June 10, 2008

Hamas and Israel - Truce or Consequences?

Thanks to Jimmy Carter's meddling in affairs he should long ago have abandoned, the family of kidnapped Israeli army corporal Gilad Shalit received a letter from their son. This was part of a "concession" Carter "achieved" during his April meeting with Hamas political leaders in Damascus.

On the surface, the delivery of the letter appears to be a humanitarian gesture on the part of Hamas. In reality, it is a cold calculating move, playing on the emotions of the Shalit family and the Israeli population. Since all Israelis serve in the military, and they are a small nation in a sea of what they perceive as hostile Arabs, they tend to view all their servicemembers as their own children.

Hamas leaders know full well the effect this letter would have among the Israeli population. They know that their calls for the release of hundreds of Hamas prisoners in Israeli jails are more likely to be met when there is an outpouring of sympathy for the Shalit family.

The letter comes at a time when Hamas is seeking a truce with Israel. In a statement reported by the Associated Press, senior Hamas officials acknowledged that any truce with Israel would not be a prelude to recognition of the Jewish state, but merely a device to give them time to rearm and regroup.

So what does each side want and what are they prepared to give for a truce?

Israel's demands are simple. They demand the release of Corporal Shalit and the cessation of the daily rocket and mortar attacks into southern Israel from the Gaza Strip. These attacks - Katyusha rockets, homemade Qassam rockets as well as 60mm, 82mm and 120mm mortars - have been going on for at least the last seven years. They increased in scope after the Israelis left Gaza in 2005.

On the Hamas side, they demand that Israel lift the blockade of Gaza that has limited imports to basic humanitarian goods. In return, they will stop the rocket and mortar attacks. The release of Shalit is not part of the truce offer.

This "truce" is going nowhere. Now the consequences. Senior Israeli cabinet members, including the two that really count - the defense and foreign minister - are ready to launch an Israeli assault into Gaza.

The Palestinians - Hamas - should take this seriously. Gaza is not Lebanon, Hamas is not Hizballah, and the Israelis will not make the same mistakes they made in Lebanon in 2006. They will attack with a vengeance this time.