Major Ro’i Rozner, of the Kfir Brigade, has been killed by mortar fire in a fierce battle in the region of the former Jewish community of Neztarim. We salute him.
It was obvious yesterday that our government seemed to be on the verge of agreeing to a ceasefire — which was enormously worrisome — and then backed off. The reason given for backing off was that there were elements of the agreement that turned out to not be acceptable to us.
I have since learned that there were, in essence, two versions of a ceasefire agreement being floated, and that we had actually agreed to one and then backed off because it became apparent that what was on the table was the second version, not what our government thought it was agreeing to. What is more, I have been advised that Sarkozy was at the heart of this confusion, having lead Israel to expect one thing and then offering Mubarak something else.
So…we backed off, and decided to continue our operation. But we have not yet decided to expand it to the next stage, which would have involved bringing in some of the reserves who have been called up and are waiting, and sending troops into the south of Gaza. Those in the Security Cabinet who were in favor of expanding the operation with an eye to toppling Hamas were Haim Ramon, Eli Yishai, Daniel Friedmann and Rafi Eitan; eight voted against doing so. Barak, who dragged his feet with regard to starting the war, seems most eager to call a halt now.
We are, in essence, in a modified holding pattern while we wait to see what develops diplomatically. Amos Gilad has been sent to Cairo to participate in discussions Still worrisome. It is not yet time.
As for continuing the operation, what we did was to release flyers in the area of Rafah — near the Philadelphi Corridor — warning people to leave their homes. Five thousand people left, seeking temporary shelter in nearby schools.
And last night we began bombing in the area — bombing both additional tunnels and houses. We had already destroyed at least 100 tunnels, but it is said there are some 200 more still in existence. As to the houses, not only are weapons stored in many of them, but in many cases the tunnels exit holes are inside of houses so they are not visible.
The Post editor-in-chief, David Horovitz, made the point this morning that we learned from Lebanon that an army trapped in indecision is most vulnerable: the army must keep moving to avoid being a target. Indeed. The indecision, such as it exists, is totally political and diplomatic. Our troops have been exceedingly well prepared and trained and are comporting themselves excellently.
While we have not yet sent troops to the south, I note that there are those who are advocating that we return to the Philadelphi Corridor and stay there. Horovitz says that Yom-Tov Sama — who is now advising the head of the Southern Command, Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant — has urged that we return to the Corridor and stay for 25 years.
Rather than even attempting to examine the elements of the various cease-fire proposals being advanced, I would like here simply to review the major issues and their import.
 There is talk of a temporary cease fire, to be followed by a permanent one. The parameters of each would have to be clearly defined, if indeed there would be two stages. There has been some suggestion that Israel should halt unilaterally, which strikes me as a horrendous idea.
 Israel must retain the right to act if Hamas either renews smuggling or again launches rockets or fires mortar shells. We cannot have a cease-fire that prevents us from responding defensively.
 The issue of opening all crossings permanently is key to what Hamas seeks. In fact, Hamas has said if it doesn’t get the crossings opened, it won’t agree to a cease-fire. The parameters and conditions for this would need to be carefully spelled out — if indeed we were to agree at all, which seems unlikely. Hamas is seeking normalcy while we are seeking to isolate it. (Humanitarian aid would continue to flow.) There is talk of some monitoring by Europeans of the crossings, which is likely to be fairly useless.
 The big issue for us is the matter of the re-establishment of tunnels by Hamas and its renewed smuggling of weapons in order to rearm. And the ultimate question is whether it’s actually possible to set up a system that would block this from happening. There remains some serious doubt in this regard.
Major Israeli defense officials are saying this won’t be possible.
Egypt, it goes without saying, must be a key player. The Egyptians have been vociferously denying that they have been lax in their monitoring of the situation until now, and are somewhat defensive. But evidence is that for years they might have done much more, and, in fact, blithely looked away.
By agreement, since we pulled out of the Philadelphi Corridor in 2005, Egypt has had 750 soldiers stationed on its side of the border. They are requesting permission to put in more. Permission is required because our peace treaty with Egypt makes this area demilitarized.
There are some US army engineers in the area now, as well, working as advisors with the Egyptian troops, and there is talk about bringing in more, to remain on a permanent basis. Presumably, they would be empowered to destroy tunnels.
But a question of great sensitivity arises here regarding what any monitors/observers/advisors from another country can do on sovereign Egyptian soil. Egypt will not take kindly to suggestions that it is falling down on the job and that other forces must act. There is a parallel here with Resolution 1701, which put in place enhanced UNIFIL in Lebanon: UNIFIL is not empowered to act unilaterally against Hezbollah, only at the behest of the Lebanese army.
