Ron Ben-Yishai

Olmert giving Abbas one last chance

Israel is sticking by restraint policy despite Qassam attacks mainly to give Abbas more time to prove his leadership and face up to Hamas, but also for fear on Shalit's life and to earn international backing for future operation

The real reason behind the recent restraint in the face of ongoing Qassam attacks is only discussed in the innermost offices of the government: It's not a desire to win points from the international community and it's not recognition of the fact that the IDF has no effective solution to stop the Qassam fire.


It turns out that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is practicing restraint primarily because he wants to give Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as much leg room as necessary to undertake the decisive and dangerous process that he kick-started last week. The process intended to remove control of the territories from Hamas hands and hand it over to Fatah.


It's reasonable to assume that this is a strategic move, coordinated in advance with Abbas and his supporters, and thus, this is most likely why Olmert was so quick to approve a ceasefire a few weeks back.


Thursday, the Shin Bet presented Olmert with an estimation that renewed IDF operations in Gaza would cause the warring Palestinian factions to unite against Israel, and Abbas, who wouldn't want to be considered a collaborator, would have to follow suit.


In such a situation, he would have to postpone the disbandment of the government, refrain from setting a new date for the early elections and, thus, lose an opportunity of getting rid of, or at least weakening, the Hamas government.


Olmert doesn't want to give Abbas an excuse to get down from the high ladder he climbed on when he decided to go head-to-head with Hamas. The prime minister decided to bet on the Palestinian president and risk the potentially high price of restraint.


It should be noted that Israel can bring about an almost complete cessation of rocket fire in Gaza if it agrees to Hamas and Islamic Jihad demands to stop assassinations of their operatives, since most rocket fire is a response to such assassinations.


But, if the state of Israel accepts this condition it will risk terror attacks within Israeli territory – attacks that will cause many casualties as was the case in the beginning of the intifada.


Protect Gilad Shalit

The second reason for Israeli restraint is an estimation that renewing army operations in the Gaza Strip will lead to a 100 percent increase in rocket attacks.


Pinpoint land and aerial operations are no solution to such attacks and the government has no choice but to order the IDF to launch a large-scale operation in Gaza.


The army however is split over the scale of possible operations in Gaza. A plan drafted by the Southern Command is more daring than the Central Command is ready to approve.


Halutz is wary of operating in densely populated areas and is not convinced that a large-scale operation would hamper the capability of terror groups to fire rockets at Israel.


Halutz favors short and pinpoint operations against arms manufacturing and storing facilities as was done after the kidnapping of Corporal Gilad Shalit on June 25.


However sharp the divisions, the security establishment is in accord on one issue: A large-scale operation should give a fundamental and long-term answer to arms smuggling into Gaza.


The problem is Gilad Shalit. By all judgments, Shalit is being held in the southern Gaza Strip where the IDF would have to operate.


A large-scale operation will almost certainly stymie his release and even put his life in danger.


Restraint won't last 

The third reason for opting for restraint is Israel's interest in securing international backing in case the government decides for a large-scale operation in Gaza.


Each Qassam that falls in Sderot or the western Negev forges a consensus in the international community that Israel has no choice but to act in self-defense.


The main failure of this line of thinking, which is based on cold and sober estimations, is the risk to which southern residents are exposed.


Although Qassams fell in southern communities before the ceasefire and claimed casualties, IDF operations decreased the risk of human casualties as the accuracy of rockets worsened and their numbers dropped.


In the beginning of the ceasefire, rocket attacks fell significantly but now it seems the situation is worsening.


The government will probably keep up its policy of restraint for a few days, Abbas will be given another chance to prove his leadership, but experience teaches us that Israel's restraint will soon end.


All is left is to hope that a multi-casualty attack won't be government's trigger to order the IDF to act under massive pressure from the public.


פרסום ראשון: 12.22.06, 23:45
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