The diplomatic moves on various fronts aimed at securing a stable ceasefire have failed thus far. Two initiatives are currently on the agenda: The Security Council’s resolution and the Egyptian-French efforts to reach understandings with both Israel and Hamas that would bring about a truce.
The Security Council’s resolution is in fact no more than a declaration aimed at appeasing Arab foreign ministers and showing that the United States and Europe are willing to mitigate the pressure exerted on them in the Arab world. When examining the resolution’s text, one can see it details no practical step that would advance Israel’s demand for a stable, long-term ceasefire. Therefore, another Security Council resolution will apparently be required in a few more days.
The fact that the US abstained in the vote highlights the fact that this resolution has no practical validity. However, the most important thing is that Hamas rejected the Security Council’s decision and Friday morning continued to fire rockets at Israel. Therefore, the resolution is no more than a declaration of intent that is empty of any practical implications.
Security Council members call for immediate ceasefire in Gaza, IDF withdrawal, transfer of supplies to Gaza, humanitarian aid, and intra-Palestinian reconciliation. Hamas, as well as kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, not mentioned
Meanwhile, the Egyptian-French mediation effort, aimed at prompting an immediate ceasefire by Israel and Hamas, is stuck – because Hamas rejected it and it has still not matured into an initiative that merits serious consideration.
The Egyptians are working to secure an agreement that would serve their interests, rather than Israel’s interests. They want two things: First, for Hamas and Israel to end the fighting, so that the pressure exerted by the Islamic Brotherhood and by the Egyptian street on Mubarak’s regime will be mitigated. Secondly, to secure an agreement that sees the Rafah Crossing open on terms convenient to the Egyptians – that is, seeing the Crossing jointly monitored by Hamas, European observers, and Abbas’ representatives. This would make the Gaza Strip a part of the Palestinian Authority and prevent its de-facto annexation to Egypt.
The main problem is that the Security Council resolution and Egyptian mediation effort have no practical and effective solution for the smuggling problem and Hamas’ future military buildup via Philadelphi route tunnels and arms smuggling from the Sinai. Therefore, these diplomatic efforts do not address Israel’s two fundamental demands: A Hamas pledge to refrain from firing at Israel, and effective mechanism that would end Philadelphi Route smuggling operations.
On top of that, the Egyptian initiative and Security Council resolution do not address Israel’s demand for the release of abducted IDF soldier Gilad Shalit. Israel cannot comply with any of the diplomatic initiatives at this time, mostly because of the absence of a solution for the Philadelphi Route problem. Meanwhile, an end to the rocket fire and terror attacks originating in the Gaza Strip can apparently be secured via the deterrence effect created during operation Cast Lead.
Tough decision for cabinet
At this time, Hamas is starting to recover and attack IDF forces deployed at more or less static positions within the Strip. This is one of the reasons why three IDF soldiers were killed and several others were wounded Thursday. The maintenance of static positions will necessarily prompt more Hamas attempts to harm our people and will inevitably lead to more casualties on our side.
In order to prevent this and press Egypt and other international players, Israel needs to boost the military pressure within the Strip via the advancement of IDF forces and a ceaseless offensive that will require Hamas to assume a defensive posture and hide, instead of embarking on attacks on IDF forces. Offensive IDF activity would also force the international players and Egypt to accelerate their efforts and agree to an effective mechanism for blocking the Philadelphi Route.
Jerusalem will apparently also have to make clear to Cairo that should Egypt not agree to adopt practical action to block the Philadelphi Route and receive international assistance to that end, Israel would have to do it herself via military operations along the route.
There are several proposals for blocking the Philadelphi Route. One of them is to build a fence west of Rafah and along the border that would prevent the smuggling of weapons from Sinai to Rafah. Another means is the detection of tunnel openings on the Egyptian side of Rafah with the aid of American equipment and professionals, and the third means is better monitoring of what goes on in the Sinai and in sea routes leading to Egypt.
At this time, the Egyptians do not agree to any one of these means, and are merely asking for permission to boost their military and police presence along the border with Israel – a request that Jerusalem hesitates to agree to because of the long-range implications of such move.
As noted, the current state of affairs requires Israel to adopt a military move that is not necessarily a takeover of the Strip, yet still terminates the dead-end on the ground and on the diplomatic front. This is the snapshot faced by the National Security Cabinet as of Friday morning. The ministers will have to take a difficult decision, because expanding the military operation will involve paying a price on our part, in terms of casualties and in respect to international criticism and possibly isolation.