What started in Gaza Saturday morning is apparently a limited move aimed at securing a long-term ceasefire between Hamas and Israel on terms that are favorable to Israel. These terms include the following: An end to mortar and rocket attacks; an end to terror attacks across the Gaza fence; serious negotiations on the release of Gilad Shalit; and an end to Hamas’ military buildup.
The means for securing the above objectives is shock treatment – literally. This way, Hamas will no longer be initiating and setting the pace of developments, while Israel takes the initiative and makes it clear to Hamas that it would respond “disproportionally” every time western Negev residents are hurt. At this time, we are not talking about an attempt to topple Hamas’ regime in Gaza, but rather, the formulation of new rules of the game – and an effort to prompt Hamas to accept a new ceasefire agreement.
Despite estimates on the Palestinian side that an Israeli operation was forthcoming, the IDF nonetheless managed to secure a tactical surprise in respect to the operation’s timing. Now it is clear what Chief of Staff Ashkenazi and Defense Minister Barak were talking about when they spoke about waiting for an “operational opportunity.” We should also make note of the diversions and acts of deception undertaken in recent days, such as the transfer of goods through the Gaza crossings Friday.
Despite reports about the possibility that senior Hamas figures were hurt in the initial strike, Israel’s objective, for the time being, is not to topple the Hamas regime. Such move would require a lengthy stay of large forces in the Gaza Strip, and it is unclear whether this can be maintained over time. The move that started Saturday will comprise a series of operations, until Hamas announces its willingness to accept a long-term ceasefire on conditions acceptable to Israel.
Revenge attacks abroad feared
In fact, the move we see right now got underway early last week already, when Israel embarked on a political and diplomatic campaign aimed at creating a convenient international backdrop for IDF operations, and particularly aimed at ensuring that the international community does not stop Israel before it achieves its goals.
This international campaign comprised several steps, including Prime Minister Olmert’s visit to Turkey, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni’s meeting with President Mubarak in Cairo, and the interviews granted by President Peres to several Western and Arab media outlets. Now we can only hope that Israel would not need to utilize all the operational options it prepared for the limited move – thereby sparing some suffering to the Palestinians in Gaza and to residents of southern Israel.
It is certainly reasonable to assume that Hamas and the organizations operating under its auspices will now attempt to turn the lives of southern Israel residents into hell, both due to a desire for revenge as well as an attempt to create a strategic equation, as the Hizbullah did at the end of the Second Lebanon War. Technically, Palestinian organizations in Gaza are capable of launching more than 100 rockets a day. This is of course a theoretical pace, which also depends on the actions undertaken by the IDF.
On a wider front, we can assume that Hamas will attempt to dispatch members of the group and of Islamic Jihad to carry out suicide attacks in Israel at any price, with bombers originating in the West Bank and attempting to enter Israel or target settlements. The even wider circle could be an attempt to hit Israeli targets in Islamic countries as well as in countries in South America, Africa, and Asia where the regimes are weak.
We can draw this conclusion from past experience in the 1980s, when the Air Force bombed a Hizbullah training camp in Lebanon. Hizbullah’s response came in the form of revenge attacks, including some abroad. We can also expect riots among Arab-Israelis as well as protests against Egypt in the Arab and Muslim world.
However, a determined stance by the Israeli government, the Israeli public, and our friends in the international community are supposed to enable the IDF to secure the operation’s objectives.