Analysis: Fighting in Gaza will flicker out, not be dramatically doused

Operation Protective Edge has had an odd trajectory. On and off, up and down. Fierce fighting one hour, a 12-hour truce the next. A resumption of hostilities one minute, and then a surprising agreement for a cease-fire the next.

August 20, 2014 06:49
3 minute read.
idf withdraws from gaza

IDF soldiers after returning to Israel from Gaza August 5, 2014.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The mind yearns for closure.

Now we have a war, now we don’t. Now there is a battle, now it’s over. Who doesn’t prefer his conflicts in neat, tidy packages with beginnings and ends, starting dates and finishing points? We long, in the present conflict with Hamas, for that “all clear” siren, for the signal that the routine has returned, for what is known in Hebrew by its military acronym hazlash – hazara l’shigra (“back to normal”).

Who doesn’t fantasize about a USS Missouri moment, a moment when Hamas – like the Japanese in 1945 – would sign instruments of surrender on the deck of a US battleship.

And then we could all move on.

But that moment tarries and this particular round of fighting refuses to disappear in one fell swoop: one day fighting, the next day a total, extended cessation of hostilities.

That would be a neat package that we could all compartmentalize, put behind us: Operation Protective Edge was, we won, it’s over. That is the fantasy.

Reality is much, much messier.

Operation Protective Edge still is; we can claim some success, amid some tactical failures; it is definitely not over.

The degree to which it is not over was slammed home at about 4:15 on Tuesday afternoon, when three rockets struck open spaces near Beersheba and the IDF again hit terrorist targets inside Gaza. And then they fired, and then we responded, and all of a sudden we were back to where we were a few weeks ago.

Except that we weren’t: the intensity of the fighting did not reach the levels at the peak of Operation Protective Edge, at least not yet.

When those first rockets fell again in Israel, a collective “huh?” was sighed across the land. Doesn’t Hamas get it? Don’t they know it’s over? No, Hamas doesn’t get it, they don’t know it’s over, they have their own logic, their own measures of success and these don’t line up with ours.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu hinted over the last two days that Tuesday’s cease-fire violation would be the likely course of events, saying that patience was needed, determination was called for and that the “eternal people is not afraid of a long road.” Yes, he said a long road.

Though many were annoyed when the rocket blasts were heard again Tuesday, it is unlikely many were genuinely surprised. Who could be surprised? This was the 11th Hamas cease-fire violation since the operation began.

Frustrated, angry, but not surprised.

The lack of surprise was evident as well in the fact that the IDF responded immediately and that a security cabinet meeting was not called to discuss how to retaliate.

There was no need for the security cabinet, as this was a long-planned for contingency. Targets were preselected, the intensity of the response agreed upon earlier.

Operation Protective Edge has had a uniquely odd trajectory. On and off, up and down. Fierce fighting one hour, a 12-hour truce the next. A resumption of hostilities one minute, and then a surprising agreement for a cease-fire the next.

It’s safe to assume that if Hamas again agrees in the coming hours to yet another cease-fire, Israel would readily accept it, and then we will all wait for the next cease-fire violation.

This is not a fight that will be extinguished at once; it is not a fire that will be doused by a bucket of water in one dramatic drenching.

Rather, it is more likely to slowly flicker out – the intensity of the fire fading with time, even as the embers continue to throw off occasional sparks.

With its demands for a seaport and airport, the opening of border crossings, the payment of salaries and the release of prisoners, Hamas has climbed up a mighty high tree.

It won’t come down at once in full view and admit to defeat. It will slowly, over time, drop branch by branch, hoping to save face, preserve honor, not appear vanquished.

Eventually, the rocket fire will end. It will end as Hamas’s capabilities are further depleted; as its leaders come under pressure from around the world, including Arab lands; as it begins to sense that its people, like Israel’s, want to get back to routine; as Israel signals it will ease up on some elements of its Gaza blockade.

Eventually, the fighting will die down. But eventually – as yesterday’s rockets made abundantly clear – will still take time.

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