Closer, that is, to the end of the war. Or so it seems.
Egypt has been pushing hard on Hamas, telling them that Israel will do its third stage of the operation if they don’t agree to a ceasefire, and then they will be fully crushed.
One issue is the length of the cease-fire. We would prefer it to be long term or indefinite; Hamas wanted a cease-fire of just a few months.
This is consistent with their whole hudna approach, which means stopping temporarily in order to regroup and start again. For the fact of the matter is that Hamas, no matter how badly hurt, has not been fully crushed, and hopes to come back to strength.
Egypt proposed a ceasefire of 10 to 15 years, according to a Haaretz report, and after this was rejected, then offered a one year — renewable — cease-fire. This, Hamas is said to be considering, with certain conditions. They want to know how quickly we’ll pull out of Gaza and when crossings will be opened.
One year seems sorely insufficient, and I don’t know if our government would accept this.
What Egypt is after at this point is a cessation of fighting, with the notion that particulars regarding withdrawal, end to smuggling, and opening of crossings can be worked out thereafter.
I would have been almost certain that we would not buy into this: that we would rely on our continued fighting to give us leverage. But there seems to be disagreement within the government on this issue (see more below).
With regard to smuggling, one suggestion being floated now is for a barrier to be erected that surrounds the Egyptian city of Rafah, with patrolling by Egyptian soldiers to prevent smugglers from entering the city. That barrier — a double fence — would extend the length of the Philadelphi Corridor, and there would be a single monitored road that led into the city.
I am highly dubious as to whether this will be put in place, and I have no reason to believe this would work — that the Egyptians would monitor with sufficient diligence. And so I do not wish to belabor this plan unduly. But I want to be certain that the complex parameters are clear:
The border, running roughly nine miles, between Gaza and the Egyptian Sinai, is called the Philadelpi Corridor (only because this name was generated at random from a computer). Under this border, hundreds of smuggling tunnels had been dug, and are now being systematically destroyed by Israel. The task (it’s something of a trick) is to make certain they are not re-dug and that smuggling via tunnels doesn’t resume. To date, Egypt has been severely remiss in this regard.
But there is also the city of Rafah (in Hebrew, Rafiah) straddling the border. Two cities, actually, as one part of Rafah is on the Egyptian side and one in Gaza. The official crossing point for goods moving back and forth is via Rafah. And so, aside from the tunnels, there is the potential for smuggling to be done above ground through that crossing. Material can be hidden deep within, or even under, large trucks that are bringing merchandise into Gaza.
It’s obvious then, that enormous vigilance and sincerity of purpose are required to prevent military equipment from entering Gaza.
With the disengagement, we left the corridor, but were still supposed to retain control at the Rafah crossing. We pulled out, however, in deference to the PA (which then controlled Gaza), at the insistence of Condoleezza Rice. A great deal was smuggled into Gaza when the PA was in control.
Until two weeks ago, Hamas was doing an enormous amount of smuggling via the tunnels. The Rafah crossing has been closed from the Egyptian side, generating much fury in Gaza. At least until now, Egypt — refusing to deal with Hamas — has insisted that it won’t open the Rafah crossing until the PA is back at Rafah.
My own take on the situation, based on what I’ve concluded as well as on what experts I respect are saying, is that we really have only two options:
One is to truly defeat Hamas. There is much to be said for this, because it is likely that a Hamas undefeated will undermine agreements and do all in its power to regain strength. (What General Kupervasser, whom I’ve cited several times now, suggests is coming close to defeating Hamas, so that they’re beaten down enough to halt attacks and smuggling.)
The downside to defeating Hamas is that this may lead to an international effort to reinstate the PA in Gaza. Whether this could actually happen is dubious, but it raises the specter of increased pressure being put upon us to negotiate a state with the PA. And then, if Hamas is defeated, and the PA is rejected by the people of Gaza, there is concern that another radical element, even Al-Qaida, would move in to fill the vacuum.
The other alternative would be for us to maintain a presence in Gaza, along the Philadelphi Corridor. We are the only ones we can trust with insuring that smuggling does not begin again. There are some thinkers who are coming to the conclusion that by default — because there are no other truly viable options — we may do this.
At any rate, Amos Gilad may return to Cairo tomorrow, if discussions between Hamas and Egypt have progressed sufficiently.
