a Gaza police station that launched the Cast Lead operation set off waves of international condemnation and a concerted Israeli effort to justify the strike. Now, two years later, Gaza eyewitnesses and IDF sources reopen old wounds.
By Shay Fogelman
Today, two years later, it seems that understanding the opening act of the Cast Lead operation is key to grasping the operation as a whole, and to a certain extent, the actions of the IDF since that campaign. It began with five missiles fired from the air into a group of policemen undergoing inspection at a station in "Arafat City," a huge government complex located in the center of Gaza City. Videos filmed at the site a few minutes after the attack, some of them by means of cellular telephones, show extraordinary images. First come ambulances and other aid vehicles, racing to the compound where the inspection was held. Subsequently, vehicles pass lightly wounded men who managed to get up and walk away from the carnage. Sirens wail, as the vehicles pass eucalyptus trees and head to the blood-soaked inspection area. Members of the medical rescue teams appear to be helpless and in shock, as they run about and try to tend to the wounded, chanting verses from the Koran, and angry imprecations at heaven. Most of the policemen were already dead.
According to reports released by the Palestinian Interior Ministry, Arafat City serves as police headquarters in Gaza City. Among other things, there are offices, detention rooms and a training facility for policemen. The Israeli attack was aimed at a compound in the center of this area. Witnesses say it began with three missiles fired from a helicopter; they hit a group of dozens of policemen who were standing for inspection in the compound, which is bordered on both sides by one-story office buildings. The still photographs and video show casualties lined up in straight rows, apparently in the same arrangement as in the inspection seconds before. Forty-eight were slain on the spot; five were wounded, and two died later in hospitals. A few seconds after the initial attack, witnesses say, one or two missiles were fired at a group of 50 officers who were standing in an open area, close to the inspection square. This attack left 28 dead.
The Palestinians say a total of 89 policemen were killed in the attacks. The United Nations review committee for the IDF operation, headed by Justice Richard Goldstone, found two additional craters in the area of the attack. These were apparently created by missiles fired at the open area, which missed their targets. Based on laboratory analysis of missile fragments, the committee determined that Spike missiles, developed by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, were used.
According to Rafael publications, an advanced, fourth generation version of the missile, deemed battle-worthy in 2004, is designed for warfare in crowded urban areas. Its main asset is lethal accuracy. It can be fired via a "launch and forget" method and its path can also be adjusted to a moving target. The operator aims the weapon using a picture from a camera mounted in the missile itself. Using such a weapon in a populated area produced uneven results, even by the standards of the Cast Lead operation.
Who broke the tahadiyeh?
To understand the escalation that led Israel to launch its attack on the Gaza Strip and indirectly, the character of its opening strikes, we must go back to November 4, 2008, a month and a half before the start of Cast Lead. That day, IDF troops entered Gaza to destroy a tunnel in the central district; they were acting on seemingly solid intelligence about plans to kidnap an IDF soldier. The destruction of the tunnel left one Hamas man dead and several others wounded. This was the first violation of the tahadiyeh (a temporary lull ) after four and a half months of relative quiet in the south. A day and a half later, the IDF attacked some vehicles from the air, killing five Hamas men. These strikes led to the renewal of massive Qassam and mortar attacks on communities in Israel's south, and this sequence of events effectively ended the tahadiyeh - which was supposed to continue for another six weeks, until December 19. Until the two IDF attacks, most army intelligence reports spoke of Hamas' willingness to renew the cease-fire; this would have meant another six months of quiet. Some Hamas leaders even went public with calls to continue the tahadiyeh.
Following the collapse of the temporary cease-fire, there was a widespread belief in Gaza that the IDF would launch a major operation. The Olmert government decided to go ahead with the IDF campaign on December 21. At the end of a cabinet meeting held that day, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told reporters that the only thing left to do was wait for the army to prepare; her remark opened a period of watchful waiting for war.
