IAF attack in Gaza
Despite the rejectionist position presented by Hamas and Islamic Jihad by firing at Israel, negotiations on a ceasefire continue. More specifically, what is taking place now are negotiations about who will manage the negotiations and how they will be conducted. Hamas and Islamic Jihad are facing the very unhappy fact that Egypt is the exclusive broker; a broker introduced them this morning and who more or less tried to force them into ceasefire and only afterwards negotiations.
In general, Gazans do not believe Egypt's General al-Sisi nor trust in the Cairo government there. They want Qatar to mediate, along with Turkey. So, even as the military wings of the Gazanorganizations were insulted by the Egyptian diktat and still hope Qatar will be given an important role alongside the Egyptian mediators, they announced that they are "considering" their response to the Egyptian proposal.
In practice, what is happening now and will happen probably in the next 48 hours is the start of negotiations on a truce, while the rocket fire on Israel continues, and while Israel continues to crush Hamas's military capabilities, especially the rocket launchers, their production, and operatives and commanders in the field.
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In fact, what is happening now is what happened at the end of the Second Lebanon War in 2006, and at the end of Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012 - even then the rocket fire continued, while negotiations were held simultaneously. This is an opportunity for Israel to continue crushing Hamas's military capabilities in a way that would greatly weaken its armed wing and prolong the amount of time the organization needsto restore those capabilities.
In other words, now is not the time for demilitarization of the Strip, but rather an ongoing slow destruction of the rocket manufacturing capabilities, understandings that Egypt will block the tunnels, and the supervision of border crossings into Gaza to allow a further slowdown the process of restoring the military wings of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
This is the strategy that Israel is now employing. The main drawback to this is that it fails to provide better way to attack the problem of tunnels into Israeli territory, and it does not ultimately prevent the restoration of Gazanmilitary capabilities, nor their improvement. The question is whether it will take them a year and a half, or two, or three.
The obvious question is why Israel does not take advantage of the opportunity to begin a ground offensive to uncover and destroy these capabilities, through a combination of arrestsand investigations, hunting down rocket production facilities we still do not know about, and demolishing the tunnels.
Such an operation could take two or three weeks, if a large number of forces are deployed. So why not take the opportunity and do it right now? The answer is that Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu know that you can destroy these assets - and destroy them completely – as we did the Second Lebanon War, but then when the IDF leaves the Gaza Strip, Hamas and Islamic Jihad will simply restore these capabilities.
Even if Hamas is completely devastated,it and the Iranian-funded jihad could restore their capabilities after a year or two. In order to guarantee that this does not happen, the IDF would have to remain in Gaza, and no one - even ministers Lieberman and Bennett - considers this a serious prospect.
As a result, the preferred option of the troika responsible for managing the operation is to essentially destroy 70-80 percent of these capabilities through an aerial pounding, followed by the Egyptians destroying the tunnels and other means of smuggling. Joint operations and covert Israeli ones will slow the restoration of the military structure, which will cost the organizations in the Gaza Strip dearly. There is no money in Gaza right now, and it any event it would be needed to pay the salaries of the Hamas administration employees.
It is almost certain thatJerusalem and Cairo will insert into the truce agreement clauses to ensure that international organizations carrying out humanitarian activities in Gaza will directly receive materials for building and agriculture provided by Israel and Egypt. These materials - such as fertilizer –could be used to line the tunnels and build warheads. The aid organizations will have to pledge that these materials will not end up in the hands of Hamas and Jihad.
None of this will prevent the next round of fighting, but it will create deterrence, and present physical difficulties that will greatly lengthen the time between Operation Protective Edge and the next operation. In that time, quiet will be restored to in the surrounding communities – and in Tel Aviv too.
Returning to the Egyptian ceasefireproposal, this was obviously a very calculated Egyptian move,which is optimalfor both Egypt and Israel. Egypt has torpedoed Hamas and Islamic Jihad efforts to bring Qatari-Turkish mediation into the picture. It has established its position as a regional power and revealed the true face of Hamas and Islamic Jihad as ceasefire refuseniks–both to Gaza's population and in the international arena.
Israel has been granted international legitimacy - and even in the Arab world too –to continue to crush Hamas from the air. It has also received the Egyptians as a partner for the arduous negotiations with Hamas, and al-Sisi's goodwill in preventing the strengthening of Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the future.
That Egypt remains the broker also works to Israel's advantage. The Egyptians are now committed to restoring the calm and preventing the smuggling of weapons into Gaza, and will probably remain so as long as al-Sisi is in power. The fact that the ceasefire did not come into effect at 9 am on Tuesday is not the final word, and the negotiations continue.
In contrast, the fighting on the domestic political frontcontinues, and Netanyahu is becoming isolated. On Tuesday, the prime minister enlisted the help of Defense Minister Ya'alonand IDF Chief Gantz, who enjoy great prestige among the Israeli public, to ward off the attacks both from Lieberman and from the right wing of his own Likud party. With such support, Netanyahu did not hesitate to get rid of Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon, who recently was targeted by Bibi and Ya'alontogether. His dismissal also serves, in soccer parlance, to show Lieberman a yellow card.
Days with such dramatic developmentsare rare, and Tuesday was one of them. Unfortunately, between these political turning points was also a tragic one: Tuesday brought the first fatality of Protective Edge. And we need to deal with such catastrophesjudiciously, and carefully consider the aims of certain actions, and whether the price is worth paying.
So far, Netanyahu, Ya'alon and Gantz and the rest of the cabinetare behaving in a way that commands respect.