N.Gaza tank 298 88.
(photo credit: AP)
Defense Minister Amir Peretz announced on Tuesday morning, after IDF troops had left Beit Hanun, that Operation Autumn Clouds "had expended itself," and therefore ended.
Is this some kind of military Newspeak that Peretz picked up from his generals? Or is it a linguistic invention of his own? And what does it mean, that the operation was a success, its objectives achieved? Or did the tanks run out of steam before reaching their destination?
One answer to this question was delivered a few hours later when a salvo of Kassam rockets hit the outskirts of Ashkelon. Considering that the aim of the operation in Gaza had been to reduce the rockets' range and make it a lot harder for the Palestinians to hit Sderot, the fact that they succeeded in hitting deeper into Israel hardly means that the operation was an unqualified success.
Another answer can be found in the words of Givati Brigade commander Lt.-Col Yoel Strick, who said in an interview on Army Radio that his soldiers would be going back into the Gaza Strip quite soon.
Only six years ago, then-Gaza Division commander Maj.-Gen. Yair Naveh was publicly reprimanded for saying on camera that the IDF would remain within Palestinian territory in Gaza "as long as is needed." Now every colonel gets to formulate and announce policy.
The Givati commander obviously doesn't feel that his brigade's force is "expended." If it was up to him, the autumn clouds would have continued raining on Beit Hanun.
In the six-day operation, dozens of gunmen and Kassam operators were killed, along with a number of Palestinian civilians. But the rockets continued to fall, albeit at a slower rate than before.
The operation could have continued - despite the loss of IDF dog-handler St.-Sgt. Kiril Golenshin. There was relatively little opposition, but the decision not to expand the offensive against the Kassam teams and accept the fact that their threat can not be eliminated at this point was due mainly to political and diplomatic considerations.
Peretz is trying to resuscitate his left-wing credentials after agreeing to swallow Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman in the cabinet. As long as Peretz is Labor Party chairman, he won't allow a long-term IDF presence in the Strip.
Yet another American effort to revive Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas's role is also a major motive behind ending Autumn Clouds. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said this week that it was better for Hamas to be in the Palestinian government dealing with its population's basic needs than for the organization's members to be preparing new suicide attacks on Israel.
And if that wasn't a clear enough signal, a senior US official told Israeli reporters on Tuesday the administration expected Israel to agree to the deployment of the Palestinian Bader Brigade from Jordan to the Strip and to work for a diplomatic solution to the Gaza situation rather than a military one.
The IDF carried out two relatively large operations in the Strip this month. The first one was three weeks ago at its southernmost tip against the arms-smuggling tunnels beneath the Philadelphi Corridor, and the latest was against Kassams in Beit Hanun in the northeast.
The two operations had a lot in common: Despite initial success, they were both called off after less than a week even though commanders acknowledged the work was far from complete.
Both operations took place in what are now seen as the "weak points" of 2005's disengagement. Though there is little support within the army and the public for a return to the settlements in Gush Katif, there is a growing realization that including the north and south ends of the Strip in the withdrawal was a tactical mistake.
The explosives brought through Rafah - with the Egyptians turning a blind eye - are quickly transformed into more rockets fired from more convenient launching sites in the northern area once controlled by the IDF around the now nonexistent settlements of Dugit, Nisanit and Elei Sinai.
The obvious solution would be to establish a semi-permanent military presence, based on armored forces. But once again, the political and diplomatic considerations reign supreme.
All that remains is to continue with the in-and-out routine every couple of weeks. But how long will it be until the Palestinians learn some lessons from their Hizbullah and al-Qaida mentors and make these short visits much more painful?