November 23, 2012

Israel-Hamas ceasefire - too soon to have lasting effects

Gaza (Hamas) Prime Minister Isma'il Haniyah celebrates ceasefire in Gaza
(Photo: Reuters)

The loud and boisterous celebrations in Gaza area hailing not a ceasefire with Israel, but a victory over Israel. It does not matter that the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip endured eight days of devastating air strikes, it does not matter that 161 Palestinians, including 71 civilians, died while their "forces," a terrorist organization funded and equipped by Iran, were only able to kill six Israelis (two soldiers and four civilians) - in their minds, they won.

Look at the photos of the revelry in the streets of Gaza. This is not merely a perception of "victory" crafted by the Hamas public relations effort - the Gazans honestly believe that they have humbled the Jewish state.

In a way, they have.

As I wrote last week when this latest round between Hamas and Israel began (read the entire article at Israel and Gaza - here we go again:

"We seem to go through this drill every few years. The Israelis endure as many attacks as they are willing to tolerate, then conduct a punitive operation against Islamist elements in Gaza. Predictably, there will be a huge public outcry of the disproportionate nature of the response, the United Nations will call for a cessation of the violence (that's code for demanding Israel stop, but not so much the Palestinians), and Israel will stop short of destroying HAMAS's ability to fire more rockets. Here we go again."

And here we are again - Israel again has stopped short of destroying Hamas's ability to fire more rockets. Actually, it is even worse this time - they have emboldened the Palestinian militants. Whether it is true or not, the fighters of the military wing of Hamas - the 'Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigade - believe that their rockets deterred the Israelis from launching a ground incursion into Gaza to locate and destroy the groups weapons and kill as many of the group that they could.

Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu and the author in Jerusalem

I wonder why the Israelis, specifically Prime Minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak chose not to invade. The air assault on Gaza was beginning to show dividends, and Israel's Iron Dome anti-rocket defense system was surprisingly effective against Hamas's Iranian rockets aimed at civilian areas. Of course, world public opinion had labeled the Israelis as the aggressors, but that was nothing new - what do you expect from a basically anti-Semitic Europe and United Nations?

What other factors influenced the Israeli leadership to stop when it did? After the mobilization of thousands of reservists and deployment of the best combat units in the Israel Defense Forces to the Gaza border, after a punishing air campaign to prepare the battlefield for the impending combined arms thrust into Gaza on multiple axes, the Israelis agree to a ceasefire when the objectives of the operation have not been met. That assumes the objective was to eliminate or reduce Hamas's capabilities to fire rockets into Israel's population centers (that's Israeli domestic code for Tel Aviv and Jerusalem). I just do not believe Netanyahu's upbeat assessment that "the offensive's aims of halting Gaza rocket fire and weakening Hamas were achieved."

If you subscribe to some of the conspiracy theories being put forth, you might believe that the Israelis decided to accede to an American request to end the Gaza operation in exchange for increased support for Israel against a more lethal threat - that of a nuclear-armed Iran.

I am not sure if this is the case, but in my opinion, this is a dangerous move for the Israelis. As in the past when there have been these ceasefire deals, what always happens is the three R's - rearm, refit and recruit. The Iranians are standing by to provide the money and weapons to replace all the materiel lost in the week of fighting. The perceived "victory" by the 'Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigade will swell their ranks as young men eagerly join the ranks of the terrorist organization.

Meanwhile, the Israelis have agreed to talk about easing the blockade on the Gaza Strip, in effect making it easier for Hamas to resupply and rearm. In return, the United States (in the person of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton) pledged to help curb arms shipments to Gaza. What a joke. I suppose we will put as much effort into this as we and the United Nations did to stop the resupply of Hizballah following the Israel-Hizballah conflict of 2006 (they are fully and more capably rearmed) and Hamas in 2009. Does anyone believe this?

For whatever reason that I cannot fathom, Israel has agreed to stop short of achieving any of its objectives in Gaza. Just as Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said, "Israel in the long run won't be able to live with an Iranian proxy on its border. As long as Hamas continues to incite against Israel and talk about destroying Israel they are not a neighbor that we can suffer in the long run. But everything in its time."

Everything in its time? Was there a deal between Washington and Tel Aviv over Iran? It just does not make sense. Hamas has no intention of living in peace with Israel. I said last week, "Here we go again." I suspect that in a few short years, I will be saying that yet again.