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Israel prepared to launch its assault into Gaza

As Israel prepared to launch its assault into Gaza in late December, it braced for substantial casualties among its own troops. Commanders warned their men of Hamas' suicide commandos, missiles that could smash tanks and knock helicopters out of the sky, and long-range rockets that could reach deeper into Israel. Yet, when the dust had settled, the Islamist militants' primary military achievement had been to maintain its rocket fire into Israel throughout the 22-day conflict. Of the 10 Israeli soldiers killed in Gaza, four were victims of friendly fire accidents.


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The militants continue to fire rockets: On Tuesday, a medium-range Grad missile struck the Israeli port city of Ashkelon in what may be Hamas' closing shot before an Egyptian-brokered truce finally takes effect. Hamas and its supporters have claimed victory as a result of simply being able to survive the fierce Israeli onslaught. And, as a result, Hamas says, Israel lost the political battle; — its pummeling of Gaza and the heavy civilian death toll inflicted has offended many former supporters, while Hamas' political position has been strengthened. But in battle, Israel clearly held the upper hand. During the conflict, very little of Hamas' force of 15,000 fighters appeared, and neither did its feared arsenal of Iranian-supplied weapons. (See images of Gaza digging out)

Several senior Israeli officers provided TIME with a detailed account of the military campaign. "There was never a single incident in which a unit of Hamas confronted our soldiers," one Israel Defense Forces official says. "And we kept waiting for them to use sophisticated anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles against us, but they never did." Israeli military reported only four attempts by suicide bombers instead of the dozens they had feared from Hamas' special kamikaze unit.

So what happened to Hamas? Israeli military officials offer a triumphalist explanation in which the Islamist militants simply wilted in the face of Israel's overwhelming firepower. By this reasoning, Israel had over-inflated the Hamas threat. The militants are able to lob dozens of crude, badly aimed rockets into southern Israel, but that may be the limit of their abilities. And Israeli officials are congratulating themselves for their tactics. "Hamas and [Lebanon's] Hizballah are worried that Israel has broken the DNA code of urban fighting," says reserve Brig. Gen. Shalom Harari, while cautioning that Hamas' military planners are probably already at work planning ways to block the military's next assault if fighting breaks out again in Gaza, as it undoubtedly will.

Not surprisingly, Hamas disputes the Israeli account. One Gaza commander in Hamas' fighting force, the Izzedin al-Qassam brigades, said the Islamists' plan had been to draw Israeli troops into the crowded urban neighborhoods of Gaza City, where the Israelis would lose the protection of helicopter gunships circling overhead. "We were fighting a modern 21st century army, and we're just a guerrilla resistance movement," he notes. "What did you expect — for us to stand in a field and wait for the Israelis to mow us down?" Indeed, in the classic guerrilla playbook, the insurgent army avoids going toe-to-toe with a conventional force armed with vastly superior weapons, armor and air support. If he has a choice, the guerrilla seeks to survive to fight another day, and allows his adversary's momentum to work against him in terms of the war's political impact.

Israel halted its advance on the edges of Gaza City, calling a ceasefire on Jan. 18, and Hamas' guerrillas — if indeed they were waiting in ambush — went unchallenged. Still, Israeli war strategists are at a loss to explain why Hamas failed to use the anti-aircraft missiles that Israeli intelligence was sure that Iran had provided. "It's an enigma," one IDF officer says. "The air over Gaza was thick with drones, helicopters and F-16s, and Hamas didn't fire a single missile at them." Two possible explanations: either Israeli intelligence was wrong and Hamas simply didn't have the weapons, or the militants are saving them for the next round.

Israel may have confounded Hamas plans to defend Gaza by entering Gaza from three directions, avoiding the main roads which Hamas had mined and booby-trapped. Officers say that Hamas and other Gaza militant groups had prepared a defensive wall using "hundreds of explosives, mines and booby-traps." But for the most part, the Israeli forces were able to go around it, cutting straight to the coastal road and moving down toward Gaza City, and then methodically dismantling Hamas' defenses.

