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(photo credit: AP [file])
The IDF operation in Bethlehem on Wednesday night shows that Israel may take its time, but always gets even. Of the four Islamic Jihad operatives who were killed, the most senior - Mahmoud Shehada - was wanted for involvement in a series of deadly terror attacks in Jerusalem in 2000 and 2001, during the early days of the second intifada.
Ehud Barak is using this same logic in the Gaza Strip. While the media speculated all week about the alleged cease-fire Israel had brokered with Hamas during talks in Cairo over the weekend, the defense minister made clear that not only has the government not agreed to a cease-fire, but was already preparing for the next operation which, he said, was just around the corner.
With the renewal of the Kassam fire Thursday morning - 15 rockets pounded the Negev - additional operations seem inevitable.
Speaking to reporters as he toured the Gaza border with the top IDF brass on Wednesday, Barak, when asked if operations were being suspended, said defiantly: "This is not the end; maybe it's just the end of the beginning."
Officials close to Barak say that as long as the Hamas military buildup continues - even if the group momentarily suspends its Kassam attacks - the IDF will eventually have no choice but to continue fighting with Hamas on the ground in Gaza.
"The cease-fire is not in Israel's best interest if the smuggling of weapons into Gaza continues and Hamas rearms," explained one official. "It may take time, but Israel will continue operating against Hamas until the group stops the rocket fire and the military buildup."
MILITARY FORCE is not the only course of action the defense establishment is taking to combat Hamas, however. While Hamas may have temporarily suspended its rocket fire - Islamic Jihad was behind the attacks on Thursday - Israel is continuing to impose tough economic sanctions on the Gaza Strip in the form of cuts to fuel supplies and in only agreeing to transfer basic humanitarian goods through the Sufa and Kerem Shalom crossings.
While Barak's strategy includes a continuation in operations against Hamas in Gaza, it also calls for making every effort possible - under the many security constraints - to improve the quality of life within the West Bank. These efforts are at the focus of his monthly talks with Quartet envoy Tony Blair and PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad.
Tasked with achieving this objective is the Civil Administration, currently headed by Brig.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai, who is under orders to ease restrictions, where and when possible, in the West Bank.
One example is in the number of Palestinian workers allowed into Israel, which has increased by almost 30 percent since June to a record 27,600, some of whom are being permitted - for the first time since the eruption of the second intifada - not to have to return to their homes in the territories every night. The number of permits offered to Palestinians to attend Israeli hospitals for treatment has also increased by close to 100%.
Unemployment actually dropped in the West Bank in 2007 to 15.8%, the lowest it's been since the second intifada. Also, the number of security meetings between IDF officers and their Palestinian counterparts has gone up; in fact, their frequency quadrupled in 2007 from what it had been in 2006.
The same cannot be said of Gaza, where international aid groups claim unemployment is set to soar to more than 50%. The cuts to the fuel supplies are also significant. While not lacking diesel fuel to operate the power plant which provides 20% of its electricity (Israel supplies 70%), Gaza residents have been driving their cars noticeably less in recent weeks, according to defense officials.
"The idea is to try to present the improving situation in the West Bank to the people in Gaza and show them that there is an alternative to Hamas rule," explained one defense official. "When there is a government that doesn't call for our destruction and attack us, the people also benefit."
LAST FRIDAY, meanwhile, the New York Jewish Week reported that Rabbi Hershel Schachter, from Yeshiva University's rabbinical school, recently told students at Yeshivat Hakotel in Jerusalem's Old City that if the government was planning to withdraw from east Jerusalem, he would tell soldiers "to resign from the army - I'd tell them to shoot the prime minister."
This statement came just days before Education Minister Yuli Tamir was cursed and assaulted during a visit to the Mercaz Harav yeshiva, where last Thursday a Palestinian gunman murdered eight students.
Schachter has in the meantime apologized for his remarks, but Channel 1 reported this week that a group of Right-wing Jews is planning to avenge the Mercaz Harav massacre and is using rabbinic decrees to justify the illegal action.
On the other side of the spectrum is Mahmoud, a Palestinian-American student whom I met last week after delivering a lecture at Middlebury College in Vermont. He made a very simple claim that if Israel disappeared, all of the conflicts in the Middle East would go away. This is no different from Hamas's ideology.
As defense officials have admitted, the economic sanctions being imposed in an effort to shift public opinion away from Hamas have yet to bring about the desired effect.
Officials from the office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, which keeps its finger on the pulse of the Palestinian people, said this week that while the policy would stay in place, it was proving very difficult to turn the people of Gaza away from Hamas.