January 3, 2008: Israel managed to kill 40 terrorists in Gaza in December, all from the air, and in the process not causing any civilian casualties. This is the end result of a five year trend. Back in 2003, one civilian was killed or wounded for each terrorist casualty. That has come down every year, until for this year, only three percent of the casualties from these missile attacks were civilians. This was a combination of better training for the helicopter and F-16 pilots, extra attention paid to the preparation of the missiles or smart bombs to be used for the attacks, and better intelligence on exactly where the terrorists are.
The principal weapon for these attacks has been the Hellfire II missiles, which weighs 106 pounds, carries a 20 pound warhead (containing only a few pounds of explosives) and has a range of 8,000 meters. The missile is most commonly used by the AH-64 helicopter gunship (which can carry up to sixteen Hellfires at once), while larger weapons are fired from F-16 fighters. Over the years, Hellfires intended for anti-terrorist work have been gone over very carefully by the maintenance personnel. That's because the slightest deviation by the missile can cause lots of civilian casualties. Usually, the Hellfire is being used against a car, truck or SUV carrying the terrorists. The bad guys know the Israelis go out of their way to avoid hurting civilians, so the terrorists try to stay among civilians as much as possible. In other words, the terrorists use civilians as human shields. But the Israelis know what is going on, and have improved their spy network in Gaza, and use of high flying UAVs, so they can track the terrorist vehicles and nail them during those few moments when they are away from civilians.
January 3, 2008: Hamas control of Gaza is increasingly threatened by pro-Fatah clans that refuse to surrender. The pro-Fatah groups don't like the strict Islamic lifestyle rules Hamas wants to impose, and is eager to regain the economic opportunities (a cut of the foreign aid) they had when Fatah was in charge. All these are worth fighting for, so the fighting continues, causing several dozen casualties a week.
Osama Bin Laden joined in supporting the Palestinian cause, by issuing an audiotape urging al Qaeda members and supporters to shift their efforts to Palestine. Al Qaeda has admitted defeat in Iraq, and is encountering stiff opposition in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Operations aren't going too well in North Africa, so that leaves Israel. However, Israel has developed the most effective counter-terror tactics in the world. There was only one successful Palestinian terrorist attack inside Israel last year. All Palestinian attacks left 13 Israelis dead in 2007. Severn of those were civilians, one killed by a suicide bomber, the rest by rockets and gunfire. For that, 373 Palestinians died (a third of them civilian bystanders) from Israeli attacks (often missiles fired from aircraft at Palestinian terrorists pointed out by Palestinian informers.) Meanwhile, 344 Palestinians died fighting other Palestinians in 2007. Al Qaeda is going to have a tough time turning this around.
Most Palestinians admit that their "Second Intifada (struggle)" has been a failure. Begun in 2000, as a ploy to obtain better peace terms with the Israelis, it led to nearly 6,000 deaths since then (80 percent of them Palestinians). But Palestinian extremists, like Hamas, refuse to give up the struggle, and vow to fight to the last Palestinian.
The most successful Palestinian weapon these days is the home made Kassam rocket, fired from Gaza into thinly populated southern Israel. Nearly 900 were fired in 2007, and these caused 464 injuries to Israelis. Included in this number are people who suffered psychological ill effects from being too close to an explosion. Elderly victims have sometimes had heart attacks under these conditions, but Israel counts those who received medical attention (usually a sedative and some reassuring words) as casualties. In 2006, there were nearly 500 Kassams fired and 227 Israeli casualties (only about ten percent of them serious, very few are fatal). Israel is putting a lot of money and effort into developing defensive systems that will shoot down the Kassams. Some of these may enter service this year.
Most Palestinians are now willing to resume negotiations (interrupted in 2000 by the Intifada), but a substantial majority of Palestinians want to fight on. The majority of Palestinians would prefer that Israel simply be destroyed. Because of the Intifada, far fewer Israelis are willing to give up a lot of make peace with the Palestinians.
For over sixty years, the Palestinians have been their own worst enemies, and other Arab nations are taking note of that. The Arab world wants the Palestinians to take whatever deal they can get and settle down, because there is not a lot of support in the Arab world for much else. Based on past performance, the Palestinians will likely ignore this advice and the new realities.