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January 15, 2009: The Crunch

March 19, 2009

Please know: After this posting there is not likely to be another until after Shabbat, unless something of major significance transpires by early tomorrow.


It’s going down to the wire soon, and I’m feeling enormous unease as to how things will finish.

Hamas has not been taken down nearly enough yet, in spite of all we’ve done, which has been considerable. This is obvious on the face of things because they are making demands. A vanquished party doesn’t do that.


But beyond the matter of their demands is another issue of considerable significance

Many terms and concepts are being bandied about in the media. It’s important to be more specific as we look at our expectations for resolution of this war.

We are definitely not working towards a permanent truce with Hamas — a permanent cessation of hostilities. Would that this could be the case! But to achieve this we would have to reach the point of unconditional surrender, as reader Don Salem has pointed out. They would have to cry “uncle!” as Japan did after WWII. Or, in the terms of General Kupervasser, be defeated sufficiently to abandon notions of destroying us — relegating this goal to a hypothetical far distant future. Not only are we not there, we’re not going to get there.

So, we’re looking at something temporary. Preferably, long-term temporary. Egypt, as I had recently mentioned, was seeking something like 10 years. Hamas is talking about something much shorter term. This we know.

But exactly what does Hamas have in mind? There are two Arabic terms for temporary cessations of hostilities.

One is hudna. This is a more formal agreement that has distinct Islamic religious connotations, as Mohammad had a hudna with the Quraysh tribe. Hamas is an Islamic organization — they all know this and take it seriously. While Mohammad was observing the hudna, he did no attacking — although he was garnering strength. And, of course, it didn’t last forever. Ultimately Mohammad attacked.

The other is a tahadiyah. This is a less formal arrangement that is devoid of religious connotation. Because it has no religious connection, there is more of a sense that some attacking — some launching of rockets — is acceptable even during this period. From June through December last year, we had a tahadiyah with Hamas, and they continued to launch rockets, but fewer. We didn’t have quiet, but, rather, “relative” quiet.

There is an Islamic termSulkh, I believe — for a permanent cessation of hostilities. But it is not relevant in this context.


Today I spoke with an Arabic- speaking researcher at MEMRI — the Middle East Media Research Institute, which monitors what Arabs are saying in Arabic and provides translations; his jurisdiction is Egyptian media. He told me that in the Egyptian media, in reports about Egyptian mediation with Hamas for ceasing fire, they are using the term tahadiyah. Only tahadiyah? I asked. Only tahadiyah, he responded.

This tells us, unequivocally, that we must bring Hamas down a great deal more.


I also spoke today with an Arabic speaker with Intelligence connections. This is what he told me:

Even if Egypt were sincere and truly wanted to stop the smuggling, they couldn’t. The Egyptian government is weak, he told me. The Sinai (which is adjacent to the Philadelphi Corridor) is run by the Bedouin, who do the smuggling, and the Egyptian army cannot control the Bedouin.

This tells us, unequivocally, that we can stop the smuggling only if we do it ourselves.


These, then, are the parameters for a truly successful conclusion to the war. The international community is breathing down our necks, and the government is not of one mind on the issues. (More about this below.)

At the moment we are still fighting hard, pushing deeper into Gaza City and attacking with more strength. We are in the heart of the city now and have taken three neighborhoods.

Is this the third stage of the war? Is there more to come?

I very much fear that we will end short of where we need to be.


In my wildest dreams I never imagined I would say what I am about to say now:

At the moment, Ehud Olmert is a champion in my eyes. He is holding fast to continue fighting, even as the other members of the “triumvirate” are ready to call it quits. We will not, he has declared, end up as we did after the Lebanon war, when Hezbollah was able to regain strength. We haven’t fought to end up no better than this.

So, call him a tentative hero, a qualified hero, but bravo to him. I cannot see into the head of this man, who not so long ago informed us that we must divide Jerusalem. There are those who say he’s acting as he is because his political career is over, and he has nothing to lose (while Barak and Livni are campaigning). May be, but still it means that when he has nothing to lose he sees this as the right thing to do. It means there is a strong Zionist conviction in him, when truth is told. (A Zionist conviction that he betrayed for so long, for whatever perverse reasons.)

In any event, I’m so very glad he’s holding fast and give him the credit that is due him. And we’ll take each day as it goes. (Please, my good friends, don’t deluge me with comments about him. This is how I see it now. Who knows what tomorrow will bring.)


According to reports that have leaked, it is Barak that Olmert is battling with most directly. He is particularly furious with him because Barak floated the idea of the two-week humanitarian cease-fire.

As one government official explained it:

“The irresponsibility of ministers – regardless of how senior they are – in leading private initiatives is unfortunate. [The publication of proposed plans] gives encouragement to Hamas, gives a shot in the arm to their backers, and has an immediate effect of the fate of a million Israelis in the south and thousands of IDF soldiers carrying out operations inside Gaza.”

