“The sand in the hourglass is running out,” Defense Minister Ehud Barak promised Thursday in a meeting with municipal leaders in the Gaza region.
His words could be understood to mean that a significant IDF operation in Gaza is in the cards, and that we are not talking about months or weeks from now, but rather, something that will take place within days. The military blow, he said, will come before the lull.
Barak is attempting to blur his message and refrain from giving Hamas any clues, but it appears he already decided – even before the cabinet meeting and consultations with other ministers – that a truce with Hamas without a military blow that precedes it is no longer a realistic option.
It appears that on this issue he is in agreement with the prime minister. The IDF chief of staff also decided that there is no other way but a military operation, even though the political leadership is unable to point to a required diplomatic achievement that would stem from this high-risk military move.
The army would perhaps prefer air attacks accompanied by some ground operations against a very large number of Hamas targets. Yet this is not very realistic, because for such activity to take place military intelligence and the Shin Bet are supposed to provide hundreds of high-quality targets, and this, how shall we put it, is not quite working out.
What is left is to take over problematic areas on the ground, using the air power lever, in the hopes that developments would not require a reserves call-up and full occupation of the Strip.
On Thursday, we still saw contacts between the Defense Ministry and the Egyptians regarding the answers Israel is supposed to provide to the truce offer and regarding a trip by top defense official Amos Gilad to Egypt. For the time being, Gilad is not going anywhere, Hamas is not giving any good reason to believe in the truce, and the IDF is on alert ahead of various types of operations in the Strip.
We are talking about phased activity, the plans are in place, and the army is practicing at this time. If the activity expands to occupying significant parts of the Strip for long periods of time there is also a plan for a reserves call-up.
Hamas must be laughingThe IDF is prepared to engage in fighting vis-à-vis Gaza within a short period of time. What are we waiting for? Why does it have to take days? We’ve already been there. Bush came and went, and the 60th birthday celebrations are over. So what’s the excuse now for not taking off the gloves against Gaza? The Shavuot holiday? Indeed, that’s a good reason not to spoil the people’s mood and the trips to the Negev. But Shavuot will be followed by summer vacation and then by Rosh Hashana. We can always find reasons to postpone tough decisions.
Eight Israelis already died in the war of attrition around the Gaza Strip this year. During all of last year, 10 Israelis were killed. The numbers are indeed talking. Less than a month ago, on May 15th, a kibbutz member was killed by a mortar shell, which prompted a great outcry among area residents. The defense minister ordered the IDF to prepare for a ground operation of a certain extent. The Army chief ordered the Southern Command to be prepared to operate within two days. And indeed, on May 17th everything was ready, but then it was postponed. Truce talks got underway, the peace with Syria broke out, and two more Israeli citizens were killed.
Hamas and its allies in Gaza are continuing to do their thing, while we continue to interpret their actions on their behalf and constantly search for explanations: Why did they fire here, and why did they fire there. They’re probably reading our newspapers and laughing out loud. Even they didn’t know they are so smart.
And still, why is Israel waiting? Perhaps because the truce agreement is almost finalized. Israel is not overjoyed with it, but Amos Gilad already finalized most details with the Egyptians and the defense minister was willing, until Thursday, to give the deal a chance. Now they’re waiting for Olmert to decide whether we’re going for a deal or not. If not, we’re going for a military operation.