I’m sure that – after today’s assessment – I will take a third and a fourth and fifth look at the ceasefire declared last night in Gaza. In many ways this is an evolving situation, more complex than it might have seemed at first blush.
I begin by noting that impressions do matter – especially where deterrence is concerned. If Hamas appears to be the victor, that impression reverberates internationally in a way that is detrimental to our concerns. And in any event the sight of celebrating Palestinian Arabs in Gaza, which we have been shown in news video clips over the past several hours, is extraordinarily galling.
However, there are a couple of points that must be made with regard to this “victory” celebration.
The first is a reminder that the Arabs always win. Even when they have been very soundly defeated, they will let you know that they have won. This approach stems from their honor-shame culture, which simply does not allow for anything that might be considered shameful.
Bassam Tawil, writing now in Gatestone, refers to “the pathetic way Arabs boast to convince themselves that they won every war the Israelis defeated them in.”
The second is that they may be celebrating the end of the fighting more than a victory: because of Hamas’s “martyr” policy, the people of Gaza have had a very hard time. It was Mahmoud Abbas (please note this) who made the announcement in Arabic to the people of Gaza. I saw a sub-title translation, and if it is correct, he said there was now a permanent ceasefire. Permanent? Then they’re done with running from Israeli bombs? Or standing still in order to get hit? A good time to celebrate.
We did not succeed in bringing Hamas to its knees, in order to get them to simply stop firing rockets at us – which would have been the best outcome. Perhaps, had we not agreed now to the ceasefire, we might have.
That, I would say, is the major frustration here – and certainly it constitutes a good part of what deprives us of a solid sense of victory.
But what must be clarified is that we certainly did a huge amount of damage to them. On the face of things, this is obvious, but it needs to be said.
According to some analysts, even though Hamas did not stop launching rockets – they defiantly launched them even into the beginning of the ceasefire – they agreed to that ceasefire because they were beaten down.
Wrote Steve Emerson, citing a report from Israel security officials (emphasis added):
“…amid the report’s assessment that Hamas had lost much of its will to fight, the terrorist group agreed to the latest Egyptian-brokered ceasefire.
“There is growing discontent among the Hamas ranks, as the group suffered significant terrorist casualties, destruction of vital military infrastructure, rocket construction capabilities, and major destruction of its sophisticated underground tunnel network, the Post report said. Israel’s successful targeted assassination of senior Hamas leaders severely disrupted the terrorist organization’s command and control structure, and even resulted in the desertion of rank and file terrorists from battle.
“In light of the assassinations, growing suspicion of Israeli intelligence infiltration also forced Hamas to halt the use sophisticated technologies in the battlefield, significantly reducing its ability to fight. The growing mistrust and panic led Hamas to summarily execute over 20 Palestinians accused of collaborating with Israel.
“Mid-range commanders allegedly fled with their families from conflict zones to avoid having their houses destroyed, producing a sense of mistrust and abandonment among remaining fighters. In one case, 14 Hamas fighters were reportedly trapped in a tunnel for 20 days with no supplies while their commanders failed to even attempt a rescue effort. Some are believed to have starved to death.”
This is a picture of Hamas as the loser with claims of victory that are very hollow.
And we are being provided with a picture of Hamas that has now agreed to terms it could have had previously.
Writes Ron Ben-Yishai in YNet:
“In Jerusalem and the Defense Ministry’s Kirya compound in Tel Aviv they are rubbing their hands in satisfaction – and quite rightly so. After a short-lived war of attrition of just one week, even without a fresh ground incursion, Hamas blinked first and agreed to the outline of the initial ceasefire proposed the Egyptians – the outline of which it had received before Israel sent its ground troops in weeks ago.
“Hamas has not even received the ‘minor agreement’ it could have secured eight days ago, before it violated the ceasefire the last time. Israel, however, has not ceded on anything, rather simply agreed to the ceasefire approved by the Cabinet back in mid-July, a few days after the start of Operation Protective Edge.”
Does this mean, then, that I have re-thought the situation and now believe the ceasefire was a good thing, and that Israel is the uncontested winner?
No, my friends, it does not. While I have provided balance in the above, there are still some very serious considerations, some very serious problems. I am not sure we know yet how much we have won, or have failed to win. Many of us wanted a clear win, and that it is not.
Ben-Yishai, cited above, also says this (emphasis added):
”Granted, the organization is badly wounded, has had all of its military capabilities taken away and more than a thousand of its fighters lost their lives…And yet, there is no satisfactory answer that will ensure the safety of the border communities against mortars, short-range rockets and even anti-tank missiles that could be fired on a bus carrying children to school in the Eshkol Regional Council or the Negev.
