January 3, 2009

Conditions for a ceasefire in Gaza

Now that Israeli forces have entered the Gaza Strip as the second phase of Operation Cast Lead proceeds, the world is demanding the United Nations arrange a ceasefire. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed "disappointment" at the Israeli invasion - I don't recall such concern when hundreds of Qassam rockets were landing in Sderot, nor when Hamas upped the ante a few weeks ago by launching longer range Katyusha rockets at the cities of Ashkelon, Ashdod and Beersheba.

Arab nations called on the UN to demand an immediate halt to Israeli military activities, while the French urged both sides return to the political track. In a bit of absurd theater, Hamas government spokesman Tahir Nunu stated, "Anyone who thinks that the change in the Palestinian arena can be achieved through jet fighters' bombs and tanks and without dialogue is mistaken."

The question of whether or not bombs and tanks can change the situation remains to be seen. Nunu's remark about "without dialogue" is classic. Hamas does not recognize Israel's right to exist and has committed itself to the destruction of the Jewish state. Now he wants "dialogue" with the very same people he has vowed to destroy. The analyst in me believes that the bombs and tanks are indeed having an effect. If Hamas had the upper hand after eight days of Israeli air attacks, they would not utter the word "dialogue."

For the sake of argument, let's assume that Hamas is serious about a dialogue with Israel. Israel has stated that it will not accept Hamas's word that it will not resume rocket and mortar attacks on southern Israel - any ceasefire must be accompanied with the deployment of international observers. Normally that means a United Nations observer force. If I were the Israelis, I would demand a totally independent group, not the same feckless and ineffective UN groups now deployed in Lebanon, Syria and Egypt.

In reaction to the Israeli requirement for international observers, Nunu said that Hamas "would not allow Israel or the international community to impose any arrangement." Of course, that is exactly what his brother Arabs are demanding, that the United Nations impose an arrangement. What Nunu really means - Hamas wants the UN and international community to impose a ceasefire and withdrawal on Israel with no demands of Hamas and no deployment of observers that would limit their ability to continue launching rockets against Israel.

Thus far, Israel has not let international pressure distract them from their operations, nor should they. There is no way Israel is going to win the public relations battle in the Middle East or Europe, so why even try?

Urban warfare in Gaza is going to be difficult and bloody. Hamas learned valuable lessons from Hizballah's defense of southern Lebanon in 2006. No doubt it has created a series of obstacles, roadside bombs, and improvised explosive devices. Israel has calculated this into the decision to move into the Gaza Strip. This plan has been in the works for some time.

I sense a determination on the part of the Israelis that was missing in 2006. They have mobilized tens of thousands of reservists in case Hizballah wants to join the fight and launch rockets into northern Israel from southern Lebanon, or Fatah wants to attempt to challenge the Israelis from the West Bank. I doubt either will make that mistake.

The military option is not a solution, but it might remove one of the obstacles to peace - Hamas. Look for a ceasefire only when Israel believes that objective has been accomplished.