Once they had established positions inside Gaza during the first 48 hours of the ground assault, the Israelis then launched forays against targets but largely kept to the edges of crowded refugee camps and neighborhoods where Hamas might be lurking. Each battalion commander, using the vision provided by a pilotless drone overhead, advanced his men slowly, working out what one officer described as "micro-tactical solutions" as they moved along. In house-to-house searches, soldiers avoided entering through doorways, which might be booby-trapped. Some Israeli human rights organizations claim that soldiers used Palestinian detainees to clear houses. But usually, the soldiers crashed through walls. Troops were also ordered not to enter Hamas' tunnels; dogs and little robots were sent down instead. And, as one officer explains, "Everything suspicious was bombed." Civilians were urged beforehand to flee, but casualties swiftly mounted as the Israeli juggernaut rumbled through Gaza. Over 1,300 Palestinians were killed in the offensive, nearly half of them civilians.

By the end of the conflict, Hamas was still firing rockets, but far fewer. Its rocketeers made easy targets. Within less than a minute after Hamas fired a rocket, the Israelis were able pinpoint and destroy the launch site. As one senior Israeli officer says, "Everyone is digesting the lessons of the Gaza war — us and them." And neither side expects last month's showdown in Gaza to be the last.

Obama vs. Pelosi: Can the President Work With the Democrats?

Obama vs. Pelosi: Can the President Work With the Democrats?
By Jay Newton-Small / Washington Wednesday, Feb. 04, 2009House Speaker Nancy Pelosi listens as President Barack Obama speaks to the press before a meeting with bipartisan congressional leadership in the White House in Washington.
Jason Reed / Reuters
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Facebook Yahoo! Buzz Mixx Permalink Reprints Related For all his high-minded talk of bipartisanship and common purpose, Barack Obama has always been aware that Republicans in Congress weren't going to simply set aside their philosophical differences and embrace the new President's ambitious agenda. But he had reason to hope that Democrats on Capitol Hill, while not going along with everything, would at least give him a honeymoon period. So it must be a bit of a jolt these days to frequently find himself so out of step with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose tacit support of Obama's campaign was felt long before her endorsement was made official.


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On nearly every major issue — from the auto bailout and the stimulus bill to tax cuts and the delicate question of whether to investigate the Bush Administration officials for crimes related to torture — Pelosi has voiced and even pushed through the House differing positions from the President, at times to the embarrassment of Democrats. They each, of course, have distinct motives, and personalities: Pelosi is a partisan warrior who must tend to her caucus, while Obama got elected as a post-partisan healer, implicitly attacking the old ways of Washington and striving to appeal to a broader national base. (See Who's Who in Barack Obama's White House.)

But their differences could have serious consequences. Democrats are enjoying expanded majorities in both congressional chambers as well as control of the White House, but their potential to see much of their agenda passed rests on their ability to get along. Speakers in the past — most notably Democrat Tip O'Neill, whose intraparty bouts with Jimmy Carter were legendary — have squandered similarly powerful perches when they've turned on the executive branch. "All marriages have ups and downs, but Obama will ultimately win. He is President with significant political capital," says James Thurber, founder of American University's Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies. "And he must build cross-party support, something Pelosi does not excel at."

Still, even though Obama has an approval rating roughly three times as high as Congress, Pelosi has already shown herself unwilling to quietly execute Obama's agenda the way former Speaker Denny Hastert did Bush's. Back then, House Republicans didn't openly revolt against President Bush until year six of his Administration, bitterly but quietly swallowing early bipartisan programs like the Medicare Prescription Drug Plan and No Child Left Behind. By contrast, even before Obama took office, he and Pelosi diverged on bailing out the failing auto companies. Looking to secure as much support as possible for the controversial aid package, Obama did not rule out Republican proposals to use a fund set up in early 2008 to modernize the industry rather than TARP money — a move Pelosi vehemently opposed. Pelosi was forced to swallow a compromise, though that deal died in the Senate and ultimately President Bush used money from the bank bailout to help Detroit. (See pictures of the remains of Detroit.)

Pelosi has also been vocal in calling on the President to repeal Bush's tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans this year, a move Obama has been unwilling to commit to in the current economic climate; some in the Administration have suggested it's preferable to just let them lapse next year. And the House Speaker has refused to rule out investigating former Bush Administration officials even after Obama said he'd prefer to keep the focus forward-looking.

But the starkest differences have been over the stimulus plan. In early January, Obama said he'd like to see as much of 40% of the stimulus bill be comprised of tax cuts. Pelosi clearly didn't agree, ultimately delivering legislation with just a third in tax cuts. When House Republicans objected to two provisions in the bill — one providing Medicaid family planning aid to states, and another funding restoration of the National Mall — Obama quickly asked to have the offending items removed. Around the same time, he traveled to the Hill to reach out to and commiserate with the House GOP. (See pictures of Barack Obama behind the scenes on Inauguration Day.)

