A recap of the current situation with a look at some tough issues:
The major operation in the north of Gaza is still on hold. Security heads suggested during today’s Cabinet meeting that this operation could go on for a long time. According to Yuval Diskin, head of General Security Services, the whole strategic picture with the Palestinians could change if this is handled properly: "There is a sequence of steps that we have to take to come out of this stronger and to come up with a new game plan for the Gaza Strip, for Hamas, and for the Palestinian Authority in general."
The efforts of President Mubarak to negotiate the release of Gilad Shalit have not been fruitful and the Egyptians are saying they will curtail efforts if Hamas does not soften its stand very quickly. According to IDF Military Intelligence Directorate Amos Yadlin, Hamas has not made a single offer; it is the Egyptians who have come in with a series of proposed solutions and are essentially "talking to themselves."
Khaled Abu Toameh suggested in yesterday’s Post that divisions and rivalry within Hamas are the stumbling block — no one knows who’s in charge and different factions are seeking different approaches.
The Post reports this evening that the Egyptians are saying that the latest offer was this: Hamas would release Shalit and Egypt would get Israel to release some Palestinian prisoners and pull back from Gaza. Hamas rejected Egypt as a go-between, saying they wanted this in writing from Israel, something they would never get. Details of this Egyptian proposal came to me today from a highly reliable source: Israel would have released the prisoners some weeks from now and denied that it had anything to do with the release of Shalit — saying it was part of a previous deal, or the release of people who almost completed their sentences, or to strengthen Abbas, or whatever. High level Israel officials are insisting they would never release prisoners in a deal such as this because (and this is the indeed the accepted wisdom) it merely encourages more kidnappings. The lesson, once again, is that things are not always as they seem.
An easy call? No way! There are those who argue that every Israeli soldier has a right to know he’ll be redeemed.
What happens next? Cannot say. What do Olmert and his cohorts want? Can’t say here either, although I have painful counter-intuitive information that suggests they are looking ultimately to show that we can negotiate even with Hamas.
More information that fuels more hard questions: Aluf Benn of Ha’aretz reported today that the US has placed three "conditions" on our operation: No harming Abbas, no harming civilians, no harming the infrastructure (such as the electric plants). Conditions? My antennae went up and I contacted Aluf Benn directly. Reasonable, he maintains. We want U.S. support — in the Security Council blocking anti-Israel resolutions and in dealings with Europe. This is what the U.S. expects in return. Well, OK.
But, not content, I pursued this further. I shared this with investigative journalist David Bedein before he went into a Foreign Ministry press conference and when he asked a question with regard to these conditions was told, no, these are conditions Israel has placed on itself. Hmm…
I then secured a knowledgeable off-the-record opinion that totally flew in the face of Aluf Benn’s position: The suggestion is that Israel uses the excuse of American pressure sometimes as a screen to hide behind when doing what it really wants to do anyway. That is, in this instance, if Israel really wanted a major operation in Gaza, there would be a major operation. Ah ha. Said my source, U.S. support for Israel is not that fragile here because of its own political positions with regard to terrorism. The U.S. might express displeasure with a particular action — but refuse to veto censure in the Security Council when it’s the terrorist group Hamas that Israel is pursuing? No way. It wouldn’t play.
It may well be that when the Israeli government is ready — and has been pushed harder enough by Hamas — we will go into Gaza for that major operation. Hamas took one more step in that direction today when it threatened to target Israeli schools. I try to avoid labeling the individuals who threaten, plan, and are willing to execute such operations as "animals." I’m an animal lover and believe this would be an insult to them. The terrorists are far lower than animals.
Off the record what I’m hearing is that the U.S. at this point is pleased with how Israel is conducting the Gaza operation, with the exception of the taking out of electric generators. Why was this done? Presumably because it delivers a message, makes functioning harder for the Palestinians and discomfits a great many people without causing deaths.
Olmert has approved the opening of Karni crossing for four days to "prevent a humanitarian crisis" by bring in food and medicines.
It is well worth noting that the arrest of more than 60 Hamas ministers and legislators has not caused a serious outcry, either from the U.S. or Europe.
Israel fired two missiles last night into the empty offices of PA PM Haniyeh in Gaza; it went up in flames. The action here is symbolic.
Terrorists efforts are continuing non-stop:
— The IDF killed three terrorists outside of the Dahaniyeh airport in Gaza this evening when they began shooting; two of them were wearing explosive belts.
— Gunmen fired on a car outside of Ofra, north of Jerusalem. Police are seeking them.
— A firebomb was thrown at an IDF jeep outside of Kiryat Arba (near Hevron).
— A Palestinian carrying fourteen knives was stopped at a roadblock at Hawara.
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