We''re somewhere in the middle of the intermediate level of warfare routines well known to Israelis. We have been through
- Stage one: occasional violence directed at random against Israeli targets, civilians or soldiers
- Stage two: increased incidence of that violence
- Stage three: Break in the Israeli tolerance of inconvenience and occasional casualties that had been met with focused responses, leading to a significant escalation against sources of the violence. In recent years, this kind of serious response has been the protracted air attacks seen since last Wednesday
Now we''re in Stage four, when there is feeling out, reports of negotiations and movement toward a cease fire, accompanied by overseas politicians and media expressing a collective oy gevalt, most often directed against casualties caused by Israel under the mantra of "disproportionate response."
Prominent at this point is the continued support of Israel by the Obama administration, standing along with Britain, France, and Germany against a Security Council resolution demanding a cease fire but not mentioning the Palestinian attacks against Israeli civilians.
Not surprising are sympathetic portrayals of brave Palestinians in western media. Anyone yearning for an example can start with this item from the New York Times. It describes young Palestinians aspiring to become martyrs, along with parents who feel fear and sorrow, along with pride, about what their children would like to become.
Today, Tuesday, one week into Israel''s attacks, the Secretary General of the United Nations will make stops in Cairo, Jerusalem and Ramallah, urging all to stop the violence. The standard of judging his success will be the efforts of his predecessor, Kofi Anan, once confident of arranging a cease fire in Syria.
For those no longer noticing that civil war, recent estimates have gone above 30,000 deaths. Among the possibilities consistent with this region''s traits, is that Syria and Iran worked to provoke last week''s escalation in rocket attacks against Israel, in the hopes that an Israeli response would lessen attention and pressures focused on those governments..
Arab and left-leaning western media, along with in-tuned Israeli commentators and politicians are reporting that conversations toward a cease fire have made considerable progress, with only minor and easily-solved gaps between the parties remaining.
Easily-solved? The gaps are significant, representing hyperbolic demands of Hamas, and questions about the willingness of Iran-backed Islamic Jihad to accept whatever agreement is formulated. Also in the air are claims by Hamas spokesmen that it is Israel asking for a cease fire, insofar as Hamas has the upper hand in this interchange. Israeli television personalities report such claims with wide smiles. Who knows how many Palestinians believe them, or view them cynically as the expressions of leaders who receive enormous financial aid from Islamic backers but have not provided shelters for the population.
Among the competing demands are which side will stop the firing first, whether Israel will commit itself not to assassinate fighters when intelligence shows they are close to an attack, whether Israel will stop the sea blockade, whether Egypt and/or some other power will be serious about stopping the flow of munitions to Gaza, and whether Hamas and all its rivals will commit themselves to stop the violence against Israelis.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Israeli troops, along with tanks, artillery, and other heavy equipment are camped around the borders of Gaza. The IDF has escalated its targeting, going after apartments used for munitions or the homes of key personnel, at the risks of killing civilians at the same time.
Significant is what Israel is not doing, or--by all indications--even considering. Think of lining up the tanks and artillery along the borders and massed firing at a safe distance from any retaliation. There would be no threat to Israeli soldiers other than the air pollution associated with the gunfire. The carnage and destruction would be catastrophic. It would provoke unlimited verbal warfare from all concerned with international law, but might also be a moral equivalent of what Hamas et al are sending toward Israeli civilians.
Significantly less aggressive than apocalyptic tank and artillery attacks from over the border, but significantly more aggressive than in the early days a week ago are IDF attacks against civilian areas where fighters have sought refuge for themselves and their weapons.
Israel has signalled its intention to attack on the ground if there is no acceptable cease fire agreement within a limited time. Israeli opinion polls show 70-90 percent support for the operation to date, but a close split with respect to continuing the air attacks, invasion by ground troops and tanks, or continued efforts toward a cease fire.
Until last Wednesday Israel was in the midst of an election campaign, with voting scheduled for January 22. There are earlier deadlines for submitting the lists of each party''s candidates that may prove impractical, and cause a change in the dates. Current signs are that the Gaza operation has boosted the standing of Netanyahu and Likud.
No doubt that Israel''s response is disproportionate, but that is the point of successful warfare. Among Israel''s advantages are mechanisms of a responsive state to prepare the population for its protection, including requirements for including shelters in all construction built since the 1960s. The Iron Dome anti-missile system has proved capable of identifying incoming missiles heading for populated areas and intercepting more than 70 percent of them. So far there have been three Israeli deaths against more than 100 Palestinian.
Depending on what happens in the continuing conversations about cease fire, and Israeli deliberations about escalation, those numbers will increase, but the proportions are not likely to favor Palestinians.