Tuesday’s ambiguous, open-ended cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas felt like a huge let-down. Up until the very last minute (and even several more after the deadline), air raid sirens were wailing endlessly, and the sound of rockets landing or being intercepted by the Iron Dome continued to permeate the air.
To make matters worse, a mere hour prior to the announcement of the cease-fire, two people from Kibbutz Nirim were killed in a mortar attack. This happened just a few days after a four-year-old boy from Kibbutz Nahal Oz suffered a similar fate.
In addition, since the many cease-fires to which Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu agreed throughout the 50 days of Operation Protective Edge all ended abruptly with a Hamas breach, Israelis were hard-pressed to believe that this one would be any different. And there was a general sense of unease about aborting the operation before rendering Hamas totally powerless.
So, while Hamas leaders emerged from their bunkers to declare victory – with a few thousand Gaza residents dancing in the streets, shooting in the air and chanting songs about killing Jews – Israelis sat at home (or remained in temporary lodgings away from the Gaza border), deflated, disillusioned and angry.
On Wednesday evening, Prime Minister Netanyahu gave a joint press conference with Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz to assure the public that the government had given in to none of Hamas’s demands – and to reassure us that no subsequent “drizzle of rockets” would be tolerated. Netanyahu stated unequivocally that the IDF would hit Gaza even harder if Hamas pulled any stunts.
Residents of the south were furious, fearing that the war had not left them any safer than they had been before. They continue to worry not only about a resumption of rocket-fire, but about the possibility that not all the tunnels leading into their area were destroyed – something that would put them at risk of being slaughtered while they slept, or being abducted in broad daylight.
Debates about whether the current situation constitutes a victory or a defeat for Israel began to rage, as did arguments over the long-term goals of the government where the Palestinians are concerned.
The unity that characterized society at the beginning of the war in July seemed like a thing of the distant past, with Netanyahu’s popularity polled at 38 percent, down from 85% six weeks ago.
All of this discord was to be expected, as is the next round of fighting that is certain to become necessary at some point in the near future. Indeed, though Israel won this battle, it is one of many more that the Jewish state will have to fight and win in order to survive. It is also one tiny front in a global war between the West and radical Islamist forces that are out to destroy civilization as we have come to know it.
Anyone who imagined otherwise was kidding himself. Even World War I did not turn out to be the “war to end all wars.”
Among those who harbored hopes for a total eradication of Hamas this summer were the families who lost loved ones, whether civilians in Israel or soldiers sent in to confront the terrorists in Gaza. They are understandably devastated. A number of them responded to the cease-fire by expressing bitterness that their “sons had died in vain.”
It is for them that I would like to articulate my own position on the outcome of Operation Protective Edge.
It is true that this war did not eliminate terrorism in Gaza. But it did set the organization back, through the killing of some heavy Hamas honchos and the demolishing of much of its infrastructure.
It is true that Israel received bad press, a cold shoulder from the Obama administration and UN outrage for targeting hospitals and UNRWA schools doubling as terrorist bases. But it did forge new regional alliances with Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
These will be useful in curbing Hamas’s ability to rearm, and necessary in facing the many other bloodthirsty Islamists who are torturing, maiming, raping and decapitating all “infidels” in their path.
Furthermore, taking more drastic measures at this moment would have led to scenarios that Israel can ill afford, particularly with the greater, more existential Iranian nuclear threat looming larger than ever.
While extending my deepest sympathy, condolences and gratitude to all the newly bereaved parents, I beg to differ with their attitude. I want to hug each and every one of them and insist that they not add to their already bottomless grief by believing that their boys in uniform died in vain. Their sons died as heroes, carrying out a mission that, however incomplete, is enabling the rest of us to go about our daily business in relative security – the only kind of peace and quiet we Israelis ever have.
The writer is the author of To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’