On December 27, 2008, the IDF launched Operation Cast Lead in Gaza following persistent terrorist activities and a constant missile threat from the Gaza Strip directed at Israeli civilians.
The beginning of the operation on December 27, 2008
On December 27, 2008, the seventh day of Hanukkah, the IDF launched Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. The aim of the operation was striking infrastructures, used for terror activities and rocket fire from the Gaza Strip targeting Israeli civilians.
Around midday, the Israeli Air Force began to attack Hamas' infrastructures in Gaza, including underground tunnels and rocket launching sites.
After two days of air strikes, the IDF began naval strikes. The armed forces attacked dozens of targets throughout the Gaza Strip, such as warehouses, military posts, tunnels, projectile launching sites to Israel, and production and storage sites.
In parallel to these strikes, the IDF repeatedly opened the Kerem Shalom and Erez crossings to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid, food, medicine, and entrance of ambulances into the Gaza Strip. In one case, the IDF even authorized the transfer of two wounded Palestinian children and twenty chronically ill patients from the Gaza Strip to Israeli hospitals to receive medical care.
During the operation, the IDF also attacked the houses of senior Hamas officials. On the night of the fourth day of the operation, an IAF aircraft hit three buildings of the Hamas government in the Tel Awa neighborhood, where Hamas managed, financed, planned and carried out terrorist activities. An audit revealed that the offices of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Finance, Labor, Construction and Housing and the headquarters of the organization had been completely destroyed.
The office of the head of the Hamas terrorist organization, Ismail Haniyeh, the legislative council building in Gaza, and the houses of Hamas senior officials Nizar Rayyan and Amrin Nabil were also bombed. The houses of Rayyan and Nabil were targeted due to the weapons hidden there. Rayyan and his family were warned beforehand of the strike, but they refused to leave the scene. In addition, the IDF hit two mosques that stored Qassam rockets and Grad missiles.
Second phase of the operation: The entrance of ground forces
On Saturday, January 3rd, 2009, IAF aircrafts targeted terrorists in the Gaza Strip, while the IDF ground forces prepared for the second stage of the operation. At 8:00 P.M., the signal was given. One week after the beginning of the operation, troops from the Armored Corps, Infantry Corps, and Artillery Corps entered the Gaza Strip in an effort to take control of the terrorist organization’s launching sites. At the same time, tens of thousands of reservist soldiers were called up by their units to prepare to enter the Gaza Strip the following day.
The ground forces involved in the operation carried out land-based maneuvers throughout the Gaza Strip and were successful with air and naval coverage. Dozens of booby-trapped buildings were neutralized, many weapons were discovered, dozens of terrorists were arrested and brought back to Israel for interrogation, and hundreds of terrorists were wounded. During a mission, paratroopers operating in the El-Atatra area in the northern Gaza Strip found a map detailing all the bomb traps and areas of operation and fighting of Hamas, among others in the middle of civilian population.
The delivery of humanitarian aid to the civilian population of the Gaza Strip took place throughout the operation. To that end, two weeks after the beginning of the operation, a "humanitarian operation room" was set up in Tel Aviv to manage the transfer of humanitarian aid and to respond to Palestinian needs during the operation. The IDF ordered multi-hour ceasefires daily to allow the civilian population of Gaza to buy food, supplies, medicine and fuel.
On the 20th day of the operation, an IAF aircraft struck a building in Jabaliya that housed a meeting between Said Seyam, Hamas Interior Minister, and Salah Abu Jarrah, head of the internal security apparatus. This attack led to the death of Seyam.
Hundreds of tunnels were bombed by Air Force strikes. The culmination of these airstrikes was reached when the Air Force destroyed about a hundred tunnels in just one day. As ground forces advanced in their fight against Hamas infrastructure, it was clear that there was a new trend in the number of rocket attacks on Israeli territory.
End of the operation after 22 days of fighting
Twenty two days after beginning the operation, the Israeli security cabinet decided on a cessation of hostilities in the Gaza Strip.
The cease fire took effect at 2:00 A.M. and Major General Yoav Galant announced the redeployment of Israeli forces on the various lines of the Gaza Strip. Following this, the Chief of the General Staff, Gabi Ashkenazi wrote a letter to the IDF commanders and soldiers, in which he wrote: "The objectives set at the beginning of the operation have been achieved in their entirety. The infrastructure and structure of Hamas have been hard hit, and these new conditions significantly change the security situation in the southern region of Israel".
The Goldstone Report
The IDF seeks to operate in accordance with international law, particularly with regard to the protection of civilians in areas of operation. Hamas regularly uses civilians in the Gaza Strip as human shields, placing weapons caches near hospitals and schools.
On September 15, 2009, a fact-finding mission was set up to investigate alleged war crimes during Israel's military operation in the Gaza Strip in the winter of 2008-2009. The mission, headed by South African Judge Richard Goldstone, presented a deeply biased and highly problematic legal analysis of Israeli conduct before and during the operation.
On April 1st, 2011, Judge Goldstone published a column in the Washington Post, "Re-examining the Goldstone Report on Israel and War Crimes", in which he revised the key positions expressed in the report to a large extent and presented a new appreciation of IDF activities during the Gaza operation.
Two years after the report was published, Goldstone unequivocally stated that the Fact-Finding Mission did not have the relevant information needed to draw any well-founded conclusions. He acknowledged the legitimacy of the IDF's investigation process, and condemned Hamas' flagrant disregard for the Law of Armed Conflict as it continues to target civilians indiscriminately in its rocket and mortar fire.
As Goldstone said on April 1st, "Israel, like any other sovereign nation, has the right and obligation to defend itself and its citizens against attacks from abroad and within".