March 5, 2008: Could Be Worse

The situation is not exactly wonderful , but truly something much worse than what we’re seeing right now might have developed.

Condoleezza Rice has left. After meeting with Tzipi Livni today, she held a press conference, at which time she announced that Abbas has agreed to return to the negotiating table, although it is unclear as to when he will actually meet Olmert again.

I had written at some length yesterday about how he likely didn’t want to return in any event, and the pressure that was put on him by Hamas and the radicalized environment made it very difficult for him to sit with the Israelis. And yet…

It’s clear that he was greatly reluctant , if, even in Rice’s presence at their joint Ramallah press conference, he didn’t agree to negotiate. He held out, I would guess, for all he was worth. But in the end, what has euphemistically been referred to in the press as a "lobbying effort" by the US went into action after he had declined to cooperate to further that peace process.

I would say (without inside knowledge) that it went something like this: "You know the millions of dollars we’re about to give you? And the military and governmental technical assistance? And all the rest? You can kiss it goodbye if you don’t do your part here."


What remains significant is that Rice made it very clear that Abbas’s return was not predicated on a ceasefire in Gaza, with Israel committed to taking no further action. This means we did not cave. Undoubtedly, we’ve been told to cool it, and most certainly Olmert will make efforts to do just that. But the principle of our right to defend ourselves stands strong in the understanding between the US and Israel.

What we’re likely to see in the short run are operations that are smaller than the one in the north that caused the furor in the last few days. Last night, for example, IDF troops from an elite unit entered Gaza, covered by helicopters, and possibly aided by tanks as well, for what has been termed "routine activity." There was a gun battle, and a senior Islamic Jihad figure was killed and several other IJ gunmen wounded. The troops have already left Gaza.


The bad news is that Abbas is still trying to pressure Israel for further concessions, and to use the US to do it. Thus Rice has agreed to send in Lt. Gen. William Frasier III next week, to "prod" the process.


My prediction is that in spite of this cooling it, and what will be Olmert’s best effort in this regard, the situation will heat up again before terribly long. The fuse of the Israeli people is short at this point. If there are extensive rocket attacks that do significant damage, or that reach even further than has been the case until now, Olmert will be forced to act aggressively, or he will lose his coalition.

And the good news is that he now has sanction to do so. Act aggressively, that is. (See the next item.)

What is more, once we ratchet up our activity in Gaza, Abbas will be constrained by the situation and will refuse to negotiate.


The Security Cabinet meet today and this is what they determined:

A. The State of Israel will act continuously and systematically in order to achieve the following main goals:

* To bring about the cessation of rocket fire and other terrorist actions from Gaza;

* To reduce the strengthening of Hamas , including in coordination with – and by – Egypt;

* To advance the negotiations process with the Palestinian Authority while maintaining freedom of action in the struggle against terrorism;

* To strike at the Hamas regime in Gaza;

* To avoid a humanitarian crisis in Gaza , to the extent that the matter depends on Israel;

* To expedite action on the home front, as is being carried out by the Government and as was presented at the 24.2.08 Cabinet meeting;

* To maintain the legitimacy of, and freedom of action in, continuing to strike at Hamas; to this end, diplomatic and information efforts vis-a-vis the international community will continue.

B. The action policy for achieving the aforementioned goals may include the
following actions (among others):

* Action against launch areas and striking at projectile weapons’ support network of activists and knowledge, and production and storage facilities, and against other military and infrastructure targets.

* Action against Hamas institutions in the Gaza Strip. The targets will be approved by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

So we now know that official policy says it’s not only Israel’s goal to stop the rocket attacks, but also to strike at the Hamas regime and reduce their strengthening (which means basically stopping the smuggling — which might require an Israeli presence in the Philadelphi Corridor). This policy maintains the right to have freedom of action in striking Hamas.

In essence, it says that a ground incursion has been sanctioned, pending the approval of the prime minister, defense minister, and foreign minister. This is not to say that it’s mandated, but rather that it can proceed without further cabinet meetings being required.

For the record, Barak wants to go in, Olmert is trying to avoid doing so, and Livni, in spite of her tough words, is reported to stand somewhere in the middle. But, as I indicated, a change in circumstances might change all of this.


The word from the fighting during the Warm Winter Operation is this:

There were two Givati battalions involved along with the Sa’ar armored battalion and some special forces. There is high praise from the officers for the extraordinary bravery and commitment of the troops who fought; morale was said to be high. I always say that the fact that we have troops of this caliber is our secret weapon and what keeps us strong.

It is also being reported that lessons learned from Lebanon were implemented.

On the other side, it was reported that Hamas fought fiercely and was well equipped but was less well organized than had been expected. In some instance, report the officers, Palestinians were killed by what is euphemistically referred to as "friendly fire." Palestinian gunmen, aiming badly, hit their own.


The whole issue of what is moral with regard to civilian causalities is taken most seriously by our fighting forces. The balance is often such a fine one. Clearly, sometimes their civilians, inadvertently will be killed in our efforts to protect our own. And sometimes we take additional risks, in order to protect their civilians. The bitter irony is that while we, perhaps more than any other nation on earth, work to protect innocent life, even if it is the life of someone (especially a child) from the enemy side, we are accused of war crimes and all the rest.

The brief fighting in northern Gaza in the last days provided instances of what we are up against. And, I confess, as much as I know about these things, I am still shocked at the callousness of these Arabs. They say, even in PA textbooks, "our enemy loves life, but we love death." And boy, is it true.

The IDF acted, very properly, to safeguard our own, by giving permission to open fire when a source of fire against our soldiers was clearly identified as coming from a home, without determining whet
her civilians were also present.

But look at some of the other situations they faced:

In one instance, a boy of about ten was sent by the enemy to retrieve the gun of someone who had been killed. The IDF commander on the scene ordered that fire be halted. Our soldiers watched the boy get the gun and bring it back to the others; they would not kill him.

It was Tzipi Livni in a recent press conference who brought attention to the fact that Hamas sends small children up on to the roof of a building that they know Israel is planning to attack. They count on our essential humanity, and it works. We won’t bomb a building that has small children sitting on its roof. The truly obscene part is that Hamas wouldn’t care if we did bomb those children — they’d simply use this in a huge PR campaign.


Speaking of obscene: The UN Human Rights Council, which is one of the more anti-Israel organizations (right in line with the UN itself) held a moment of silence yesterday for the "martyrs in Gaza" killed by the IDF. This was in response to a request by the Iranian foreign minister. An Israeli spokesperson considered it a good sign that the members of the council were asked to rise for the moment of silence and yet everyone stayed seated. Not good enough for me. No one walked out or voiced indignation, either.


On the other hand, there is this story: A Palestinian woman delivered twins in Barzeli hospital in Ashkelon recently. As they were premature, they were admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit. When a Grad-Katyusha was shot near the hospital last week (traumatizing the staff), these babies were among the ones brought into the hospital bomb shelter.

Yes, we love life.