Despite the bravado of some Hamas leaders before Cast Lead, the IDF's superiority was well known to them, and many Hamas leaders left their homes during the week preceding the operation. Classified materials were whisked out of government offices and the Islamic University. Some commanders of Iz al-Din al-Qassam, Hamas' military wing, even ordered their fighters to leave their bases at night. Based on past experience, Hamas believed Israel would launch its operation at night. Israeli intelligence sources say that confiscated documents indicate that Hamas was preparing for a multi-pronged land attack accompanied by air sorties and artillery shelling.
Based on these forecasts, Hamas prepared a defense strategy designed to create a dual attrition effect. Plans called for expansion of the rocket and mortar attacks on southern Israeli communities, and defense arrangements were strengthened in order to block the advance of IDF troops and cause maximum casualties. Hamas believed that after two weeks of intensive land engagement, the operation would stop, either due to international pressure or because of domestic dynamics in Israel after many lives were lost. None of the Hamas defense plans related to the scenario of an Israeli air attack on a sunny afternoon; nor did anyone anticipate a strike on police headquarters.
On Thursday, two days before the attack, Israeli media reported that the security cabinet would wait until Sunday morning to discuss the timing and character of Israel's response to the escalation of Hamas mortar and Qassam attacks. That day, Defense Minister Ehud Barak ordered the opening of border crossing points at Rafah, after two weeks of closure in response to the Hamas attacks, and he allowed 40 trucks filled with food, humanitarian supplies and gas to enter Gaza. These steps were designed to create an impression of calm.
Right-wing Knesset members and media criticized Barak. MK Aryeh Eldad appealed to Attorney General Meni Mazuz, asking that Barak be indicted for "abetting the enemy at a time of war." Barak showed restraint. He appeared that night on "Wonderful Country" (Eretz Nehederet ), a satirical television program, playing himself; needless to say, he didn't laugh at MK Eldad for falling victim to the disinformation campaign.
This week, senior Hamas figures, interviewed by telephone from Gaza, admitted they were surprised by the timing of the start of the operation. Some continue to question Egypt's involvement. An Israeli message was delivered to the Egyptians, saying there would be no attack that weekend; Egyptians say the message was brought to them by Tzipi Livni, in meetings conducted that weekend in Cairo. Some Hamas figures accuse Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and their view is reinforced by a cable disclosed on the WikiLeaks site last month. Written by a U.S. Embassy official, Luis Moreno, the classified document states that in meetings with members of the U.S. Congress after the operation, in May 2009, the defense minister said that Israel had tried to coordinate the attack with Egypt and with Mahmoud Abbas.
This week, replying to questions posed by Haaretz, Ehud Olmert, prime minister at the time, denied this in a statement: "In contrast to reports that surfaced recently, the then prime minister did not issue an order for the operation to be coordinated with the Palestinian Authority and/or Egypt, and does not know whether coordination of this sort ever transpired."
Another surprise, say the Hamas sources, was Israel's decision to launch the strike on Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest. Hamas was not the only party to be caught unawares in this respect. Generally, the IDF consults with military rabbis prior to unusual military operations undertaken on Shabbat. The pikuah nefesh concept, which permits work on Shabbat, can in many cases be open to various interpretations. IDF commanders typically play it safe and seek the sanction of Jewish law before they order men into combat on Shabbat. Despite the fact that Cast Lead was launched on a Saturday afternoon, no officer from the General Staff conferred with the chief IDF rabbi at the time, Avichai Rontzki, regarding the operation's timing. In retrospect, Rontzki allows that "it was justified, in Jewish law terms, to act on Shabbat;" but he says that when he complained in the IDF's operation summary about the fact that he didn't know Cast Lead was in the offing, he was told that "such compartmentalization [of information] was done for reasons of field security."
