- Part 1 of analysis by Ron Ben-Yishai
The “lull” on the Gaza Strip border will not come to an end this coming Friday, because it in fact ended about six weeks ago. In place of the truce, what we have now already is an active clash, yet a low-intensity one. This is the situation at this time, and this is also apparently what we can expect in the near future.
At this time, a low-intensity clash serves well the interests of Hamas, and Israel is forced to reconcile itself to it with clenched teeth for reasons that Prime Minister Olmert, Defense Minister Barak, and IDF Chief of Staff Ashkenazi refrain from sharing with the public.
On Saturday, Barak said that the lull improves the chances for securing the release of captive IDF soldier Gilad Shalit. At the same time it is likely to assume that the current low-intensity conflict will draw to an end soon, in the wake of an incident that would prompt an all-out clash – for example, a Qassam rocket or mortar shell that, heaven forbid, would cause causalities in Israel, or alternately, a Palestinian attempt to carry out a terror attack across the Gaza fence.
In incidents of this type, whether they are initiated by Hamas or by another Gaza group operating under Hamas’ auspices, the extent of the Israeli response will be determined in line with the extent of damage we sustain. This was the case in the past, and this will likely be the case in the foreseeable future as well, at least after the elections in Israel.
In the wake of the Israeli response, Hamas will have to decide whether it wishes to escalate the fighting or keep it at its current format. Under such circumstances, Israel will be the “follower,” rather than the “doer” that initiates and controls developments.
However, there is also the possibility that Israel will initiate a move based on the clear knowledge that it may prompt a violent and harsh Hamas response, ultimately requiring Israel to embark on a large-scale operation. This will happen only when Defense Minister Barak and Army Chief Ashkenazi will have a significant reason for changing their currant position.
It would not be appropriate to detail, at this time, the conditions that may prompt the two figures to change their views. What is important is that for the time being at least they support the continuation of the lull, and object to the demand of Minister Tzipi Livni and other ministers to escalate the IDF’s response to the ongoing attacks.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, as opposed to what is being published on occasion, is also not enthusiastic about escalating the IDF’s response to the sporadic rocket and mortar fire originating from Gaza. He knows that harsh responses will ultimately require the IDF to carry out a large-scale operation in the Strip which it does not wish to embark on at this time. Therefore, Olmert is adhering to the same views as Barak and Ashkenazi.
Part 2 of analysis, to be published Tuesday night, will focus on Israeli cabinet’s secret long-term plan for dealing with Gaza