Sensing the rift, House Republicans have sought to play the two off one another. The message upon leaving their meeting with Obama last week was: "We'd encourage the House leadership to emulate the President in his outreach to our party," as Rep. Scott Garrett, a New Jersey Republican, said archly. Or, as a House GOP leadership aide said at the time, "If you have an opponent with a 70% approval rating and one with a 20% approval rating, you're going to go after the one with a 20% approval rating." In explaining why not a single Republican voted for the stimulus package, the GOP squarely blamed Pelosi for failing to live up to Obama's bipartisan mantra and writing a bill without any input from the other side.

"Is it your fault in some ways," pressed a reporter at Pelosi's weekly press conference last Thursday, "that Barack Obama's first vote was so partisan and not bipartisan?"

Pelosi snapped back: "I didn't come here to be partisan. I didn't come here to be bipartisan. I came here, as did my colleagues, to be nonpartisan, to work for the American people, to do what is in their interest."

Obama may have the political capital, but Pelosi has no illusions about the way things work on Capitol Hill. "What she realized with Obama coming in was that, yeah, we can go through this dance, but at the end of the day, this was going to be a tutorial for the Obama folks," a House staffer close to Pelosi told Politico. "They're all going to vote against you and then come to your cocktail party that night." (See pictures of Barack Obama's college years.)

Some of the friction could just be cosmetic to appease both the progressive base and moderates at the same time. "It's the old routine of bad cop (Pelosi), good cop (Obama); partisanship vs. bipartisanship," says Stephen Wayne, a political science professor at Georgetown University. "It is also a bargaining tool to limit what the Republicans can expect from the legislation in exchange for their support."

Ultimately, Pelosi and Obama's relationship is in its early stages, and the first major trial of their marriage is yet to come. But it may come sooner than either would like. "The real test of the Obama-Pelosi relationship will be what Pelosi does if the Senate, as expected, trims the House fat and pumps up the honest stimulus part of the bill," says Larry Sabato, a political science professor at the University of Virginia. "It seems to me that Obama is very likely to embrace the Senate approach. Will Pelosi go along with Obama, or join the House liberals in trying to maintain the party's wish list as a big slice of the stimulus bill?"

Read "Rickrolled by Nancy Pelosi."

Read "The GOP Grapples with Obama's Charm Offensive."


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In this issue
Edition: Asia
Vol. 173, No. 6


COVER
The Quest Resumes

By ALICE PARK
After eight years of political ostracism, stem-cell scientists like Harvard's Douglas Melton are coming back into the light — and making discoveries that may soon bring lifesaving breakthroughs



ASIA
Champion of Democracy (Profile)

By AUSTIN RAMZY / BEIJING
Bao Tong used to be a senior official in China's Communist Party. Now he is spearheading a movement to bring political change to the nation



GLOBAL BUSINESS
The Way Out (Justin Fox / Davos)
In Davos, as world leaders and business heads gather, TIME's Board of Economists grapples with how to heal the global economy

Botox for Barbie (Retailing)

By LING WOO LIU / SHANGHAI
Mattel's iconic doll is getting a marketing makeover, led by a pink-tastic Shanghai concept store



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From Slumdog to Top Dog (Movies)

By RICHARD CORLISS
How an Anglo-Indian film that nearly went direct to DVD became the Oscar front runner

Burma VJ: Truth as Casualty (Films)

By ANDREW MARSHALL
An award-winning documentary on the Burma uprising is marred by heavy use of reconstructions

Exile's Letter (Books)

By DEENA GUZDER
Ha Jin's new book explores literature and deracination



GLOBAL ADVISER
Venice's Party Colors (City Guide)

By RACHEL SPENCE
Venice's annual Carnival is the perfect excuse to explore the city's sumptuous side

A Way with Water in Budapest (Check In)

By WILLIAM LEE ADAMS
A Budapest hotel brings cutting-edge design to the Danube's historic riverbank

Global Jukebox (Tech Watch)

By THEUNIS BATES
Not sure which Internet radio to get? Here's some sound advice on three of the best

Tapas: Bite-Size Beauties (Amuse-Bouche)

By LYDIA ITOI
The streets of San Sebastian are lined with places serving one delectable nibble after another

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