Rontzki was not the only one kept in the dark about the details and timing of Operation Cast Lead; compartmentalization of information also applied to top IDF field officers. Some division and battalion commanders whose units were subsequently called into action knew nothing about the start of Cast Lead, and this drew some criticism in IDF summaries of the operation. Last week, Haim Ramon, who was at the time deputy prime minister, said cabinet ministers did not know about the timing of the operation. Speaking of the cabinet meeting on December 21, Ramon stated: "A week earlier, following the escalation of missiles, we authorized the internal cabinet [comprised of Olmert, Barak and Livni ] to determine the timing. The final decision was reached by Olmert, Barak and Livni on Friday. I was personally briefed about it via telephone that evening, but on an official level, no minister was briefed."
Ramon adds that the operation's first targets, including the police station in Arafat City, were not presented to the government. "The cabinet was briefed generally about the set of targets, but this was not specific information. It was explained to us that they were looking for a suitable target for the start of the operation, and we did not know formally about the choice of this or that target," said Ramon.
Sense of dread
The compartmentalization Ramon describes allowed the identity of the first targets to be kept secret, along with the timing of the attacks. It appears that in this case, the object of secrecy was not to attain an operational advantage, at least not in the ordinary sense of the term. Top IDF sources said this week that the planning of the surprise attack was influenced, to some extent, by the doctrine of "shock and awe."
This American doctrine, which materialized over the past two decades, holds that the attacking side should use a high degree of force and apply it accurately to targets in a very short time. The idea is to engender a sense of dread and shock among the enemy and eradicate its motivation to launch counterattacks. IDF officers appear to have studied the doctrine closely. Cast Lead's opening act included all the characteristics defined in professional literature about this doctrine, one whose efficacy and moral status remain in dispute. As part of its adjustments after the Second Lebanon War, and to implement the "shock and awe" doctrine, the IDF compiled, over a two year period, a list of possible attack targets..
According to an IDF intelligence officer, "in the past, each branch - the air force, artillery, the navy, special units - would act independently, in consultation with intelligence officers, and compile its own list of targets ... This time, all of that work was done in a coordinated fashion." One officer who took part in compiling the list of targets and in forging an attack plan is Brigadier General (res. ) Zvi Fogel, who was Southern Command artillery commander at the time of Cast Lead. His comments suggest that the harsh results of the first strike were planned, more or less.
"For the opening of the operation, targets were planned that would create, apart from the effect of military surprise, a consciousness effect," Fogel said. "Targets that would influence Hamas were chosen," and this selection included calculations that "went well beyond the military aspect. Hamas, after all, is a terror organization that is trying to forge a political agenda. Its military power has vast significance, and great influence on the political structure. The assumption was that a decisive military victory over the organization would cause it to lose its political power. It was clear that we could not, in the first air strike, liquidate Hamas' entire political leadership, or all of its missile launchers, or all of its weapons arsenals. But it was important to create as large a damage effect as possible," explained Fogel.
Fogel's account of the character and purpose of the original attacks is reinforced by a former senior officer in the Southern Command. This source says, "The choice of targets was influenced by the assumption that [Israel's] political leadership would not allow the IDF to undertake a large-scale land campaign in Gaza. This was, after all, the Olmert government that bore scars from the Second Lebanon War; despite the fact that the defense minister and IDF chief of staff were new, nobody in the General Staff believed we would receive a green light to send land forces into Gaza. On the assumption that only the air force and artillery would operate in Gaza, an opening attack for the operation had to be fashioned to cause as much damage as possible to Hamas."
The IDF compiled its list of possible first strike targets on the basis of extensive intelligence work that utilized sources in Gaza as well as an array of information technologies. After two years of compilation, hundreds of residences, manufacturing enterprises, weapons arsenals, tunnels and other facilities had been identified as belonging to Hamas. Also on the list were all the police stations in Gaza City.
