We should ask ourselves, again, and again, how we got into the situation in which we have found ourselves. The question is of key importance, because the situation is intolerable.
After months of enduring violence at the fence and ever greater numbers of incendiary devices launched from Gaza, after the murder of one IDF officer with a high power rifle and the wounding of another, after talk in Israel of finally launching war against Hamas – talk that never materialized, Egypt and the UN came forward with a complex ceasefire plan.
When last I wrote, the signs were that this formalized ceasefire plan was going nowhere. This did not displease me in the slightest for several important reasons:
The plan felt like a reward for terror. Hamas promoted violence at the fence and the launching of incendiary devices into Israel, and instead of being put down for this behavior, they were about to secure relief: open crossings with merchandise coming through, more electricity, etc. etc. It would be a “win” for them – something they badly needed. And it would deliver precisely the wrong message.
- And then: A cease-fire with an “expiration date” – in this instance five years – is a farce, based upon Muslim practice. What does it mean? That in five years and one day it is OK for Hamas to attack again? Either Hamas wants a peaceful situation and is willing to accept a ceasefire with intentions of working to make it permanent, or Hamas should admit it does not want peace. (It does not.)
- The perks that would accrue to Hamas during this five year period would only take the pressure off them and provide an opportunity for planning, and strengthening, towards the day of the next attack. How sensible is it to allow this? There was talk of a seaport being constructed for Gaza in the Sinai. What were the guarantees that military equipment would not be smuggled in via this port?
- Reports continued to emerge of the differences between the military wing of Hamas, which wants war, and the political wing, which is looking for that ceasefire.
How stable would a ceasefire be, given this situation, with the very people who launch the rockets not truly on board?
We are not talking about a democracy in which the military takes its orders from the political leadership.
- There remained the very amorphous question of how the Palestinian Authority fit into this equation. This only added to the inherent instability of the situation.
Then, late Tuesday, within a very short time after I wrote (how often this happens, with the situation so volatile!) the picture began to shift dramatically.
The Hamas political leadership, which had gathered in Gaza in its entirety for the first time to deliberate on the question of whether to accept the plan, had completed discussions.
Now they were headed to Cairo to consult with the Egyptians. Very quickly leaks began to emerge indicating that Hamas was eager for the ceasefire plan.
Wednesday night Hamas released a document highlighting main points that had been agreed upon. Key among these – and of considerable importance – was the determination to deny Israel military freedom in the area: Israel would not be permitted to “impose new rules of conflict.”
Additionally, there would be no renunciation either of weapons or of the resistance.
So they were saying it quite plainly: They will call the shots militarily, hold on to their weapons, and continue on the path of working towards taking down Israel.
Lastly, Hamas declared readiness to begin indirect negotiations on a prisoner exchange deal.
There has been much publicity about the need for Israel to demand, as part of a ceasefire, the release of the bodies of our two soldiers and the two Israeli civilians held by Hamas. What is more, it was being said that Israel must demand this up-front, as an initial condition of the ceasefire.
Hamas, however, has something else in mind: The soldiers’ bodies and the two civilians have been held as bargaining chips.
In 2011, in a terrible deal, Israel released over 1,000 Hamas prisoners in order to secure the release of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit. Many of those released were rearrested because of a return to terrorist acts, or suspected involvement in such acts (following the kidnapping and murder of the three Israeli teenagers in 2014). Hamas wants to secure their release.
This is not an acceptable state of affairs. Hamas must be made to hurt so badly that they agree to release the bodies and the civilians with no quid pro quo.
In any event, according to the reports that were leaked, and repeated in the Turkish press, mediated talks between Hamas and Israel regarding the plan were in “advanced stages.” Israel’s Security Cabinet was supposed to meet on Thursday to discuss the deal and provide a response.
Wednesday night, however, all hell broke loose with a significant attack from Hamas. Overnight and through the day on Thursday the better part of 200 projectiles were launched. People in some Israeli communities near the border spent the night in shelters. Sirens shrilled frequently. The mother directly below was shielding her baby in response to a siren.
People were injured during the attacks – thankfully, no one was killed. Homes and property were damaged as well.
The Israel Air Force then responded inside Gaza, hitting in all some 140 targets.
I will not provide details of that attack because in a sense I feel they do not matter. A map was released showing the location of a tunnel we hit. After a rocket was launched that reached Be’ersheva – the first time since 2014, we leveled a building said to be used as Hamas headquarters. (This happened two hours after an alleged truce.) On it went.
There was a time when this sort of attack seemed impressive to me, but it no longer does: I have come to understand that Hamas expects this and withstands it. It does not substantially affect them.
