The price of the ground operation in soldiers' lives, within the Strip and near the border, is extremely heavy. The decision makers never imagined that after 10 days of fighting on the ground, the military death toll would cross the 50 mark. The Israeli public, which enjoyed a protected home front in the first days of the operation, never imagined that this would be the state of things after 21 days.
A lot of it is bad luck. Like in Kibbutz Kfar Giladi in 2006, it was also in the forming-up place in the northern Eshkol region that soldiers unfortunately stood in the wrong place at the wrong time; and the tunnel near Kibbutz Nahal Oz was unearthed on time. It just wasn't unearthed in its entirety. Luck and bad luck are an integral part of every war.
The initial reaction said: We must hit them hard, from the air, from the sea, from the ground; the IDF should pull their leaders out of the bunkers they have dug under the al-Shifa Hospital, send a tank brigade to Palestine Square, raze the Jabalya refugee camp. The belly and heart are an authentic response team. I'm not certain that they're a wise response team.
The bad news dictated the atmosphere in the press-statement conference convened by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon and IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz. Netanyahu's face conveyed sadness, grief. Ya'alon and Gantz had a scowling expression.
But when one looks into the content of their statements, it's hard to find evidence of a change. It's possible that in private they speak differently, but outside they are sticking to the outline they have been following until now.
They are pursuing an organized ceasefire, preferably with international backing and with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' seal of approval. Ideas in this direction bounced back and forth Monday in all the relevant bureaus.
The flow of ideas was halted when they realized the number of fallen soldiers in the south, but the outline pursuing a ceasefire didn't disappear. It didn't disappear because it has no alternative for now.
Good or bad, this is reality. The talk about expanding the operation beyond the tunnels and shafts is mere talk. There is not a single minister in the cabinet who is offering a consolidated alternative right now. The ministers and Knesset members calling for the operation's expansion are outside the cabinet, and are both unfamiliar with the material and enjoying an opportunity to make headlines for no reason. They are engaging in primary elections on the fighters' blood.
From the first day of the operation, we have been dragged and we are still being dragged. Hamas is dictating the extent and length of the conflict, and our forces have not found a move, an initiative or a patent to break this dictation.
We interpreted the humanitarian ceasefire as a permit to keep blowing up tunnels. Hamas interpreted it differently. While the IDF continued working in the tunnels, Hamas expanded and intensified the fire, and managed to surprises us with two difficult blows. As far as Hamas is concerned, with another successful day like this one it will pull us in, into the bunkers in Gaza City.
Netanyahu, naturally, is thinking about his image on the day after. Today he enjoys an 87% support rate, but these are fragile percentage points, which could pass. What will jeopardize him more on the day after, pursuing the fighting or stopping it?
If he goes on, he will have to deal with the death toll. He probably remembers what happened to former Prime Minister Menachem Begin in similar circumstances; if he stops, he will have to deal with disappointment and internal criticism. According to the blatant, degrading tone used by his colleagues when they refer to him, his life won't be easy.
The Obama administration has no intention of making things easier for him either. The errors which led to the explosion can be divided between the two sides. The administration, which gave Israel its full support from the beginning of the crisis, felt it couldn't stand idly by as horrific pictures of dead children in Gaza were being published in America. Obama has been accused of letting the children of Syria die; the children of Gaza will receive a better treatment.
Kerry took the mission upon himself. He likes taking missions. If he had learned something from the lesson of Philip Habib, the diplomat who ran around from Ariel Sharon to Yasser Arafat in 1982, he would have been careful. Netanyahu should have said to him: John, my friend, it's not a good thing when the American foreign minister mediates between an ally and a terror organization; no good will come out of it.
Kerry flew to Paris from here, to embrace the foreign ministers of Qatar and Turkey, Hamas' two patrons. With one hug, he bought the resentment of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Abbas and the Israeli government.
He then came up with points for a ceasefire agreement. A more cautious person would have discussed the points verbally. Kerry handed the points over to Netanyahu in writing, turning them into an American document. Netanyahu presented the document to the cabinet members. He prevented them from making a decision to reject the offer, but the leaks from the meeting were enough: The document got out, the general objection was recorded, and Kerry was portrayed as a traitor.
Obama took the betrayal issue to heart, and there was a reason for that: The new Egyptian regime has accused him of having a secret alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood. The radical right in America adopted the accusation and intensified it: Why it is a known fact that Barack Hussein Obama tends to betray America's friends and conspire against it with his friends, the radical Islamists. It's an imaginary accusation, but the sensitivity is real. From phone calls from Washington, I hear that both Obama and Kerry are furious.
The reprimanding phone call to Netanyahu did not make much of a difference. The cabinet sat down till dawn, and concluded the meeting, as usual, without making a decision. The ministers expected Netanyahu to reach a ceasefire without them, and absolve them of responsibility.
And then came the news from the Gaza vicinity.