According to various sources in Gaza, out of roughly 100 targets attacked on the operation's first day, 24 were police stations. The next day, nine more police stations were attacked. By the end of the aerial bombardment, all police stations in Gaza had been attacked - about 60, all told. Israel's message was clear: all police stations in Gaza are enemy targets, and all policemen, regardless of their ranks and duties and unit affiliations, are legitimate targets. The offensive against the police and its personnel, which was to stir stiff international criticism, was not a random act. It was the result of a deliberately adopted doctrine that materialized in the highest echelons of Israel's political-military establishment.
100 targets the first day
On Friday, the internal cabinet reached its final decision to go ahead with the operation. In four minutes on Saturday morning, dozens of Israel Air Force missiles destroyed 50 targets around the Gaza Strip. During a second wave of attacks on the same day, an additional 50 targets were destroyed. Early reports from the Gaza Strip indicated that 225 persons were killed that day, and 750 wounded. Investigations undertaken later by human rights organizations referred to much larger casualty figures, sometimes double those numbers.
The first target of attack was the police compound in Arafat City, and gruesome images of carnage from the compound were broadcast that day on television screens around the world. Terms like "massacre" and "bloodbath" were frequently used to describe these images. In the days that followed, cell phone videos surfaced on YouTube, with images that are much more disturbing than what was seen on television broadcasts.
According to eyewitness accounts from Gaza, and also from the Goldstone committee, F-16 planes fired missiles at the police inspection in Gaza City. But Haaretz Magazine found that the fire came mainly from Cobra helicopters from the IAF's 160 Squadron. Air force sources say that this squadron - grounded for months prior to Cast Lead owing to a flight accident in which two crew members died - played an active role in the operation's first attacks. Despite the fact that only four helicopters were flight-ready on the eve of Cast Lead, a third of the targets attacked in the operation's opening action were destroyed by the 160 Squadron, say the sources. In an interview posted in the IDF Spokesman's site, a captain, Nebo, relates elliptically to two or four helicopters at the beginning of the operation, and states: "In professional terms, clearly I hoped for action, since this is the professional goal for me, and like all citizens of the state, I understood that there was no choice. On the other hand, when you return to normal life, outside of the army, you know that you are responsible for something that involved much killing, and even when you know that the action was just and that you attacked only targets who should have been [targeted], that's a lot of responsibility on your back."
Justifying the attack
Early reports on the attack in Arafat City that were circulated by human rights organizations in the Gaza Strip said the policemen had been taking part in an inspection ceremony marking the conclusion of an officers training course. A number of military reporters confirm that IDF sources relayed the same information to them; it was published in Israeli media during the first days of the operation. Several weeks went by before discussion began about the identity of the casualties, the nature of the police course and the legitimacy of the strike.
During the first days of the operation, senior Hamas officials refrained from discussing the nature of the course and the tasks of its participants, due to a desire to retain a measure of ambiguity. They subsequently told the Goldstone committee that these were ordinary policemen from all units who had gathered for a three week course. The course whose members were targeted in the first attack was called "Protocol," focusing on ways of dealing with citizens and colleagues on the police force. There are contradictory claims about the second course; some say it was for cadets from all branches of the Palestinian police force, while others say its participants were officers who came for advanced professional training.
According to the Hamas sources cited by the Goldstone Report, at the time of the missile strikes, policemen from the two courses were doing morning calisthenics. The Goldstone report, however, did not ignore a contradictory claim posted on the Iz al-Din al-Qassam website, where someone claiming to be a policeman states that this was an "advanced army training course."
The Goldstone report does not reach any conclusion about the character of the targeted course, but a number of investigations, including Israeli assessments, have been unable to contradict Hamas officials' assertion that the casualties were participants in the "Protocol" course who were involved in morning fitness exercises.
"An inspection of policemen was deliberately chosen as the attack's first target," says a senior IDF officer. "What dictated the act was the necessity of carrying out an attack of no longer than three minutes that would yield maximal consciousness effect. Not dead bodies, consciousness. The inspection itself, and the course involving policemen, lacked meaning. As far as we were concerned, this was an opportunity to attack persons who took part in it, and I am talking about specific persons - these are people whose names we kept close track of."