On the other side of the Sinai-Gaza line is the Philadelphi Corridor (and Rafah). When Rice spoke this week about bringing back the PA, it was to place them here. The regrettable arrangements Rice manufactured in 2005 had us gone from Philadelphi and the PA in. She wants to return to this situation, but it is not going to work. Hamas will not stand for it — they’ve already said so — and the PA has not the power to withstand Hamas.
This is where our presence might be invaluable.
So here we are, once again, at a cross-road. Will we slow down and then agree to a diplomatic arrangement, or hit Hamas even harder than we have so far?
Olmert visited the south and received a briefing today. In a statement he issued, he admitted that we have not yet reached our military goal: We are not in a place that yet assures long term peace for the south of our nation. Said he: “…the IDF hasn’t been asked yet to do whatever it takes get to this point.”
Well, you want to ask, Why the hell not? If security for the south was our stated goal, why has action to secure it not been ordered?
“This decision is still ahead of us,” declared Olmert.
The decision is, of course, to be made by the political echelon. To me, it’s a no-brainer. We haven’t reached the point of protecting our citizens adequately yet, and we have a superbly trained and functioning force ready to move ahead to achieve this. Do we stop now for a diplomatic arrangement that at best would provide dubious protection?
Let us pray not.
And right now, in spite of vigorous efforts to secure a ceasefire, and our potential willingness to cooperate, it looks as if Hamas attitudes and statements may move our government in the direction of further forceful action:
Eight radical Palestinian movements headquartered in Damascus — primary among them Hamas and Islamic Jihad — have met to discuss the situation in Gaza. Now a spokesman for these groups has declared:
“Palestinian organizations, notably Hamas, see no valid basis in the Egyptian plan for a solution to the crisis… The Franco-Egyptian initiative does not contribute towards finding a solution since it is a threat to the resistance and the Palestinian cause, allowing the enemy to continue its aggression.”
We cannot declare a cease-fire with ourselves. And Hamas is not ready to have one imposed.
It must be remembered that Hamas leadership consists of radical, jihadist revolutionaries. They do not make compromises and they do not surrender easily. They have to be beaten to the ground.
Hamas still retains some military leadership and forces, and some rocket supplies. They are defiant and arrogant in their attitude, even as they are hurting badly. Even if the political leadership of Hamas ultimately might agree to a cease-fire, the military wing is unlikely to truly honor it. “We will win, or we will die,” they have said.
Our defense officials say Hamas is still capable of delivering a “quality” (let us say, “serious”) terror attack.
To date, the IDF is reporting that engagement with Hamas forces is lighter than had been expected. This is what General Kupervasser was referring to yesterday with regard to flushing them out. Instead of doing battle, Hamas troops are going into heavily populated urban areas and melding with the civilian population. Leadership is in hiding, either in bunkers or places such as hospitals.
Let me add one other factor of considerable importance here: the question of deterrence and how we appear at the end of this war. We have to come out having vanquished Hamas sufficiently so that there is no question that Israel and not Hamas is victorious. Anything that makes Hamas seem to have achieved an advantage, such as opening of crossing and normalization of the situation, in return for their holding their fire, would be disastrously counterproductive to our goals.
They would broadcast to the world that they had achieved what they wanted by attacking us. And this would further motivate and energize radical jihadist forces in other places — such as Hezbollah to our north and Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
This must be a consideration in terms of how a cease-fire might be structured.
Questions have been raised about securing the release of Gilad Shalit. I am not seeing this as a central issue in resolution of the war. But, off the record, it is being said that the hundreds of Hamas fighters we are capturing will give us a new advantage on this score.
Our fighting stopped for three hours again today, to allow in more humanitarian supplies. A European Commission official is due to arrive soon to coordinate these humanitarian efforts. I think this is an excellent way for the EU to be occupied.
A barrage of three Katyusha rockets coming from Lebanon hit the Nahariya area of northern Israel this morning; two people were lightly wounded when a rocket went through the roof of a retirement home. We returned fire.
The rockets were fired from the southern town of Nakoura, where, in late December, eight Katyusha rockets pointed at Israel and ready to be fired were discovered by a local farmer. He informed the Lebanese army, which defused the rockets.
What happened today is being considered an isolated incident. It is thought that these rockets were launched by a radical Palestinian group in Lebanon and not by Hezbollah. The rockets were an older model than what Hezbollah now possesses, and it would be expected that if Hezbollah were attacking there would be more than three rockets launched. The suspicion is that a Palestinian group is trying to drag Lebanon into the war.
Israel, none-the-less, has let Lebanon know that it is held responsible for rocket launching.
More rallies for Israel (hopefully I’ve gotten all that have been sent to me)
St. Louis (from Paula Lemerman)
Today, January 8, 7:00 PM, 2 Millstone Campus Drive
Toronto (from Steve Tanennbaum)
Today,Thursday, January 8, 7.30 PM, Beth Tzedec synagogue, 1700 Bathurst Street