Analyze This: All quiet on the southern front?

Hoping for even 3 calm days for Sderot may be too much.

Kassam Sderot 88,224 (photo credit: )
Kassam Sderot 88,224
(photo credit: )
Is it too much to ask that the residents of Sderot and other Israeli communities that border the Gaza Strip should be able to enjoy at least one Shabbat without the fear of a rocket attack? Maybe. So if anyone is counting on taking advantage of the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, scheduled to begin Thursday morning at 6 a.m., in order to do a little hiking or picnicking within range of Gaza's mortars, Kassams, and Katyushot, they are well advised to do so while remaining in eyeshot of possible cover. The opening stage of the truce is to be a three-day trial period of initial quiet, in which neither side will launch attacks against the other. This is to be followed Sunday morning by the start of negotiations in earnest for the reopening of the Rafah border crossing, and a deal to release hostage IDF soldier Gilad Schalit. Hamas does have good reasons to honor such an arrangement, including: the halting of targeted Israeli attacks on its leadership and operational wing; an increase in the supplies coming into Gaza, to avoid the local population becoming too restive under it rule; and the degree of legitimacy a negotiated truce could provide for the movement, especially as an opportunity to weaken the continuing European diplomatic boycott still in force against it. If Hamas can achieve some of those goals within the context of a tahadiyeh (a limited lull in its struggle again the Zionist enemy) and even better, find ways to evade restrictions on the smuggling-in of weapons that Israel views as an essential element of this deal, then this could indeed be a truce worth keeping for the radical Islamists. Except that the price for Hamas to keep the peace in Gaza may be too much for it to swallow - even for a period much, much shorter than the six months now reportedly on the negotiating table. For while 72 hours of quiet might seem to be setting the bar fairly low, it's not if the recent history of Israeli-Palestinian cease-fires serves as any kind of precedent. During the early months of the second intifada, a series of such arrangements with the Palestinian Authority were attempted, and each one was foiled by an inevitable terror attack. With every failure, the time-frame of the opening period of quiet was reduced; from two weeks to one, from seven days to five days, and finally a minimum of 48 hours. That latter attempt, in September 2001, didn't even break the halfway point, after a shooting near Tekoa took the life of 26-year old Sarit Amrani some 20 hours after the truce's announcement, leading to the cancellation of a planned meeting the next day between Yasser Arafat and then-foreign minister Shimon Peres. Although that killing was carried out by the Aksa Martyrs Brigades, in many other instances it was Hamas itself that took action to thwart such agreements. Now for the first time the radical Islamic movement is not only committing itself to refrain from such attacks - something it has previously done during truces when Fatah was still the official authority in Gaza - but also to enforcing the cease-fire on the other radical Palestinian factions now ostensibly under its control. This is a new role for Hamas, and one that Israeli security officials are justifiably skeptical about it fulfilling any better, or with any deeper motivation, than the PA did back in the days when such cease-fires seemed almost a monthly, if not weekly ritual. As those officials noted Tuesday in their briefing to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee - and as has been described in various media reports this week on the one-year anniversary of Hamas's conquest of Gaza - the movement has invested considerable effort in policing the Gaza Strip, bringing to it a semblance of "law and order," Islamic style. What it hasn't done is crack down on the other armed terror groups outside its own command structure that also use Gaza as their base, including the Iranian-directed Palestinian Islamic Jihad; the Fatah-derived Al Aksa-Martyrs Brigades and Palestinian Resistance Committees; and such semi-criminal terror gangs as the Dughmush clan. And for the same reasons Arafat never moved to crush Hamas itself. Such groups prove valuable allies in times of open conflict with Israel; remain a convenient means to continue such attacks while allowing one to maintain a posture of official non-belligerence; and are reckoned not worth the effort of internecine Palestinian conflict as long as "armed resistance" against Israel remains a fundamental principle of the Palestinian national agenda. Hamas has, on occasion this past year, when it felt sufficiently motivated, flexed its muscles against these other groups. The most notable example is the pressure it put on the Dughmush clan to free BBC journalist Alan Johnston last summer, and halt any additional kidnappings of other foreign reporters. But whether Hamas would be likewise ready to directly challenge an Iranian-backed group such as PIJ to stop that group's firing of its own "Al-Quds" rockets - even on a temporary basis - is the major question mark about any successful implementation of this truce. The IDF, of course, cannot sit back and allow such attacks simply in order to preserve a "cease-fire" in name only, and Hamas has already said that any Israeli action in Gaza, no matter what the justification, will be viewed by it as a cease-fire violation. "Short and fragile" was IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi's prediction Tuesday for any truce reached with Hamas in the coming days. How short? Well, anything more than a day will prevent the embarrassment of this being the shortest such cease-fire on record. And it would at least provide one welcome day of quiet to the beleaguered residents of the south. [email protected]