This officer says intelligence pointed to certain policemen identified as priority targets owing to their participation in specific security forces in Gaza; their presence in the course was irrelevant. Members of these security forces were considered responsible for the assassination of collaborators with Israel.
"Among others, there were members of the domestic security apparatus who posed a palpable threat to [Israel's] intelligence activity in Gaza," claims this IDF source. He adds: "There were also persons who took part in tunnel activities, smuggling advanced weapons into Gaza, as well as militants from various security forces who were focused on carrying out terror attacks in the immediate future."
Regarding members of the domestic security apparatus who assassinated collaborators, it is worth mentioning that after Cast Lead, Amnesty International released a study that cited "at least 24" executions carried out in this period. Others suspected of collaborating with Israel were tortured with burns, the organization's study suggested.
"Intelligence branches regarded some persons who took part in this inspection as concrete, immediate threats to the State of Israel," adds the IDF officer. "As far as we were concerned, had the inspection been held on Sunday, the whole operation quite possibly would have been deferred until then .... At the time, there was information indicating that an attack on soldiers in this inspection would allow us to attain the maximum number of goals set out for the start of the operation."
This claim is controversial. Hamas officials, along with Palestinian journalists and human rights workers who investigated the attack, have insisted that the two courses had started a long time before the IDF strike - the first in early November, the second in early December - and they were also scheduled to continue for some time after the date of the attack. These officials and investigators have also pointed out that inspections were routine, daily occurrences.
"There was no crucial reason to bomb the inspection; it was a massacre," claims Sami Zyara, today an Al Jazeera reporter in the Gaza Strip. "I was among the first to reach the site, in my capacity as a journalist for ABC. I found a huge number of wounded persons there. There were people who had lost limbs, heads, arms and legs. That was something I couldn't describe by using any word other than 'massacre.' I didn't conduct a systematic investigation of the identities of the casualties, and of persons who had been involved in this or that activity; but, in my view, there could never be a justification for this sort of act."
Another senior journalist in Gaza says: "I am aware that there were people there who could be seen as posing a danger to the State of Israel, but Israel could have liquidated them without killing 90 people in one strike. She has done this enough times in Gaza, and we know she has the ability to do this."
Five orchestra casualties
The attack on the police force stirred massive international criticism of Israel, and remains one of the most controversial aspects of the Operation Cast Lead. Critics, led by the Goldstone committee, say that the attack on policemen should be seen as a military operation against civilians, in violation of international agreements Israel has signed. The committee's "Report on the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict," concludes, in this respect: "The Mission also concludes that the policemen killed on 27 December 2008 cannot be said to have been taking a direct part in hostilities and thus did not lose their civilian immunity from direct attack as civilians on this ground. The Mission accepts that there may be individual members of the Gaza police that were at the same time members of Palestinian armed groups and thus combatants. It concludes, however, that the attacks against the police facilities on the first day of the armed operations failed to strike an acceptable balance between the direct military advantage anticipated (i.e. the killing of those policemen who may have been members of Palestinian armed groups ) and the loss of civilian life (i.e. the other policemen killed and members of the public who would inevitably have been present or in the vicinity ), and therefore violated international humanitarian law."
Hamas insists that policemen from all branches of the force took part in the inspection in Arafat City. Memorial tributes posted in their honor on the Palestinian Interior Ministry website indicate that among the casualties in the attack were five people who played in the police orchestra, 11 policemen from the anti-drug unit, and at least one traffic cop. Also killed were police from a cavalry unit, a personal security unit, an investigations unit and policemen belonging to a force that guards Palestinian courts.