There is also an unconfirmed report that Livni wanted to go to Washington to ask the US to help with arms smuggling. The prime minister’s office has denied this.


Several readers have asked me about Gilad Shalit and whether he will be part of any final cease-fire deal with Hamas. He certainly should be.

The only one in the government I’ve seen mention this forthrightly is Justice Minister Daniel Friedman, earlier this week.

Yesterday, hundreds of young people rallied in Tel Aviv, at Museum Plaza, demanding that any cease-fire settlement include Shalit’s release. Said a boyhood friend of Shalit: “[His release] has to be a clear-cut goal. We will not let the government agree on a ceasefire with Hamas otherwise. Olmert, Barak, Livni – we will not let you do this. There can be no agreement without Gilad.”

And today, Livni met with Red Cross President Jacob Kellenberger and demanded that he push his people to make an effort to visit Shalit. Said she: [The issue of Shalit] “is a pivotal part of the Gaza [campaign]. The Red Cross has access to every prisoner around the world, but here there is a terror organization which is denying this access.” This is, perhaps, on the way to, but not yet saying, that we won’t stop until we have Shalit. What is suggested by “a pivotal part” is unclear.


Tonight there are reports that we may strike a deal that we will open the crossing at the end of the war in exchange for reduced demands by Hamas for Shalit.

I want Shalit released as much as the next Israeli does. But if this is true it is deeply unsettling. Insulting. This implies that instead of releasing 1,000 terrorists, some with blood on their hands, we’d just have to release maybe a few hundred. But why release any? If they are getting crossings opened, let them release Shalit! No Shalit, no opened crossings. Simple.

So many rumors; I hope this is not accurate.


Today was a tough day. UN Secretary-General Ban is in town, and he must be counted as an enemy. I am, quite honestly, proud of how our government responded to him.

Everything is in place for a cease-fire, Ban said. Whether it happens or not depends on the will of Israel. Excuse me?

He was informed that we were fighting in self-defense.


Today we hit an UNRWA compound in Gaza City because gun shots and anti-tank missiles were fired at our troops from the building. This is according to senior defense officials. We fired artillery shells in the direction from which the shooting had come, in the process wounding three and setting a wing of the building on fire. We then brought in five fire trucks to put out the fire.

Ban expressed outrage, and Olmert replied, “…this is a sad incident and I regret it, but our forces were attacked from there and our response was harsh.”


The most prominent military action of the day today was the killing during an air strike in Gaza City of Said Siam, Hamas interior minister. Head of several security apparatuses of Hamas, he served also as its liaison between the political and military wings. And he was one of the masterminds of the Hamas takeover of Gaza in 2007.

Siam is the most senior member of Hamas to be killed so far.

Killed along with him were Salah Abu Shrakh, the head of the Hamas general security service, Mahmoud Watfa, one of the commanders of the Hamas military wing, and his brother and son.


Amos Gilad has returned from his consultations with the Egyptians, and is reporting to key members of the government.

Last we heard, Hamas had “agreed in principle” to a cease-fire, but had stipulations. Now Egyptian media is saying Israel has “agreed in principle,” but has reservations.

This evening Khaled Mashaal, in Damascus, insisted that Hamas was holding to its demands (demands??) for a ceasefire:

“We have informed all those exerting efforts … for a truce that we have specific demands. First, the aggression must stop; second, the [Israeli] forces must withdraw from Gaza … immediately, of course; thirdly, the siege must be lifted and fourth we want all crossing-points [into Gaza] reopened, first of which Rafah.

“We will not accept any political movement that doesn’t satisfy these demands.”


The Security Cabinet will meet tomorrow to decide whether to accept Cairo’s proposal or continue fighting.

We don’t know, of course, how closely what Cairo offered to Gilad resembles what Mashaal, sitting in Damascus, is demanding. The terms of the Gaza contingent of Hamas might have been different. But there is an arrogance coming from Hamas, yet, an expectation that they can set terms, that seems to make it unlikely that we’ll accept.

What is more, the “security arrangements” for stopping smuggling are not in place. To stop now would be to fall terribly short of what we intend to accomplish.

But I don’t know what will happen… My sense of it is that it will be soon, but not yet.

According to Amos Harel in Haaretz, Cairo is demanding the return of the PA to the Rafah Crossing as a condition for it being opened. That’s been Egypt’s position. Would Hamas accept this, when the PA in Gaza is anathema to them?

I’m hearing about a year of quiet being offered. Only a year. In what terms, at what price?


Obama has broken his silence and says he’ll work from day one to stop hostilities between Israel and Hamas.

In an interview on CBS yesterday, he reportedly said, “…we are going to take a regional approach, we’re going to have to involve Syria in discussions, we are going to have to engage Iran…”

Oh joy! Here it comes. Will this have an influence our government’s decision regarding how long to keep fighting?





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