On the sixth day of Operation “Protective Edge” in Gaza, a ready conclusion is not yet at hand. Despite the growing civilian casualties in Gaza, Israel still enjoys sympathy and understanding from most of the international community.
The basis for this understanding are the new geopolitical realities in the region, Hamas’ aggression, and the balanced and responsible actions taken by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who isn’t easily swayed by political pressure applied by his own coalition.
It seems that the IDF learned well the lessons of Operation “Cast Lead”, which led to an unfortunate amount of Palestinian casualties and brought about the infamous Goldstone Report, which accused Israel, and the heads of the IDF and the government, of committing war crimes.
The Goldstone Report was cynically concocted in order to further delegitimize Israel and also to strip it of its right to self- defense. Even Judge Goldstone himself realized this in hindsight, and deplored his own report, albeit not soon enough.
The relatively low number of casualties in Gaza during the operation so far, despite the IDF’s’ intensive attacks, which are even stronger than the IDF attacks during “Cast Lead”, result from the precise and optimized use of advanced warning such as “Knock on the Roof”, and avoiding direct hits on schools, hospitals and mosques, even when it is a known thing that rockets and other weaponry are being hidden there.
In light of the IDF’s responsible conduct, Hamas is finally seen, not only in Western media, but in the Arab media as well, as a cynical, cruel, and irresponsible terror organization. An organization that uses a civilian population as human shields, and even calls for them to use their bodies to protect Hamas leaders and their rockets, while the Hamas terrorists and leaders themselves stay well-hidden and protected in underground tunnels and warehouses set in the midst of a civilian populace.
Hamas’ launching capabilities, which cover nearly the entirety of Israel, surprised the international community, and give further impetus to Israel’s demand that Hamas be disarmed, and not recognized as a legitimate partner. Today, it is clear for all to see that Hamas has succeeded, despite international law, to smuggle many advanced arms into Gaza, and like Hezbollah, has transformed from a terrorist organization that applies guerilla tactics to a terror organization with strong military capabilities, including strategic planning, communications systems, command and control, and stamina.
No UN member state would ever accept or allow massive indiscriminate missile launches on their citizens. The diplomatic equation is balanced in Israel’s favor, also due to the geopolitical changes in the region and the world. A split and divided Arab world, engaged in massive bloodbaths between Shiites and Sunnis, and between moderates and extremists, “dilutes” the attention on Gaza in favor of the situation in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Kurdistan and others. Even President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi’s Egypt is in no rush to act to put out the flames, as they benefit from the harm to Hamas – the Muslim Brotherhood’s sister party – which Sissi has declared to be a terror organization threatening Egypt’s sovereignty and security.
The United States, which has experienced loss of prestige and influence in the Arab world, does not have many levers to pull, and the bulk of her activity at the moment amounts to blocking one-sided condemnations of Israel in the UN Security Council.
In this relatively convenient position for Israel, the question is asked, how long will this diplomatic window stay open, what are the operation’s objectives, and what are the conditions for bringing an end to the operation?
The diplomatic breathing room should not be measured in days or weeks, but rather in accordance with developments on the ground. A tragic accident which will cause civilian and children casualties, such as happened twice in Kfar Kana, Lebanon, will greatly decrease international acceptance for the continuing of the operation.
Naturally, the pressure on Israel will intensify, and a strategy for concluding the operation must be thought up, with the demands of a complete cease fire by Hamas, and just as importantly, the total disarmament of Gaza, similar to the removal of Syria’s chemical weapons.
These must be the conditions for an end to the operation. If this is accomplished, it will be a great achievement which will prevent further rounds of rocket fire and Hamas terror.
Hamas’ frustration at Israel’s outstanding resilience on the front and on the home front, as well as the “Iron Dome’s” defensive capabilities, together with Hamas’ diplomatic isolation and economic distress, provide Israel with very strong bargaining chips, which if used wisely, alongside the threat of a widespread ground operation, can bring about improved understandings that will lead to long lasting quiet for the citizens of Israel as a whole, and the residents of the south in particular.
The writer is the former Deputy Defense Minister and MK for Yisrael Beytenu.