One of the main reasons that Israel appeared to be shying away on Sunday from
significantly escalating its military response to the continued rocket fire from
the Gaza Strip and launching Operation Cast Lead II was the absence of
diplomatic support in Egypt for such an operation.
The understanding in
Israel that the relationship with Egypt has changed was internalized immediately
after Hosni Mubarak’s regime collapsed in February.
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As the calls though
grew in Egypt in recent months for a future government to reevaluate peace with
Israel, there is a different understanding – that a large-scale operation in
Gaza could contribute to that becoming a reality.
With that in mind – as
well as Israel’s continued standoff with Turkey – the government prefers to
postpone a larger conflict with Hamas to another day. This stems mainly from an
understanding that in the absence of an operation aimed at reconquering the Gaza
Strip and reestablishing an Israeli presence there, the most Israel can hope for
is the boosting of its deterrence and the establishment of quiet for an unknown
period of time.
Looking at Operation Cast Lead as the paradigm, Israel
enjoyed just about two years of quiet on the Gaza front until earlier this year
when things started to heat up again. The destruction in Gaza during Cast Lead
combined with the damage to Hamas and its infrastructure forced the terrorist
group to invest in its rehabilitation at the cost of neglecting its main
declared objective – Israel’s destruction – temporarily.
The hope in
Israel is that the three days of air strikes and the deaths of 12 known
terrorists including the leadership of the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) –
the terror group which Israel blamed for the attacks near Eilat last Thursday –
will be enough to gain a new period of quiet.
It might not amount to two
years but the question ultimately comes down to whether a larger operation that
would be costly for Israel diplomatically particularly ahead of the Palestinian
Authority’s unilateral declaration of statehood at the United Nations next
month, would be more profitable from a deterrence perspective.
obviously no clear answer, though some defense officials refer to the Second
Lebanon War, which ended over five years ago and continues today to preserve
quiet along Israel’s northern border. The main difference is that this thinking
ignores the transformation Hezbollah has undergone in the years since the war
and how politicized it has become, which today likely serves as the main cause
of its restraint.
While it is the de facto ruler of the Gaza Strip,
Hamas, on the other hand, is being left on the sidelines when it comes to the
PA’s plans to declare statehood at the UN General Assembly on September 20, is
ignored by the international community and is still isolated in the Gaza
If the ceasefire that was in the works on Sunday night goes into
effect and holds, Israel will still have to explain what it exactly did to boost
the country’s deterrence. With over 150 rocket attacks, one person killed and
dozens wounded, it will be difficult to explain. While there were some air
strikes against targets in Gaza, from a public perspective they were not
effective since the rocket attacks from Gaza continue.
For that reason,
probably in an attempt to create something of a victory image, the IDF on Sunday
released a list of 12 senior terrorists which it said it has killed since
Thursday accompanied by pictures from various Palestinian websites.
was nothing particularly new about the list, but it was a clear break from
Israeli policy during Cast Lead in 2009 when the IDF Spokesman’s Office
refrained from identifying the Palestinians killed even when the country was
coming under major international criticism and was being accused of perpetrating