Analysis: Edging toward 'silent acceptance' of a truce

It'd be hard for Israel to explain its Gaza ops when Hamas has said it is ready to lay down weapons.

Hamas gunmen 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Hamas gunmen 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
When it comes to Egypt's proposal for a cease-fire in Gaza, the Israeli defense establishment is united on at least one assessment - Hamas has everything to gain from six months of quiet in the Strip. The differences begin to surface when officials start pondering the pros and cons for Israel of the proffered truce. Ultimately, the decision on whether to accept Cairo's proposal will be up to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. The position of the IDF's Southern Command has been quite clear all along. OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant has said on more than one occasion in recent closed-door meetings that Hamas would use a cease-fire to rebuild its military infrastructure, extend the range of its rockets and fortify its positions ahead of a future Israeli invasion. IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi has yet to make his opinion publicly known. He has, however, objected to a large-scale operation in Gaza since taking office a little over a year ago and as such may prefer a six-month cease-fire over the alternative, which is a continuation of hostilities and an eventual Israeli invasion. There are, however, other considerations that are not purely military. One is the fate of kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit. Officials involved in the truce talks told The Jerusalem Post this week that the soldier's release would be dramatically expedited were the cease-fire accepted by Israel. In addition, the cease-fire could enable Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to regain a foothold in the Gaza Strip for the first time since Hamas violently took it over last June. Under the package approved by Hamas and the other Palestinian factions, the Rafah crossing to Egypt would reopen according to the agreement reached by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2005. Based on that agreement, European monitors would deploy at the crossing and assist officers from the PA's Presidential Guard - loyal to Abbas - in running the border terminal. From an Egyptian point of view, the reopening of Rafah is symbolic for a number of reasons. First, it lifts the siege on Gaza and enables Palestinians to travel freely in and out of the Strip. More importantly, it strengthens what Cairo calls the "pragmatic elements" in Hamas - such as Ismail Haniyeh - and at the same time enables Abbas to slowly reestablish a Fatah presence in Gaza. According to an Israeli official closely involved in the talks with Cairo, if Israel were to outright reject the cease-fire proposal this would be interpreted as a slap in the face of President Hosni Mubarak and Intelligence Minister Omar Suleiman, who have both invested considerable time and energy in obtaining Hamas's approval. If Israel accepts the cease-fire, Egypt will have to play a crucial role. One of Israel's greatest concerns with a truce is the possibility that Hamas will continue smuggling weapons into Gaza and build up its military infrastructure at an unprecedented rate. It will be up to Egypt to prevent this. In the end what is likely to happen is that Israel will "silently" accept the offer. Olmert will not hold a press conference and announce Israel's acceptance of the cease-fire but the message will likely be transmitted in the talks defense official Amos Gilad holds regularly with Suleiman. Israel also has to be concerned about its image abroad and what the international community will say if it rejects the cease-fire. The US, the Post has reported, is pressuring Jerusalem to wrap up the deal ahead of President George W. Bush's visit to Israel in two weeks. And Israel would have a tough time explaining its policies abroad if it continues firing in Gaza when Hamas and the other factions have all announced their readiness to lay down their weapons. Olmert's political standing also needs to be accounted for. If he agrees to the cease-fire and it lasts, he could use the quiet in Sderot and the rest of the Gaza-belt communities as an asset ahead of the political turbulence that is expected toward the end of the year.