Pictures taken of the carnage directly after the attack hint at the affiliation of the casualties. The victims wear police uniforms of different colors, which indicate different units. There are the blue uniforms of the traffic police and the regular police force, spotted uniforms worn by units used to maintain public order and disperse crowds, and green uniforms worn by members of internal security organizations. Official Hamas statements issued after Cast Lead indicate that policemen from the internal security forces took part in the inspection; these forces were, in fact, identified by the IDF as attack targets. But beyond the fact that the number of these internal security men is unclear, a review of their biographies (which are posted on various Palestinian sites ) suggests that none held a senior post (apart from Tawfik Jabar, the commander of these forces ).
In any event, the attempt to identify the professional affiliation of 89 casualties, or even to confirm if that number is correct, seems daunting, and possibly impossible to complete. Hamas has published details of policemen killed during the Operation Cast Lead (one-sixth of the total number of Palestinians killed during the operation ); but, surveying these details, it is still impossible to isolate the policemen who were killed in Arafat City. The reason is that in the days after the first bombings, chaos reigned in Gaza City, and orderly lists of casualties were not recorded. In some cases, family members transported corpses to hospitals, or buried them independently. These were not mass funerals - the Palestinians feared that such mass events might be targeted by the IDF. As a result, the dates of death and the circumstances of several dozen Palestinian policemen remain unclear.
What about the 34 policemen?
A report by Uri Blau and Yotam Feldman, published in January 2009 in Haaretz Magazine, described how the list of targets compiled by the IDF stirred a complex legal argument over the legality and moral justification for their destruction. One military source cited in the report said "the assault on the site where the inspection was held was authorized with no problems, but the intention to attack 'graduates' of the course stirred equivocation." The source said that IDF intelligence officers pressed for a green light, whereas member of the international law branch of the Military Advocate General's office originally opposed the plan, owing to concerns that it might violate international law. The Haaretz article suggested that justification for an attack on graduates of the course was based on defining them as part of a resistance force in the event of Israel's entry into the Gaza Strip, and not on the basis of specific information about any of the course participants. That is, Feldman and Blau wrote, "the very fact that the attack was carried out changed the definitions of its designated victims. As a result, the [army] jurists believed, the nature of the policemen's duties changed from the enforcement of order among civilians, to potential participation in armed resistance."
During the nearly two years since that Haaretz report was published - a period when international criticism of Israel has increased, the Goldstone Report was published, and the possibility arose of top IDF officers facing war crimes charges in European courts - the dialectic surrounding the legality of the police compound bombing has become much more complex.
Israel's argument in justification of the action rests on three claims. First, as presented in the Feldman and Blau report, is that in the event of an Israeli attack in Gaza City, all the police forces there could be redesignated as participants in violent resistance, and thus be legitimate targets. The Goldstone panel rejected this assertion. They noted that at the moment of the attack, the policemen were not taking part in warfare against Israel, and so they deserved protection as civilians. The second Israeli claim is based on intelligence information and public statements made by Hamas leaders in Gaza, suggesting that some of those who took part in the inspection had security roles with a purely military character. This claim has been mired in difficulties because it applies to a certain number of Hamas policemen who dealt with military activity, but does not pertain to those whose roles were clearly related to the police. As the Goldstone report says, there were 34 men in the compound who had no part in a military or armed force; these were civilian casualties in every sense.
Wearing two hats
In this connection, Israel's third argument takes shape; it developed several months after the end of Cast Lead. The gist of it is that a large number of Palestinian policemen simultaneously held positions in militant frameworks connected to Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Israeli officials have called this assumption the "two hat" claim. "In effect, you can say that we were in a state of war even before the first shot was fired in the operation," claims Dore Gold, Israel's former ambassador to the United Nations, who has devoted the past two years to public advocacy in international venues, opposing the UN Fact Finding Mission's report. "Hamas men took credit for their organization's firing of rockets in the period preceding the operation, and thus it can be said that to the extent that the policemen attacked [in the compound strike] were part of Hamas' military framework, that is, to the extent they wore 'two hats,' they were legitimate targets," says Gold.
