Nablus gunmen 224.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
By the time you read these words, the cease-fire around the Gaza Strip could well have totally disintegrated. Although the cabinet decided not to change Israel's policy of not reacting to Palestinian provocations, Islamic Jihad was threatening on Sunday afternoon to attack in retaliation to continued IDF operations in the West Bank.
Yes, those have been going on while public attention was centered elsewhere - namely, the North and the South. And while you were sleeping, another deep change was taking place: Israel transferred control of the northern part of Ghajar to UNIFIL in what seems like the first stage of a tacit agreement to handing the Alawite village over to Lebanese sovereignty.
How does all this tie in with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's Sde Boker speech, not even a week old? That's not the only murky policy emanating from the government. Defense Minister Amir Peretz spoke at the cabinet meeting of setting out new rules of engagement for the IDF following the Palestinians' cease-fire infractions.
If the army is still taking Peretz seriously, the officers in the field have got to be baffled by the breathtaking speed in which their firing orders are changing. At what stage are they now allowed to open fire and prevent another Kassam launch - when the rockets are being manufactured? Removed from their hiding place? On the launch rails? Perhaps in mid-flight?
At least the rules of engagement across the cabinet table are still clear: Olmert and Peretz continue trading fire no matter what. Now that Olmert has taken a sharp left turn with his new initiative, it's suddenly time for the "man of peace" (Peretz) to promise severe retribution for further attacks, while the prime minister counsels caution.
Regarding the Palestinians, meanwhile, the relative calm of the last week is deceptive. A clear line runs through the emergency announced by Egyptian security forces in Sinai over a Palestinian group about to carry out a terror attack on Israeli tourists, the one-sided cease-fire in Gaza, and the lack of it in the West Bank, the border arrangement up north and the mass march attempting to topple the government in Beirut.
Hamas and Hizbullah are both jockeying within their own spheres of influence, with the Iranians and Syrians firmly in the background, and it's not only Israel that's worried. You know it's serious when Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah are also sounding alarms. They don't have any sympathy for Israeli casualties, but they recognize the threat of the Saniora government falling to proxies and what al-Qaida and Hizbullah chaos in Gaza and the West Bank would do to the stability of their own regimes.
At times like this you want to believe that there is a steady and experienced hand on the reins, that one coherent strategy links between the concessions on the Lebanese border, reports of negotiations with the Saudi government and Olmert's overtures to Mahmoud Abbas. But all the signs and past months' experience point to a haphazard, disjointed course of action. All Israel's internal divisions are out in the open. IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz said last week that the army was only "partially" consulted before the cease-fire was decided upon. Olmert and Peretz can't stop bickering loudly.
Only a week ago, the cease-fire seemed like a welcome respite for Sderot. Now it's beginning to look like a thin veil covering the real situation. When it's taken off, we might find out that everything's burning.