I did my good news posting and was very glad for it.
But, if we care about what’s going on around us, in the end there is no choice but to open our eyes and look hard. The situation is difficult.
By the end of last week, I was giving a good deal of thought to possible solutions with regard to Hamas, but see no clear-cut answers.
There are those still yelling that we should take out Hamas once and for all. Whatever my visceral response, I do not join them in this call. I think we should have done it years ago. But here we are now. Hamas has developed an army, and a huge network of tunnels inside Gaza to be utilized for hiding weapons—a considerable arsenal of rockets and missiles, ever more sophisticated—and militia. This would be an extended operation, and it could not all be done from the air.
Some argue that our soldiers have been well trained to handle these combat conditions, and it is true. They could do it. But at what cost?
Were we to take down Hamas, we would still be left with the thorny problem of what comes next. There is no way that Israel would or should be prepared to assume responsibility for almost two million Arabs, many hostile, and for setting things in order in that horrendous place.
Nor would we want to turn it over to the PA, because this would give Abbas a diplomatic advantage: he would claim that since all of “Palestine” was under PA control, it was time for the world to recognize a Palestinian state.
Not that he’d get very far, for there would be an enormous likelihood that the PA would be taken down again in short order by a jihadi group worse than Hamas: Islamic Jihad, or an al-Qaeda affiliated group coming out of the Sinai.
So where does this leave us? I think about Martin Sherman’s proposal to pay inhabitants of Gaza to leave.
I am certainly not opposed in principle, but continue to see the pragmatics as more than daunting: where would those huge sums come from and where would the people be sent? The fact that Iran is involved in instigating terrorism in Gaza ‒ and I’ll get to this ‒ would make it even more difficult to accomplish. The Iranians would undermine this effort.
So, where does this leave us? “Mowing the grass” (doing a limited operation) every so often, which is what Israel’s policy has been for some time? The approach is one of containing the problem rather than solving it, and it has its limits.
All of this said and done, there are certain principles that seem to me to be “bottom line”: not attempting to “buy” moderation, not showing weakness via concessions, keeping the enemy off balance and on the defensive with such actions as targeted assassinations, following through on threats (or taking care not to make threats that you don’t intend to follow through on), etc.
There was a point last week when I was quite satisfied with Prime Minister Netanyahu. He was not only talking tough, he was acting tough, as he ordered attacks in Gaza and the deployment of considerable force at the fence.
But then matters began to fall apart and I wanted to demand: “Will the real Binyamin Netanyahu please stand up!”
That is, if there is a “real” Netanyahu, rather than a pragmatist who plays it according to how he reads a given situation. Some of the actions he takes on behalf of Israel are great, and then Wham!
In this instance, the Wham! came with reports of a “ceasefire” agreement being negotiated with Hamas. The talk was of a one-year “ceasefire,” to be signed, with terms laid out.
There is a great deal wrong with this. In any event, it was way too soon to go in this direction. One Hamas leader felt the need to warn that “this is not a peace treaty.” Duh! Of course not, as the ideological raison d’être of Hamas is the destruction of Israel.
What is being proposed from the Hamas side is a hudna: a formal period of quiet that permits regrouping and strengthening, with the aim of then attacking with greater effectiveness (if possible, even before that formal period of quiet has ended).
The concept was brought into modern Western consciousness by Yasser Arafat after the signing of Oslo, in comments made during a speech in a mosque that was recorded without his knowledge.
I have written about this before: The hudna is modeled after the behavior of Mohammed in his duplicitous dealings with the Quraysh tribe. You can see more here:
I am not sure I can wrap my head around this: a readiness on our part to tell Hamas, yes, we’ll leave you alone for a year, as long as you don’t attack. We’ll provide certain perks, as per our agreement, and whatever you do behind your borders to prepare for war is your business. At the end of the year, all bets are off.
Any cessation in hostilities with Hamas should be totally informal: We monitor and respond according to what we observe.
Then came the announcement from Hamas that the “ceasefire” would not be arranged until after the Land Day demonstrations on Saturday, which looked to be horrendous. They were talking about bringing in one million demonstrators.
Netanyahu ordered an additional reinforcement of troops at the border and issued stern warnings; the situation appeared ominous as we went into Shabbat.
At the end of the day, however, the demonstrations turned out to be far milder than anticipated.
Some 40,000 demonstrators showed up, a fraction of what had been expected. Three people were killed, and about 300 wounded. There was some rioting, but IDF spokesman Ronen Manelis observed that Hamas displayed “restraint that we haven’t seen the likes of which over the last year.”