As these lines were written, there was still no concrete information about the number or identities of the policemen who wore two hats. In order to validate the claim that such an arrangement is commonplace on the Gaza Strip, the Goldstone panel received a study prepared by Jonathan Dahohah Halevy, which, the author claims, was prepared "at the request of the Prime Minister's Office (the two relevant Israeli governments refrained from cooperation with the UN Fact Finding Mission ). Halevy's report is based entirely on accessible sources, such as Iz al-Din al-Qassam's official website, the Palestinian Authority Interior Ministry site, and various media outlets. It features a comparison of the lists of policemen published on official sites and lists of casualties compiled by Palestinian organizations and international human rights groups. Halevy managed to collect the names of 345 people who were defined as policemen or Palestinian security men, and who were killed during Cast Lead. He claims that 286 of them (83 percent ) are identifiable as members of terror organizations.
Another Israeli study on the subject was conducted by Dr. Tal Pavel from Terrogence, a consulting firm that specializes in compiling intelligence on terror organizations from non-classified sources. This study, carried out by Pavel for the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center, centered on the Iz al-Din al-Qassam forum, along with media announcements, flyers, and memorial tributes for Cast Lead casualties. The study does not relate directly to casualties at the Arafat City police compound; its aim is to establish that many Palestinian policemen wore two hats. Pavel's study identified 564 Palestinians who were killed, about whom there is "high probability" that they belonged to one of the fighting units.
The methodologies employed by Halevy and Pavel have been criticized. Activists from human rights organizations concur that the "two hats" phenomenon exists, but dispute the figures cited by Israelis in this connection. According to Sarit Michaeli, spokeswoman for B'Tselem, in some cases, militant organizations claimed casualties after the fact, with the aim of burnishing their credibility among the Palestinian public. The Goldstone report also took note of this phenomenon, and suggested that in some instances militant organizations retrospectively recorded on their rosters the names of children or civilians who clearly had no connection to warfare or security work. The panel adds that bereaved families did not oppose this phenomenon; among other things, the "adoption" of a casualty by a militant organization entitled the family to economic assistance. In some cases it turned out that policemen who were killed had in the past belonged to various organizations, but there was no proof of continued participation in those groups after their recruitment to the police.
"Not every policeman who was photographed with a ribbon from the Iz al-Din al-Qassam battalions on his forehead really belonged to them," claimed a top journalist from Gaza last week. Since he is affiliated with Fatah, the journalist chose to remain anonymous. This claim is reinforced by a report drafted after Cast Lead by the International Crisis Group, a non-governmental, non-profit organization established in 1995 by the World Bank to work for conflict resolution. Its members include retired world leaders and senior diplomats from around the world. Researchers from this group concluded that "at least in theory," Hamas intended to distinguish between two forces - the police as a governmental branch and the organization's military units. Their efforts to do so accelerated in the weeks preceding Cast Lead, as prospects of war with Israel increased, the researchers claimed. Such findings tend to be at variance with the "two hats" theory, and the suggestion that Palestinian militant organizations padded their rosters.
Dr. Reuven Erlich, director of the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center at the Center for Special Studies, adamantly supports the credibility of the two hats contention. He says he carried out a study based on accessible sources as well as classified materials. "All of the examinations we carried out confirm that a large share of the Palestinian policemen and security forces personnel had two hats. We are talking about operations men who were in a good position to secure for themselves salaries as members of local police forces. They take part in joint exercises and are deployed in defined warfare districts. Without such an arrangement, Hamas would be unable to pay its fighters salaries. In many respects, the Palestinian police force can be seen as a cover, and as a way of attaining a steady income for tens of thousands of Palestinian fighters."
Was there truly a justification, from Israel's standpoint, to liquidate two groups of policemen during inspection exercises, or was it all a matter of contingency and convenience? As one well-placed military source put it, could it have been simply that "the weather was good that Saturday - we waited for a moment that would allow us to hit targets that would cause the most damage, and that could be hit during a lull in the stormy weather." W