Wednesday felt uncomfortably a lot like those first early days of Operation Protective Edge.
Hamas fired rockets, we attacked targets from the air; they fired more rockets, we hit more targets from the air. And in the meantime, the airwaves were full of speculation about whether Israel should commit ground forces into Gaza, and if so how far they should go.
Didn’t we just have that debate? Forty-four days after the start of the Gaza operation, we seem to be back at the very beginning. But don’t be fooled, or, rather, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu should not be fooled, because the ground has shifted – it has shifted internationally, and it has shifted domestically.
As we stand poised on the brink of what seems like the second half of this bloody round, the international leeway and legitimacy that Israel enjoyed at the beginning – largely because it restrained itself for days while rockets were fired from Gaza – has been largely depleted.
The accumulated impact of the images of the dead and dying in Gaza has taken its toll. If Jerusalem launches another ground incursion – this time with the aim of toppling Hamas – it is unlikely to merit the same degree of understanding, or be given the same amount of time to try and achieve its objectives, as at the beginning of the campaign.
Certainly not from the US, where last week’s decision to put arms sales to Israel under White House supervision was a clear indication of US annoyance and impatience.
While some might think that the sudden surge of Islamic State will give Israel a greater degree of understanding in the world – it was indeed telling to hear French President François Hollande on Wednesday talk about convening an international conference to fight the Islamic extremists – this should not be overstated.
In the fight against the Islamic extremists, there will be those in the international community who will want to signal to the world’s Muslims that they have nothing against them. One way to do this might be to differentiate between the bad evil folks, such as Islamic State – which beheads American journalists in front of video cameras – and the good evil folks: Hamas, which “only” executes kidnapped Jewish youth, something some out there find possible to “understand,” because those youths wore kippot and were hitchhiking near a “settlement.”
All those who think that as a result of the Islamic extremists’ killing of Yezidis, and the gruesome beheading of US journalist James Foley, the West will now take a more understanding view of Israel’s battle with Islamic extremist Hamas, should think again. Hamas will always be given leeway by some of the world’s “progressives” because – after all – they are fighting the “Zionist occupation.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron, who is one of those European leaders who “gets” Israel’s battle against Hamas, penned an op-ed in the Sunday Telegraph under the headline: “ISIL poses a direct and deadly threat to Europe.”
His theme was simple: the Sunni radicals are at Europe’s gates, and the world needs to act.
“These extremists,” Cameron wrote, “often funded by fanatics living far away from the battlefields, pervert the Islamic faith as a way of justifying their warped and barbaric ideology – and they do so not just in Iraq and Syria but right across the world, from Boko Haram and al-Shabaab to the Taliban and al-Qaida.”
Not a word, interestingly, about Hamas, though how natural – considering the current news cycle – it would have been for that brutal terrorist organization to have been included in this group. That’s a sign – and Cameron is a friend.
So much for the shifting international ground.
The domestic grounds have also shifted. On Sunday and Monday, in a sign that Netanyahu had an inkling the cease-fire was going to collapse, he urged the nation to have patience over the long haul.
His words should have been directed to his inner cabinet ministers, as much as to the public. If when the military operation was launched six weeks ago, there was a degree of unity from the ministers in his security cabinet – or at least a wartime attempt to radiate a perception of unity – that has now disappeared.
Two key voices in the cabinet over the last two days have trashed the way Netanyahu is managing the operation. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said she never had any faith in the Cairo process, and it was not too late to try something different – enlisting the international community to create a whole new reality in Gaza.
And Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman – who already said “I told you so” last week – repeated that message again on Wednesday, saying that the only thing that would work would be to pound Hamas into submission, something he has advocated from the very beginning.
Two of the other eight ministers in the security cabinet have voiced sharp criticisms of Netanyahu’s policies – with Finance Minister Yair Lapid jumping on the Netanyahu-is-damaging- the-ties-with-Washington bandwagon, and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett continuously repeating Liberman’s refrain: that Hamas must be pummeled.
Netanyahu has only one real ally inside the security cabinet right now: Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon.
Among the two other ministers, Communications Minister Gilad Erdan is unlikely to vote against Netanyahu, but likely to criticize him publicly to gain points inside the Likud; while Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch is seemingly close to Netanyahu philosophically on Gaza, but completely dependent for his political future on Liberman.
If Wednesday does indeed mark the beginning of the second half of the current round of fighting, Netanyahu’s position both internationally and in his own cabinet is not as strong as it was when it all first started six weeks ago. His consolation: Hamas’s problems are even worse.