If we listen to what Netanyahu said yesterday, he never really thought our battle with Hamas was going to be peacefully resolved – he refers to it as “on-going.” That would mean that even when there were negotiations proceeding during a ceasefire, he knew.
Could well be.
There were so many rumors about what sort of deal was being cooked up, so many suggestions that the Israeli delegation was caving on this, or that.
And some of this could be as well – although I suspect much was speculation or disinformation.
What is obvious in the end is that whatever Israeli concessions might have been made, they were not nearly sufficient to satisfy Hamas. Not even sufficient to keep Hamas talking.
On Monday, there was a mutual Israeli – Hamas agreement to extend the temporary ceasefire that was in place by another 24 hours past the deadline of midnight Monday – so that talks might continue. This was at the behest of Egypt, and what was implied, if not overtly stated, was that “progress” (however this would be defined) was being made.
Yet on Tuesday, Azzam al-Ahmad, a Fatah official and head of the Palestinian delegation, declared that there had been no progress.
He accused Israel of trying to impose its will on the Palestinians Arabs: “It’s impossible for the Palestinians to accept this. Israel is continuing with its policy of procrastination.”
According to Husam Badran, of Hamas, Israel was sabotaging the talks, putting up obstacles on every issue. “If we don’t reach an agreement that serves the interests of the Palestinians, all options are open.”
If Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu “doesn’t understand the message from the people of Gaza in diplomatic language in Cairo, we know the way that will force him to understand.”
A PA source reported: “The problems in the talks are significant. We cannot at this time reach an agreement. The talks reached a dead end.”
Well, OK then. We see that Netanyahu had not provided concessions sufficient to keep Hamas remotely content. Clearly, whatever he did offer was not going to bring a deal.
Did he know this going in? Were the concessions (wherever they were – such as opening of crossings) made with confidence that they ultimately wouldn’t be enough? Were they offered because it would allow Israel to say to the international community that the failure of talks was not our fault because we were flexible? This would be Netanyahu’s M.O., but truly I do not know; I suspect a case could be made either way.
In the end, far better that there was no deal. Nothing should be given to terrorists in order to get them to stop attacking. This would signal weakness.
Netanyahu had gone into negotiations with ideas about the demilitarization of Hamas. Had that been achieved, it would have been a different situation. But there is no way that Hamas was going to sign onto anything requiring them to surrender their weapons – not even in return for an airport and a seaport. Compromise is not in the vocabulary of jidhadis.
What is more, Hamas leaders never feel themselves bound to their own commitments. In the past several weeks, they broke ceasefires 11 times. And so, indeed better that we should have made no compromise.
At this point, whatever Netanyahu was or was not prepared to concede in negotiations is almost certainly moot.
At roughly 6 PM on Tuesday, three rockets were launched towards Be’ersheva. Hamas claimed it had nothing to do with this.
The Israeli delegation was promptly called back from Cairo, because we do not negotiate under fire. For a few hours there was some vague talk about bringing everyone back for more talk, but that possibility was promptly abandoned. (Although I now read that Kerry – who had been scheduled to come to Cairo before talks broke down – is trying to resuscitate those negotiations.)
Since then, with a few lulls, we’ve been hit with an on-going barrage of rockets from Gaza. In fact, yesterday more rockets – roughly 100 – were launched than in any other single day since the beginning of these hostilities. From Tuesday night until the present, over 300 rockets have been launched. No one in Israel has been killed, but there have been some injuries.
There have been a handful of rockets aimed at the Tel Aviv area, and at Jerusalem. And Hamas threatened the airport, but all has been quiet there.
Once Hamas broke the ceasefire on Tuesday night, a strong response by the Air Force ensued. We’ve been hitting Gaza hard, with the full sanction of Israeli leadership from across the political spectrum:
Even Nachum Shai of Labor said, ‘No more talking, shoot!”
And a solid majority of the nation is eager to see tough action. The off/on situation had become ridiculous and terribly draining.
In addition to a solid pounding, there has been one significant difference in how we are responding: We’ve now seriously begun to go after leadership. Yesterday, there was an attack on the house in Gaza City where Mohammed Deif – head of the military wing of Hamas and allegedly the “brains” behind the operation – was staying with his family. Deif’s wife, daughter and baby son were killed.