Cautioned Manelis: “At the same time, everything is fragile. Everything depends on what the night looks like…We have no intention of putting up with nights when the Gaza envelope is sleepless. We are not withdrawing forces at this stage.”
An anonymous Israeli government official additionally commented that: “As a result of Israeli policies, including powerful Air Force attacks, serious warnings conveyed to Hamas, and massive IDF deployment presided over by Prime Minister Netanyahu — the events on the border passed relatively quietly.”
At a considerable level I was prepared to accept that, although I knew that the Egyptian mediation efforts—led by Gen. Ahmed Abdel Khaleq of the General Intelligence Service—played a major role as well. The Egyptians came down hard on Hamas, warning them of repercussions, and demanding that “monitors” (seen below in vests) keep people from the fence.
Right after Shabbat, the prime minister made a statement:
“My decision now…is to leave the forces in place. We don’t know if this calm will continue. We are prepared for any development. That’s how we run things. We use force when necessary and avoid unnecessary wars.”
Everything was, apparently, under control.
It was on Sunday morning that my perception of the situation shifted significantly.
IDF spokesman Manelis had warned that a great deal depended upon what happened overnight. Well, what happened is that after midnight five rockets were fired into Israel.
Yet, in spite of this, two crossings into Gaza– the Erez pedestrian crossing and the Keren Shalom commercial terminal – were opened on Sunday morning. What is more, announcement was made that the zone for Gazan fishermen was being increased to 28 kilometers, the widest open it has been for years.
Boy, did we show them how tough we are!!
A COGAT statement explained that the easing of restrictions is a reflection of a policy that separates humanitarian needs from terrorist behavior. I don’t believe it for a second, however, because we have routinely imposed restrictions in response to terrorist behavior.
My assumption is that – even though there is no formal “ceasefire” deal in place and we are told that it is still being negotiated – the parameters for the easing of certain restrictions were set in place before the Land Day demonstrations.
I would guess that we told Hamas on Friday that if they cooled it at the border, there would be perks coming. And once this was set in place, Netanyahu was reluctant to hold back on the perks. Hamas needed them badly, to keep the people from being restive. Without those perks, who knows how Hamas would have responded. What is more, it is very likely that the Egyptians leaned on Netanyahu to be forthcoming.
The result: We have achieved no deterrence, and Hamas leaders are crowing about how they won by being steadfast. They say they will continue their demonstrations and indicate that Israel has “no choice” but to accept certain agreements.
A Security Cabinet meeting scheduled for Wednesday was cancelled by the prime minister on Sunday, which strongly suggests that he suspects his cabinet would not support his approach.
Naftali Bennett, head of the New Right, was particularly incensed and tried, without success, to force the issue. He registered concern that the proper deterrence has not been established, and objected to Israeli negotiations with Hamas.
He is correct on both counts.
That Hamas is feeling victorious is further evidenced by the fact that they are making demands: They want better treatment for their people in Israeli prisons. It is no longer April 1, and this is not a joke.
Recently, there have been a number of violent incidents/riots in Israeli prisons. In the Ramon prison, 14 beds were torched. A week later, at the Ketziot prison there were two incidents of attack on guards by prisoners who had improvised metal daggers. In one case, a guard was injured.
These incidents follow attempts to downgrade the conditions of the prisoners, including via the use of jammers to restrict their cell phone use. This is being taken very seriously by Hamas, which put out an official statement:
“Our struggling Palestinian people, its forces and resistance stand behind [the prisoners] and will not give up on their duty in defending them and supporting them until they are liberated.”
The downgrading of the prisoners’ situation should have been done long ago, and it would be most foolish for us to back off on this now: the issue is apparently part of the “ceasefire negotiations.”
There have been rumors of the possibility of a “prisoner exchange.” The term “exchange” makes me cringe. Never again, should we release prisoners. Hamas is denying this, while from other sources come reports that an exchange was discussed but no agreement was reached. Hopefully, this means that we would not agree to release of the prisoners Hamas sought: they are demanding the release of all those prisoners who were released for Gilad Shalit and then re-arrested for new involvement in terror.
This is hardly over yet.
Incendiary balloons are still being launched; we have responded by shooting at the launchers with a drone (no one was hit).
Our troops are still at the border, as well they should be. There are intelligence reports of activity by Islamic Jihad that suggests the possibility of an imminent terror attack. Islamic Jihad takes orders from Iran, which is eager to stir things up.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by independent journalist Arlene Kushner. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.