Israel was very close Sunday evening to a unilateral ceasefire
decision. Most or all of the tunnels
Israel is aware of have been destroyed. Most of the tunnel shafts have also been destroyed.
The IDF wanted to take its ground forces out, to declare an end to the fighting and to continue under the slogan "calm will be met with calm." The forces on the ground were instructed to avoid initiating fire, and to open fire only in case the forces were in danger.
And then came the telephone call
from US President Barack Obama to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the tensions between the Israeli government and the American administration turned into a crisis, which is threatening to disrupt the road to a ceasefire.
It all began with the good intentions of US Secretary of State John Kerry.
Kerry is exposed time and again as a person failing to understand the forces driving governments in the Middle East, their sensitivities and the ways they react. He is Israel's friend, but with friends like these it's sometimes better to debate with enemies.
Kerry was here, he met with Netanyahu and with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, spent four days in Cairo, discovered that Israel, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority are incapable of getting Hamas to accept a ceasefire, and traveled to Paris to talk to the Qataris and Turks – Hamas' friends.
Israel was wrong to open the door to American mediation. The goal – or the illusion, to be more exact – was that Kerry would force the Egyptian ceasefire on the Qataris, who would force it on Hamas leader Khaled Mashal.
The opposite happened: The draft he sent to Jerusalem, Ramallah and Cairo was an American embrace of Hamas, its demands, its ongoing rule in Gaza. The three governments, which are all clear friends of America, felt betrayed. Someone in the Prime Minister's Office was even hasty enough – or foolish enough – to say it explicitly: Kerry betrayed us. And that resulted in the difficult conversation between Obama and Netanyahu.
Obama did not settle for reprimanding Netanyahu over the insults hurled at Kerry. He demanded an immediate, unconditional ceasefire, and made it clear that the demilitarization of Gaza would not be part of the ceasefire. It would wait for a future agreement.
Now the Israeli government, which really wants a ceasefire, may be portrayed as if it gave in to Obama's pressure. This makes it difficult for the government to reach the decision it wants.
The dispute between America and Israel, the PA and Egypt is an achievement for Hamas and its patrons. The American administration is finding itself on the wrong side of the Gaza battle. All because of the good intentions of one John Kerry.