Into the night last night the Security Cabinet deliberated on what to do next: war or no war? What kind of war?
For many of us watching into the night, we sensed that this was finally it: we were going to move to war.
For the first time, from a variety of sources — including from the mayor of Sderot, which takes the brunt of Hamas attacks — came calls for that war. There was even a small demonstration outside Ministry of Defense Headquarters in Tel Aviv as the Security Cabinet was deliberating.
Among those cited was Major-General (Res.) Uzi Dayan, former deputy chief of staff and former head of the National Security Council – a man who understands and does not fool around.
Said Dayan (emphasis added):
I hope there will be an operation in Gaza. This is something that needs to be done because our deterrence has been eroded to a point.
“Even if there is a kind of ceasefire, Hamas will continue to operate below the threshold of response, to send kites and balloons, on the assumption that we will respond only with a small response, and even if it sends eighty rockets to the Gaza vicinity like yesterday, Israel will not launch an operation. This is called the loss of deterrence.”
Dayan believes we need to fully take out Hamas because anything less would be counted as a victory for Hamas. But he understands that this will happen only when the country is behind this.
Suddenly during the night things went quiet. Hamas declared it had finished its “operation” and that what happened next was up to Israel.
Did Hamas imagine that the barrage of damaging rockets would motive Israel to agree to that long-term ceasefire?
Could it be that after everything Israel might actually agree to that long term ceasefire???
Israel promptly denied it, saying that the instructions given to the military by the Security Cabinet were to “continue to act forcefully” against violence by Hamas.
This was mildly reassuring, as it seemed to indicate that no formal ceasefire agreement had been reached. But what I observed is that these were REACTIVE instructions: Hit them if they act up. Hamas, in essence, was still calling the shots.
Wasn’t that one of the goals of the Hamas leaders, enunciated after their meeting in Gaza? They would “not allow” Israel military freedom of action.
Well, it is not to Hamas to “allow” our position. It is up to Israel to take a position. And this is where we are failing in a significant way.
As I write, early afternoon Israel time, what is referred to as an “uneasy calm” has descended over the area. Some of the precautions issued to residents of the communities adjacent to Gaza have been lifted – which suggests there is no expectation in the short run of further violence. This is unquestionably a simple informal truce, not a formal long-term ceasefire.
But to many of us even this is simply unacceptable! It is time for Israel to take offensive action, and to regain deterrence. Sentiment for action within Israel is growing rapidly.
I have picked up information about grouping of IDF forces near Gaza, and so while there is a temporary, informal truce, there is also the expectation that this may fall apart. The question is, what happens then? Do we continue on the same unending cycle, simply reacting? Or do we go into Gaza for a major offensive operation, to deliver a massage to Hamas at last??
Uzi Dayan and many others say that nothing short of destroying the Hamas regime will do.
But if our Security Cabinet is not ready for this yet (in the end there may be no choice), there is still offensive action that might be taken immediately that would break the current cycle. There is the possibility of targeted assassinations of Hamas leaders, which sets them badly off balance.
I read last night about the idea that we might do a short term very intensive bombing of the elite neighborhoods of Gaza city, which is where the leaders are located. This would hurt them in a more direct fashion. Other creative approaches are possible.
I am simply weary to distraction of the chest-thumping statements by our people:
“We are prepared for any eventuality.”
“We know how to act when we have to.”
Hamas knows these are just words. As Seth Frantzman of the JPost put it:
“Jerusalem’s toothless warnings have become quotidian.”
It’s time to stop talking and show them.
Before closing, I do want to share this from Ron Ben Yisahai, as cited by the Jewish Press:
“In Israel, both in the political echelon and in the security echelons and the IDF, it is estimated that the ‘big deal’ with Hamas will not happen in the near future.”
That’s not because Israel doesn’t want it, but because, what can you do, Hamas doesn’t want it, apparently.
“The five-year ‘hudna’ (ceasefire), which has been discussed in recent weeks by the Arab and Western media, is not even close to being achieved by the Egyptian mediators and the UN envoy.”
This explains what I spoke about the other day: that if the UN envoy went on vacation, this was indication that nothing was going to happen.
Ben Yishai continues (emphasis added):
“The detailed reports about it were nothing more than psychological warfare on the part of the mediators and Hamas, to create the impression that Hamas was prepared for a long-term and stable truce if all its demands were met – without any concessions on its part.”
Ben Yishai, who tilts left, is disappointed that apparently there will not be a long-term ceasefire. I, most assuredly, am not.