Calm down, if you can

The cease-fire with Hamas will at best grant Israel a breathing space but no reason to breathe easy.

IDF troops volleyball  (photo credit: AP)
IDF troops volleyball
(photo credit: AP)
Calm can be disturbing. Think of the calm before the storm. If you think of peace and quiet, you're not thinking of it in this corner of the Middle East. Few here believe the quiet promised by Hamas will last. Even fewer believe it has anything to do with real peace. I hate to throw cold water on the "tahadiya," or whatever you want to call it, but even if the situation does quieten down, it won't do much to calm my fears. During the seven years in which Kassams have been launched at the Negev from Gaza, in ever widening circles, there has been more than one hudna (temporary truce) or tahadiya (calming down), as the Hamas call them, or hafsakat esh (cease-fire) or hafuga (lull) as we say in Hebrew. We no longer are lulled into a false sense of security. The first Katyushas shot out of Lebanon two years ago shattered too many illusions as they landed. "Inward calm cannot be maintained unless physical strength is constantly and intelligently replenished," goes a Buddhist saying. And that just about sums up the situation - for both sides. Israel cannot afford to let down its guard in the next six months (or six years, going on the Hizbullah experience) and plans for the Iron Dome anti-missile protection system certainly can't be put on hold in exchange for a promise from part of Hamas. Hamas, on the other hand - never underestimate your enemy - will be certain to use the period to "intelligently replenish its physical strength." That seems to be the point behind the "tahadiya" in the first place. BAR-ILAN UNIVERSITY political scientist Dr. Ron Schleifer, whose book Psychological Warfare (Lohama Psychologit) has just been published, is among those who doubt the hudna will last. He's concerned that Israel is taking a short-term view. "We always look ahead just as far as the end of the week or, at best, the end of the government's term in office," he says. "Hamas, on the other hand, is looking 50 years ahead." Half a century's vision might be a bit of an exaggeration, but certainly Israel seems to be looking at this more as a breathing space than a time to breathe easily. After news of the cease-fire was announced, I called my friend Chana in Sderot. She was tired. Tired of the hostilities. Tired of the cliches and broken promises. But most of all tired from lack of sleep: "Last night we suffered from a constant bombardment of Kassams," she explained on June 18. "If there really is going to be a cease-fire, then maybe this was their swan-song. Every time a cease-fire is announced the last hours are marked by an increase in the barrage of Kassams." That "every time" shows you what Chana thinks of the chances of the agreement's success. So does she think it might last long enough for me to finally come down with my young son and stay overnight this summer? "Sure," she replied. "Just stop by Damascus first and buy me a falafel, will you?" BEHIND THE cynicism - put it down to exhaustion and a sense of humor - she has a point. Peace has not broken out. The hostilities have simmered down, not settled down. Whether or not the temporary peace holds as long as it takes this paper to reach you - let alone for my friend's kids to finally enjoy a quiet summer camp with outdoor activities, not closed inside a shelter like last year - depends on many factors: among them, the influence of the Hamas wing based in the Syrian capital. Other considerations are whether Hamas can - or wants to - control rival extremists such as the Islamic Jihad or various splinter groups from both terror organizations; whether the focus of activities won't move to the West Bank; if Egypt will get serious about stopping the flow of arms into Gaza; and if Israel can prevent the smuggling of terrorists and explosives in our direction once the border crossings gradually reopen. As it stands, Israel and Hamas have the same basic desire - a period of calm - but different needs. And - going on past (bitter) experience - different intentions. While the Israeli government, it seems, hopes to exploit the lull to explore various diplomatic options, whatever Hamas has in mind is far from diplomatic - unless you're thinking in the terms of military strategist Carl von Clausewitz who saw diplomacy as "the continuation of war by other means." In fact, Clausewitz's dictums spring uncomfortably to mind when it comes to Hamas's approach to Israel, and vice versa. According to the Prussian theorist, the military objectives in a war fall into two basic types: "war to achieve limited aims" and war to "disarm" the enemy: "to render [him] politically helpless or militarily impotent." While Hamas's objective - getting rid of Israel - is patently clear, Israel is dithering over its objectives: hence the hesitation to send the military into Gaza. Even Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi has reportedly pointed out that without being given a clear objective, the IDF cannot come up with a clear operative plan. ANOTHER CLAUSEWITZ belief holds that the course of war tends to favor the party devoting more resolve and resources to it - hence the idea of "total war," the all-out pursuit of complete military victory regardless of the political consequences. Yeah, well. If you can imagine Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni launching a total war on terror if/when the cease-fire fails - without any regard of the political implications - you can probably imagine me buying that falafel in Damascus during a detour on the way to Sderot (where pigs will be flying, not missiles.) And the final outcome does not depend on the Israeli government alone. Deputy Prime Minister Haim Ramon arguing against accepting the Egyptian-brokered deal (not without an eye on his political rival, Barak, one suspects) said that it is giving in to Islamist extremists. Can you indeed have a de facto agreement with a terrorist organization without granting it legitimacy? Will Hamas use this "win" as political capital in its fight to gain control over the West Bank? Destroying Fatah control is no less of a Hamas objective than destroying Israel, after all. And where does the weak Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas fit into this? No less politically embattled than Ehud Olmert, it is questionable whether Abbas will see his political future as safer by linking it to Israel rather than to Hamas. Can any good come out of the lull in hostilities? Obviously if it provides the means to bring home Gilad Schalit after two years as Hamas's hostage, it can't be all bad. And residents of the western Negev would definitely welcome a summer break from the hostilities. But if the main result is for Hamas to rearm, improve its standing, and use the opportunity to attack Israel via the crossings while conveniently blaming other groups, then the temporary cease-fire will indeed be simply the quiet before the storm. Call the "truce" what you will, neither tahadiya nor hudna are terms of endearment. All is not quiet on the southern front. At best it is numbed.