Olmert caused a considerable diplomatic firestorm with his comments, reported here yesterday, regarding his phone call to President Bush to get Rice not to vote for Resolution 1860. Rice came back with a scathing denial, a charge that this was 100% untrue. The White House then followed with a denial as well.
It’s not politic to brag publicly about controlling the US Secretary of State and causing her embarrassment.
Of course, just because the US denies this, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. YNet yesterday quoted PA Minister of Foreign Affairs Riad Malki, who had said one day after the vote, that, “We were told that the Americans were going to vote in favor…What happened in the last 10 or 15 minutes [before the vote was taken], what kind of pressure she received, from whom, this is really something that maybe we will know about later.”
According to Malki, when Rice entered the Security Council chamber, she apologized to the Saudi foreign minister, explaining that she would be abstaining but would clarify that the US supported the effort.
One report I encountered said that Olmert opened his mouth in anger, because Livni had taken credit for the situation, claiming that it was her diplomatic effort that prevented Rice from voting for the resolution.
What we are seeing now is tension between Olmert, on one side, and Livni and Barak on the other.
Barak and Livni both want to stop fighting now. Barak wants to institute a week-long ‘humanitarian” cease fire, keep our forces in place and reservists under arms, and then negotiate issues with Egypt. He has taken under advisement the view of Southern Command Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant that continued operations might end up with our deployment in Gaza over a period of time as long as a year. (Is this bad?) He also said to have his eye on Obama’s inauguration next week.
Livni believes, as I have reported, that we don’t need to negotiate with Hamas, but pull out and rely on our new deterrence power to restrain them. She thinks we’ve accomplished as much as we can.
I confess here my surprise that Livni is promoting a pull-out before Hamas is defeated, for it has been her express desire to reinstate the PA in Gaza.
Olmert believes we have not done enough yet. Certainly the fact that Hamas is agreeing to cease fire only under certain conditions indicates they are not yet sufficiently vanquished. (And Khaled Abu Toameh, among others, indicates that Hamas is not broken yet.)
In order to allow the fighting to continue, Olmert has refrained from calling meetings either of the “triumvirate” or the Security Cabinet, which might overrule him. Don’t know how long this can go on. But right now he is forestalling a premature end to the fighting.
I mention here, just in passing, that while political discussion has been tabled in good measure until after the war, there are, obviously, considerable political ramifications to these various positions. We would be naive to imagine that these ramifications are not in the minds of the members of the “triumvirate” as they stake out their various positions
For the record, a clarification on the matter of SC Resolution 1860: It was not adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which provides for enforcement of resolutions. According to my UN source, “As it stands, the Resolution merely demonstrates the will of the international community to see a ceasefire enacted.”
A charge against Israel has been shot down (excuse the deliberate pun). Human Rights Watch had accused Israel of firing phosphorus shells, which ignite on the skin and cause extreme burns.
Peter Herby, head of the mines-arms unit of the International Red Cross, has now told the Associated Press that “…it’s not very unusual to use phosphorus to create smoke or illuminate a target. We have no evidence to suggest it’s being used in any other way [such as burning down buildings or wounding people].” He said that using phosphorus to illuminate a target or create smoke is legitimate under international law.
Irwin Cotler, former justice minister of Canada and an expert on international law, visited our southern region adjacent to Gaza yesterday, and then made a statement to the effect that Hamas fighting tactics and ideology constitute a “case study par excellence” of a systematic violation of international humanitarian law.
Says Cotler, there is “almost no comparable example” in today’s world of a group that so systematically violates international agreements related to armed conflict. He pinpointed six specific violations:
— Deliberate targeting of civilians.
— Attacks from within civilian areas and civilian structures. “Civilians are protected persons, and civilian areas are protected areas. Any use of a civilian infrastructure to launch bombs is itself a war crime.”
— “…the misuse and abuse of humanitarian symbols for purposes of launching attacks is called the perfidy principle. For example, using an ambulance to transport fighters or weapons or disguising oneself as a doctor in a hospital, or using a UN logo or flag, are war crimes.”
— “…the prohibition in the Fourth Geneva Convention and international jurisprudence of the direct and public incitement to genocide. The Hamas covenant itself is a standing incitement to genocide.”
— The scope of the attack on civilians constitutes a crime against humanity. “…when you deliberately hit civilians not infrequently but in a systematic, widespread attack, that’s defined in the treaty of the International Criminal Court and international humanitarian law as a crime against humanity.”
— Recruitment of children into armed conflict (which I recently wrote about, citing PMW).
