Between Gaza and Beirut (Extract)

There is no room for an Israeli military move in Lebanon, but there would certainly be both logic and justification for one in Gaza

04ehud224 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
Extract from an article in Issue 4, June 10, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here. Negotiations are well underway on a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. Now is the time to pray that our government, beset as it is by many other problems, does not give way to the blandishments of the Egyptian mediators whose goal is an arrangement that could cost Israel dearly. Under the cease-fire they have in mind, Israel's only gain would be an end to the rocket and mortar fire from the Gaza Strip, while Hamas would profit from the lifting of the diplomatic quarantine and the economic blockade and the release from military pressure without any change in its positions or long-range goal - the destruction of Israel. Simply stated, the proposed truce demands that Israel pay an intolerable price. The terms negotiated in Cairo between Egyptian intelligence chief Gen. Omar Suleiman and Hamas leaders anticipate Israeli acceptance of the consolidation of the hostile Hamas regime in Gaza, without putting any brakes on the ongoing arms buildup and the Iranian assistance. This means that on the day the cease-fire breaks down, Israel will face a reinforced Hamas, freed from the trap of the blockade imposed when it seized power in the Strip on June 12, 2007. The goal of Hamas's systematic bombardment of Ashkelon, Sderot and the other communities near the Gaza Strip in recent weeks is to pressure Jerusalem into reconciling itself to Egypt's demands regarding the provisions of the cease-fire. This is why the rate of Qassam rocket fire has been stepped up, accompanied by frequent shelling with 120 mm mortars and Grad-type Katyushas, as the number of Israeli civilians under fire has increased to include previously untargeted villages. Hamas is eager for a cease-fire, on its own terms. For Hamas, a temporary tactical truce such as the one being discussed - tahdiya in Arabic - is the optimal solution for the crisis in which they find themselves today. Lacking enthusiasm for a large-scale military operation deep in the Gaza Strip, and without any realistic means to stop the rockets and shells, the Israeli government might just seek a way out of the predicament by agreeing to the terms proposed by Hamas and Egypt. Such an agreement would be wrapped, of course, in layers of explanations and pretexts in an attempt to persuade the public that this is not capitulation to Hamas. But throughout the Arab world it would be interpreted precisely as a capitulation - and rightly so. In private conversations, Defense Minister Ehud Barak has said that Israel's choice is between a truce agreement followed by fighting or warfare followed by a truce - and that is a valid assessment, in my opinion. Accordingly, we must ask ourselves which option is preferable: Will a quick truce agreement enhance or impair the army's ability to carry out an operation on the necessary scale? The answer seems clear: After the economic blockade is lifted, even partially, so the population in Gaza can breathe freely once again and will stop fuming at the Hamas regime; after the border crossings are opened, even partially, especially the Rafah crossing into Egypt; after Israel is branded as having done a deal, even through a third party, with Hamas - after all this, it will be several times more difficult than it already is to justify a large land force incursion into the Strip. Hamas will shed its outcast status and will almost certainly, once again with Egyptian mediation, resume talks with the Palestinian Authority, whose leader, Mahmud Abbas, is still insisting that Hamas's rule in Gaza is illegal and is refusing to have anything to do with it. But how will Abbas respond to a proposal for a deal, if Hamas can already brandish a deal with Israel? Furthermore, it would be even more damaging if the tahdiya deal were to be reached without including the release of the kidnapped Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, as part of a reasonable prisoner exchange. The proposal put forward by Hamas separates the cease-fire from the prisoner exchange and accepting it would be tantamount to an unconscionable Israeli admission of despair of bringing Shalit home. Of course there should be a cease-fire, but only under terms that make it clear that Hamas is paying a real price by reducing the exorbitant price it is demanding for the release of Shalit, for example. Hamas should not get a certificate of absolution from Israel that will open the door to innumerable international players who will make hurried gift-bearing pilgrimages to Gaza. A cease-fire should enable the expansion of assistance to the population without enabling Hamas to upgrade its armed forces and it should oblige Egypt to block arms smuggling and to stop pampering Hamas in order to placate the Muslim Brotherhood at home. It may well be that Hamas is not ready for such a cease-fire, and that only wider and more aggressive military action will sway it from trying to coerce Israel to accept its terms to a willingness to accept Israel's terms. On another front, Lebanon, the long-expected has happened: Hizballah carried out a rapid and dramatic power play that has strengthened its status as the most powerful element in the country. The temporary conquest of Sunni West Beirut and the surrounding and pounding of the Druse in the Shouf mountains provided an unequivocal signal that Hizballah could, if it wanted to, take control of the institutions of government and dispose of the legal administration of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora within a matter of hours. The Lebanese military refused to carry out the government's instructions and permitted Hizballah to maintain the independent communications network it has set up across the country and in Syria. Beirut's port and airport remained closed for as long as Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah wanted them to be closed. Commander of the armed forces and candidate for next president, Gen. Michel Suleiman, was ready to send his forces only into the locations vacated by the Hizballah militia. It was clearly evident that the military did not dare - and actually did not want - to defend the legitimate state against Hizballah's "state within a state." Extract from an article in Issue 4, June 10, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here.