There have been conflicting reports as to whether Deif also died. Hamas – which would in any case be reluctant to say he had been eliminated – says he is alive; Israeli intelligence indicates otherwise. Interestingly, a Palestinian Arab website (Saham) reported that he was dead. I have read that, whether he is dead or not, he is definitely out of commission at the moment and not issuing commands. This is to the good.
Then this morning in a pre-dawn strike at a home in Rafah, the IDF with Shin Bet assistance took out two key Hamas commanders: Muhammad Abu Shamalah and Ra’ad Atar, who had both been involved in the Shalit kidnapping. Another major commander, Mohammed Barhoum, was also killed. All three had been involved in operations against Israel for 20 years.
In the short term there is confusion, and a lack of direction. But beyond this, once leadership is targeted, everyone gets nervous and this enhances our deterrence power: if leaders are busy looking over their shoulders to see if we’re coming, they have scant time to plan operations.
Both Netanyahu and Ya’alon have made statements in the last couple of days indicating that Hamas leaders are fair targets. (Hamas leaders are “not invincible,” said Netanyahu.) This represents an escalation of our policy, and I see it as something that had been planned if negotiations hit a dead end.
What must be asked is why we waited so long on this. Clearly, we were holding back before. This was obvious when we hit Haniyeh’s empty house some several days ago.
The question now is where we go from here. (Yes, it’s a question I’ve asked before.)
Netanyahu continues to say the goals of the operation are “restoring quiet for a prolonged period along with a significant blow to the terrorist infrastructure.”
But in a talk to the nation last night, he also said:
“We have not given up on our goal to overthrow Hamas and its leadership.” (Emphasis added)
That’s a lot tougher.
As soon as the rockets started again, we called up some reservists – a relatively small number that I understood were involved with intelligence. Now there has been approval for 10,000 more to be called up. THE big question is whether there will be a ground operation again. And how serious an operation it would be.
What seems to me to be of significance is that Times of Israel is reporting that Hamas has now depleted 75% of its rocket supply, including the major portion of its mid-range rockets. This means it is not likely that the airport will be targeted or that much will be launched at Tel Aviv or beyond. Now it is the South, and specifically the area close to Gaza, taking the brunt of the attack.
A couple of points here worthy of mention before closing:
According to a key member of Fatah, the negotiations broke down because Qatar pushed Mashaal into a tougher stance – saying they would expel him from the country if he agreed to the long-term ceasefire agreement. Allegedly, Qatar was angry at having been rebuffed as a negotiator.
This rings true in certain respects. And indeed I’ve read many times about the tougher stance of Mashaal, sitting comfortably in Qatar, relative to the position of the Hamas leaders in Gaza. But I note the quotes above, which indicate genuine Hamas dissatisfaction with Israel’s position, and the PA official’s quote about the negotiations having reached a dead end.
I suspect they might well have fallen apart even without a push from Qatar.
What I wonder about is the role of Fatah (the PA) in all of this. Not only was the PA involved with Hamas in the negotiations, it led the delegation and often spoke for it. There may have been reasons why Fatah, eager to convey the impression that the delegation it headed in Cairo was more flexible, preferred to point a finger at Qatar. Speculation.
Once the news broke about the Hamas plot to overthrow Fatah in Judea and Samaria, there were, according to Egyptian reports, tensions that surfaced between Fatah and Hamas members of the delegation in Cairo. And Abbas – even while downplaying the reports – said that an investigation of these allegations would be necessary. Yet Abbas has now gone to Qatar to see Mashaal, for what was reported to be a very positive meeting.
Go figure. There is a great deal that is murky and requires further investigation. One report I encountered said that Mashaal gave the order for those rockets to be launched at Be’ersheva Tuesday night himself, circumventing the military wing of Hamas. In the end it doesn’t matter because if ALL of Hamas is not on board seriously there is no deal.
There are, as might be expected, a couple of international initiatives being developed for a resolution at the UN Security Council to stop the fighting.
What I’m seeing at present is that the Obama government, which took a great deal of criticism for withholding weapons from Israel, is now attempting to show what a good friend it is. For however many days this lasts…
More, hopefully, after Shabbat.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.
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