Still last night I had a bit of a “wait and see” attitude: We’re still in Gaza, if Hamas hits us we may start again. Who knows.
Well, now we know. Hamas has just declared a cease-fire. Khaled Mashaal, politburo leader in Damascus, announced this on Syrian TV.
According to Khaled Abu Toameh in the Post, sources close to Hamas say the group had no choice but to declare the cease-fire: “Hamas needs the lull. They have been hit hard…”
Great, we’re giving Hamas a lull.
Abu Toameh says the two cease-fires were apparently declared independently and are not coordinated. We had declared that we would remain in Gaza until we were certain that there would be quiet. Mashaal is demanding we leave in a week. Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for Hamas has said, additionally, that this quiet is predicated on our opening of all crossings and the lifting of the blockade.
We had better not be in a rush to open all crossings. And if we do it at all before securing the release of Shalit, things will smell even worse than they do now.
According to Abu Toameh, we have said that we would not open any crossings until all hostilities have ceased. That may have been the original offer, which was rejected by Hamas. But as we ostensibly withdrew unilaterally (was it unilateral?), we should have no commitments in this regard at all.
And in any event, how long do we wait before we know all hostilities have ceased? A Grad Katyusha was launched after the Hamas announcement of a cease-fire.
Hamas has said it will resist all efforts at disarmament and all attempts to return the PA to Gaza.
Hamas is particularly incensed with the PA at the moment because its leaders are convinced that Mahmoud Abbas and company provided intelligence that allowed us to get to Hamas interior minister Said Siam. This is entirely credible, as Siam was a major architect of the Hamas take-over of Gaza and responsible for the deaths of dozens of Fatah people. After he was killed in our airstrike, Fatah-controlled websites carried comments from people who thanked Ehud Barak.
Hamas is demanding that Egypt open the Rafah crossing and I want to see how this will play out; Egypt’s condition was the return of the PA there. Mubarak is demanding we open crossings. Will he keep his crossing closed?
This is my considered opinion, for what it is worth:
Taking down Hamas entirely — even if it might have been a desirable goal (which is itself questionable because of what might have come next) — was probably impossible for us. For there is a way that Hamas, an a-moral fighting force, bests us, the most moral and humane of nations.
We were not guilty of disproportionate military actions and certainly not of war crimes. What we did in self-defense can be justified totally within international law. We knew we were right.
But the killing is not palatable to us. It doesn’t happen easily, and we’re not glib about it. We were sad that there was collateral damage that caused deaths even of women and children on some occasions — in spite of our warnings and our extreme caution in doing pin-point operations.
What we came up against is that Arab jihadist statement: “We will win, because just as they love life, we love death.” Hamas does not care how many of its own people die. And so, for example, we knew which hospital many of the Hamas leaders were hiding in, but we would never hit a hospital, and they were well aware of this.
Makes total defeat tough.
There are analysts who believe we must content ourselves with partial victories. This is the opinion, for example, of Yoram Kaniuk, who wrote, “Lower Your Expectations,” in YNet the other day:
“No state has been able to defeat zealous Islamic terrorists thus far…There is no way to defeat zealous ideologies, because their leaders are willing to hide behind their children.
“The Russians butchered half of Chechnya, yet the other half is patiently waiting…
“…It is only possible to secure tactical wins, and a ceasefire that everyone knows will be temporary.”
Unpalatable in the extreme, but perhaps there’s a certain truth there.
If so, what’s important is that we keep hammering away, and keep securing those tactical wins, until the day comes when we do have the upper hand.
This is where the whole issue of deterrence comes in. It is what Brig.-General (res) Yossie Kupervasser, formerly with IDF Intelligence, whom I’ve cited so many times now, was basically referring to in his recent presentation: hitting hard enough, not so that they’re totally defeated, but so that they decide it isn’t worth it right now to keep trying to destroy us and table that goal for a distant future.
Then the question becomes one of whether we hit hard enough before quitting. And the answer is in the negative.
I don’t think it was all wasted, and for nothing. We did give Hamas a good wallop, although we could have and should have given better. The truth of this will emerge as we see how quickly Hamas recuperates and how reticent, or not, to start with us again.
Yuval Diskin, head of Shin Bet, in his report to the Cabinet this morning, confirms that Hamas took a beating. They did not expect us to come into Gaza right before an election, and we left them in a difficult position.