I called Professor Cotler after reading this description of Hamas violations in the Jerusalem Post, and asked him if international law applied to Hamas as it is neither a sovereign nation nor a signatory to various conventions. He said it didn’t matter: international law applied to Hamas regardless. And this, he told me, was not just his opinion, but that of Alan Dershowitz as well.
Professor Cotler is concerned because the international community “has been minimizing the manner in which Hamas has engaged in consistent mass-violation of international humanitarian law.” He sees it as important to delineate Hamas’s violations the onus of responsibility for the civilian tragedy in Gaza would be placed where it belongs.
“…Clearly what is happening in Gaza is a tragedy. But there has to be moral and legal clarity as to responsibility.”
According to the IDF spokesman, 104,000 liters of fuel and 111 humanitarian aid trucks were transferred into the Gaza strip via the Kerem Shalom crossing today.
Additionally, the IDF is looking to expand its humanitarian assistance by opening more crossings. The Karni crossing, for example, has a chute that permits a more speedy transfer of grains, and 23 truckloads of grain were sent in by that route on Monday. And Erez will be opened for cargo transfer.
A clarification is in order here: Crossings have been closed frequently because of intelligence we receive that they are about to be targeted by terrorists. We’ve had IDF troops lose their lives at these crossing. In fact, the Karni crossing had to be closed after Monday because a tunnel was discovered that was meant to be used for a mine attack. But I am assuming that our presence inside of Gaza makes the targeting of the crossings more difficult for Hamas, and makes it more possible for us to open them.
I have often pondered why the terrorists would interfere with transfer of aid to the Palestinian people by targeting the crossings. Only very recently did I find an answer: Hamas had been making money via the smuggling of goods through the tunnels, and was not eager to be undercut by goods distributed free of charge.
Such is the perversity of their mind-set.
An Apache helicopter pilot, who is not at liberty to reveal his full name or the details of his missions, gave an interview with AP in which he described missions he aborted to avoid civilian casualties. “The ones I remember are when I have locked in on a target and I fire and then at the last second I see a child in my cross hairs and I divert the missile,” he said. “We work very hard to keep civilian casualties as low as possible,. Each missile we shoot is pinpointed to the very meter we want it to go.”
He has called off airstrikes, even if it meant letting a rocket-launcher get away, out of fear of harming an innocent woman or a child. When he did this, he said, he was following both his military orders and his own conscience.
With all of this, EU aid commissioner Louis Michel declared this week that, “It is evident that Israel does not respect international humanitarian law.” He drew this conclusion, he said, because of the number of civilian casualties and the difficulty of getting humanitarian aid to the needy.
With some people, you can’t win.
Please see the following CAMERA article about a Norwegian doctor, Mads Gilbert, who is making libelous charges against Israel after volunteering in Gaza. Many media sources are representing him as an objective observer when in fact he is a Marxist who is so radical in his thinking that he supports the 9/11 terrorist attack.
Three Katyusha rockets were launched into northern Israel, near Kiryat Shmona, from Lebanon early today. The IDF fired a number of artillery shells towards the source of fire.
Once again I wish to close with a piece from Haaretz. This time, “It’s not Israel’s fault it has a strong, well run army,” by Yoel Marcus:
“I feel sorry for the people of Gaza, but I feel even sorrier for the civilian population of southern Israel, which has been bombarded by rockets for the last eight years.
“I feel sorry for the kids who wet their beds at night. I feel sorry for the Color Red sirens that send our citizens on a mad dash for shelters, if there are any, in the hopes of finding cover within 15 seconds. I feel sorry about the homes that have been damaged, the cities that have been drained of their citizens and the schools hit by rockets that were miraculously empty at the time.
“In the beginning, nobody took Qassams seriously…But over time, this primitive rocket has morphed into a long-range missile. So we need to be thankful for the decision to launch Operation Cast Lead, if only because the offensive has exposed the strength of these babies and pulled the wraps off the huge arsenal of rockets they have over there in Gaza, capable of reaching Be’er Sheva. If Israel had not acted now, we would have woken up one morning to find missiles in Tel Aviv, special delivery from Iran via the Philadelphi tunnels.
“Operation Cast Lead is not a reprisal raid but a defensive war meant to clip Hamas’ wings before it surprises us with a Palestinian version of the Yom Kippur War. It’s not our fault we have a strong, well-run army and state-of-the-art weaponry. What did Hamas think? That we were going to sit around twiddling our thumbs forever?”