“The indefinite ceasefire that took effect Tuesday evening is a tactical win that, for the moment, does not guarantee long-term, stable calm for the Western Negev communities or the whole of Israel. It was indeed Hamas who sought the ceasefire, even pleaded for it, but the organization is known to be a serial violator of ceasefires, and the need to hurt and shed the blood of the Israelis has often overcome its survival instinct and concern for the Palestinians under its control.”
So, Hamas is down, but not out – and this does not qualify as a clear win for us.
This, certainly, is how the residents of the communities near Gaza are feeling.
Itamar Shimoni, Mayor of Ashkelon, believes any compromise with Hamas is a surrender to terror. (Emphasis added)
“The residents of Israel and the south wanted to see a decision in this campaign, but this will apparently not happen.
“We wanted to see Hamas defeated and begging for its life; instead we see Israel running to the negotiating table at every opportunity.”
The head of the Eshkol Council, Haim Yelin, said that he will not ask the residents of his region to return to their homes.He told Channel 10 news,
“In Jerusalem there appears to be a ceasefire. I don’t know what they are talking about. In Jerusalem they feel safe…but not us.”
Quite frankly, this is shameful: the people of the south deserve better. They were told, by Netanyahu himself and the military leaders, “be patient, be strong…it will be OK.” But it is not OK.
On his Facebook page, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (head of Yisrael Beitenu) has written:
“It is forbidden to make peace with Hamas, and as long as Hamas exists it’s impossible to make peace. As long as Hamas rules in Gaza, it is impossible to ensure the security of Israeli citizens, and impossible to reach a peace agreement.
“…we opposed a ceasefire under whose cover Hamas will be able to continue and grow, and manage additional campaigns against Israel at a time convenient to it.
“As long as the Hamas regime is not overthrown – the threat of rockets and tunnels remains. We must stand firm on Hamas not receiving any diplomatic achievement thanks to this ceasefire.”
And Times of Israel editor David Horovitz has written a thoughtful piece that I suggest you read in its entirety. He says (emphasis added):
“Support for Netanyahu’s handling of the conflict will rise again if time, and the long-term ceasefire terms, prove that Hamas has been marginalized and de-fanged. Many Israelis, indeed, will come to hail him for not having ordered a far more extensive ground offensive into the treacherous heart of Gaza where Hamas lay in wait, with the consequent likely loss of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of soldiers’ lives.
“But if Hamas is not marginalized, if it proves capable of rebuilding its tunnels, restocking its rocket arsenals, and plotting new strategies toward its goal of Israel’s annihilation, the Israeli strategy for handling this conflict will have been a failure, and the popularity of the prime minister will be far from the most central of Israel’s concerns.”
There are those who declare that because we didn’t do the full job, the entire war was “for nothing.” I vehemently disagree. If for no other reason than that we took out the tunnels which led into Israel and which were going to be used by Hamas to massacre large numbers of Israelis, it was for something. In addition to which, we have weakened Hamas considerably.
Anyone who calls this “for nothing,” in my opinion desecrates the memories of those soldiers who gave their lives – so that innocent people in the south would not be massacred, and so that Hamas would be weakened.
It is, however, also a given that Netanyahu was not as strong as he should have been in this war. I have written innumerable times that he makes decisions while watching over his shoulder, and indeed, it was true here as much as it has ever been. He is forever watching world opinion. The question is whether this is ever a valid way to proceed – there are a lot of hazards to Israel out there. But what this means is that sometimes he fails to pay attention to the needs of Israel’s citizens.
A horrendous example of this has come to light, and I shudder even as I share it here – but share it I will:
According to a Channel 10 report on Monday, five mortar barrels were aimed at Kibbutz Nachal Oz, and mortars were shot at the kibbutz repeatedly. Residents of the kibbutz “claim the IDF told them that three of the barrels are embedded adjacent to schools where displaced Gaza residents are taking shelter, and therefore the IDF did not strike them to eliminate the threat.
“They add that the IDF said the two other barrels are located adjacent to the houses of residents that the IDF was unable to contact during the course of the 50 day operation so as to ask them to leave and avoid harming them. As a result, the IDF likewise decided not to strike.”
The fear of course was being accused of “war crimes.” But this is ludicrous.
If this report is true, a mortar from one of those guns, which could have been silenced by the IDF, is what killed little Daniel Tragerman.
What remains to be seen now is how strong Netanyahu will be in the follow-up to the war, as he deals with the international community. Herein lies the key.
In my next posting, I want to take a look at the role of the international community – Obama, Kerry, the UN, the EU, et al – and of Mahmoud Abbas.
And I will close today by citing one more commentator who segues into this issue. Avi Issacharoff writes (emphasis added):
“…unless there is a 180 degree turn in Israeli policy relating to Abbas, the ceasefire will change nothing and the next escalation is only a matter of time.”
I will return to this critical issue. We all have a great deal of work to do.
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