I quote here a soldier who was serving in Gaza — referred to only as Aryeh — a member of the reserves and a former hesder yeshiva student (which combines religious study with military service). He was interviewed on Israel National Radio last week:
“No one likes fighting; people want to be with their families…but at the same time, no one wants to leave now. Of all sectors, it’s the soldiers who do not want a ceasefire, not because we want to fight but because we know the job is not finished yet. We don’t want to have to go back again in a year or two or three. The soldiers want to stay and finish the job, they really do… I think there has to be a hard push against Hamas, even harder than we have done until now; this will take a real sacrifice, we know – but to think that we might leave and the rockets will still fall, what did we do??! Killing 900 terrorists out of 20,000 is just not enough, we have to really decimate their ranks in order that they should know that they should leave us alone…
“True, Gaza is now largely in ruins, but they’ll get lots of money to rebuild, and they’ll use a lot of the money to get more weapons as well. We gave to go deeper and stronger, and make them understand that it’s just not worth it. In addition, I think we can’t leave without Gilad Shalit; it would be terrible if not.”
What can be added to this?
But there are yet other factors that must be examined, palatable or not. One of these is the matter of international pressure.
Many is the time that my blood pressure has gone up when watching the Israeli government cave under international pressure when I thought we should hold tight. When I thought what we needed was a government that was not into appeasement. A prime example is Condoleezza Rice’s demand that we leave Rafah in 2005, even though we had an agreement — all the way from Oslo — that said we could stay. We caved, and we should not have, because our security people knew quite well that this was going to be trouble (as indeed it was).
But I see the current international pressure as being considerably heavier than this. The international community loves to see Israel in the wrong, and the number of civilian casualties in Gaza must have had members of the community salivating with the opportunity to come down hard on us.
What is more, the UN was involved. The first resolution regarding our operation in Gaza was not passed under Chapter VII, which meant there was no mechanism for applying military force to enforce its terms. But that doesn’t mean there might not have been a subsequent resolution under Chapter VII. With the resolution that did pass, the US merely abstained and declining to veto it. This was already recognized as a betrayal of Israel. And that was with Bush as president. Tuesday, a new, and considerably less friendly, US president is being sworn in. (About whom I’ll have plenty to say.)
I believe that all of this was factored into the decision of Olmert to cut our losses in Gaza now. I think he may have felt it was better if we appeared to have been victorious, and left of our own volition.
The rush to leave, however, was precipitous, and essentially dishonest.
Olmert said last night:
“We formulated understandings with the Egyptian government with regard to a number of central issues, the realization of which will bring about a significant reduction in weapons smuggling from Iran and Syria to the Gaza Strip.”
Part of our goal, as stated by him in the beginning, was making sure that Hamas could not re-arm. And so, he could not pull out without making it appear that a mechanism for preventing this was in place.
I spent part of my day today trying to find out exactly what understandings with Egypt would allow Olmert to say that smuggling was less likely — say so, even if he knew it not to be the case. I could learn of no such understanding.
In fact, one Arabic-speaking contact told me forthrightly, “There is no agreement with Egypt.”
This, my friends, is what smells most of all. This is the betrayal of what we were supposed to be doing.
In fact, I would suggest that Olmert knows that there can be no effective mechanism at the border between Gaza and Egypt to stop smuggling as long as we are not there.
The appeasement here is of Egypt, which is not confronted with the facts regarding the way in which it has tacitly permitted smuggling to continue, and even abetted that smuggling.
Please, see Jerusalem Post editor David Horovitz’s startling piece on the issue of Egyptian complicity in smuggling:
And the failure is our refusal to move back into the Philadelphi Corridor.
I cited Professor Eyal Zisser yesterday, who explained how difficult it would be for the international community to stop rockets from getting into Egypt — as even Somali fisherman would be willing to carry them in their boats — and why the key to stopping smuggling lies with Egypt.
Today, Dr. Aaron Lerner, director of IMRA has made it even simpler and more clear. Aaron has discovered that “Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines offers weekly container service from Bandar Abbas, Iran to Damietta, Egypt…Loads every Friday, arrival in Egypt two weeks later.”
As long as Egypt will not honestly and diligently work to stop smuggling, it is clear that Hamas will be re-armed.
Yuval Diskin told the Cabinet today that Hamas would resume smuggling of weapons into Gaza in a few months, that they would rebuild the tunnels we destroyed.
This, my friends, is what we have to hammer at, as the election approaches. The government has to answer for this inexcusable failure.
Lerner, who has been right on top of this issue, the other day exposed the foolishness of defense envoy Amos Gilad, who said, in essence, that it’s nobody’s business what deal the government strikes with Egypt. We’ll know if they are smuggling if they start launching rockets at us again. This is not acceptable.
See Lerner’s mockery of the government position here:
At today’s Cabinet meeting, Olmert declared, “The military forces in the Strip have their eyes wide open, are attentive to any rustle and ready for any order from their commanders,. The decision on the cease-fire leaves Israe
l the right to react and renew its military actions if the terror groups continue firing.
But already, the IDF is beginning to pull out. It would take something major from Hamas, not a couple of rockets, and not a rustle, to make Olmert reverse his decision.
There will be much more to say, but I’ll end here today.