Analysis: Why Israel prefers the cease-fire in Gaza

Without a clear and defined exit strategy Israel prefers to avoid military adventures in the Strip.

idf gaza tank 224 88ap (photo credit: AP [file])
idf gaza tank 224 88ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
On Thursday, after a grueling weeklong maneuver spanning the Golan Heights and the Upper Galilee, Col. Avi Peled summed up his first brigade-level exercise as commander of the Golani Infantry Brigade: "The capabilities that were demonstrated here instill within me confidence that the brigade is prepared for any challenge that awaits it." By the end of the month, Peled will lead the Golani Brigade in its return to operational duty on the Gaza front following four months of training. It will replace the Paratrooper's Brigade, which has been there since July. Following Khaled Mashaal's announcement Sunday that Hamas will not extend the cease-fire, chances are that Golani will lead military operations in the Gaza Strip after Friday, when the six-month truce expires. Peled is no stranger to Gaza and was commander of the Southern Gaza Brigade when Gilad Schalit was taken captive by Hamas 904 days ago near Kerem Shalom. In August, he became commander of the Golani Brigade after serving as commander of its elite Egoz Battalion. So, while Israeli officials made a point Sunday to stress that the IDF was prepared for renewed violence with Hamas, officials in Defense Minister Ehud Barak's office said that in the end, Israel was in favor of continuing the truce. There are a number of reasons why and they were set out in a document prepared for Barak recently by the ministry's Diplomatic-Security Bureau on the benefits of extending the cease-fire. Firstly, and most important, is that Israel knows how it gets into Gaza but does not know how to get out. At the moment, the Fatah Party - led by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas - is not strong enough to fill the vacuum that would be created by a major Israeli operation and subsequent withdrawal. After disappointment with UNIFIL in south Lebanon, Israel is also opposed to a multinational or NATO-like force deploying in Gaza. So, without a clear and defined exit strategy, the document asked, what is the point in an operation in the first place? Another consideration is that under any operation - limited or massive - Hamas would still succeed in firing Kassam rockets into Israel, likely by the dozen. The most rockets fired into Israel in one day from Gaza has been around 60. Fears in the defense establishment are that Hamas is capable of firing closer to 200 in the event of a large Israeli operation inside the Gaza Strip. Barak is also concerned that small-scale operations in Gaza could lead to a larger attack that would eventually force Israel to take over the entire Strip all over again. The assumption is that with the increased rocket fire, the IDF would be under immense pressure to push deeper into Gaza, killing more innocent Palestinians and losing more soldiers on the way. Public pressure would mount against the continuation of the operation as the IDF loses soldiers and fails to stop the rocket fire and Israel would come under harsh public condemnation, possibly even from the new administration in Washington. Last but not least is the northern front and concern that Hizbullah - which is still calling to avenge last February's assassination of Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus - will take advantage of Israel's preoccupation in Gaza to launch an attack along the border with Lebanon. This happened once before in the summer of 2006. Two weeks after Schalit was kidnapped, Hizbullah abducted reservists Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser. While the IDF's units, like Golani, are prepared for renewed violence in Gaza, there is still the home front to worry about. Last week, the cabinet approved the allocation of NIS 600 million to build reinforced security rooms for thousands of housing units in Gaza-belt communities. Needless to say, it will take time for these rooms to be built.