Motzei Shabbat (After Shabbat)
I left my posting abruptly yesterday because of the advent of Shabbat and want here to follow through. But it’s tentatively only, because indeed events are in the process of unfolding and we have to see what tomorrow and the ensuing days will bring.
Quite frankly, I had expected to return to the news to learn that Israel was expanding the operation in the face of Hamas’s kidnapping of Second Lt. Hadar Goldin and the killing of two other soldiers, after a “mutual” ceasefire – that was supposed to include discussions in Cairo on terms for extending it – had begun.
The sense of outrage was very real, the anger. It seemed finally the time to stop pulling punches and take down Hamas. I was particularly eager to see us go after Hamas leaders.
What I found, then, when Shabbat ended, startled me: I learned that our troops were being pulled back from the Beit Lahiya and al-Atatara areas of northern Gaza and the civilians told that they could return to those areas.
The IDF was saying that all the tunnels that led into Israel that had been discovered would be destroyed in another day or two.
This statement remains a bit amorphous: What if some haven’t been discovered yet – but still might be if the operation continued longer? What if some of the other tunnels that do not yet lead into Israel (and there are many in various parts of Gaza) could yet be extended into Israel?
Certainly we have done overwhelmingly destructive damage to that system of tunnels – they are saying we have demolished what it took Hamas five years to build. We have rendered it impossible for them to do the sort of massive and horrific attack they had planned – with hundreds of terrorists leaping out from tunnel exits in multiple communities in the south of Israel all at the same time.
All sorts of technologies are being examined to detect further digging across the border; troops are being stationed on the Gaza side near the border; and security forces in the communities in the south are being boosted. So, the danger that had been incredibly great and very imminent, has been reduced to one that is small, if not totally eliminated.
All along Netanyahu had said there was no guarantee that we could get 100% of the tunnels.
Perhaps that’s an honest assessment of the situation – that is, short of totally taking out Hamas – even if it is one many of us are not fully comfortable with. What will matter in the end is what the residents of the south are prepared to accept. (Many of them have gone elsewhere and are waiting to go home.)
The first impression given by this joint announcement – that troops were pulling back from some areas and that we were almost done taking out tunnels – was that we’d be pulling out of Gaza momentarily. A startling, bewildering and distressing impression – and one that in the end seemed to be not true.
Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke to the nation this evening and indicated that the redeployment of forces, because the tunnel phase of the operation was coming to an end, did not mean that the campaign against Hamas in Gaza was ending. We would take as much time as we needed, he said, leaving all options open, and applying force as it was required.
Meeting late into the night last night, the Security Cabinet decided to maintain “the current nature” of the operation, and “take stock” as necessary. It is, in other words, a situation in flux.
There are, however, some exceedingly important points that have been made: We are now saying that we will not have any further “humanitarian ceasefires” promoted by the international community. We will decide when it is appropriate to halt firing. Long overdue and sounding good.
What is more, we will not be sending a delegation to Cairo to negotiate a long-term quiet. If Hamas cannot be trusted to honor its commitment for a 72 hour ceasefire, there is no point in pursuing negotiations.
I see this as very significant. For Hamas’s whole goal – its definition of “victory” – had to do with securing certain benefits it was after: release of prisoners, and, more importantly, opening up of its borders. We were supposed to ultimately grant these benefits, in some measure, in exchange for having them stop firing on us. That would have been a great win for them.
I will note here the obvious: the purpose of kidnapping a soldier, or trying to, was to secure a bargaining chip in negotiations. But if there are no negotiations?
We are now saying that we’ll simply decide when to call it quits. We cannot leave Gaza if there is no quiet however. And if Hamas continues to fire rockets at Israel, the operation – I certainly hope! – will continue.
Will we get all their rockets? Without a very massive ground operation that sought them out in all the places where they are hidden – tunnels, mosques, schools, etc. – that is not possible. (Think about what a dirty situation this is!) But I am reading that at this point a considerable portion of their arsenal has been eliminated.
And this is what I suspect will be the end of the matter: I believe for Netanyahu, the option of demilitarizing Hamas is still very much alive. I believe that he sees this as the most effective and realistic way to resolve the matter. And as I wrote the other day – as I discovered for myself the other day – there is support for this in several quarters internationally, and some good reason to think this might happen. Even tonight he referred to his appreciation for nations he has new relations with, and that is a lightly veiled reference to Arab nations, who would be expected to support what he hopes to do.
What is more, as much as I truly want to see the heads of Hamas leaders roll, I understand what we’re dealing with here, which makes the take-down of Hamas perhaps not the most viable option. A nightmare situation, with our boys having to go into an enormously congested Gaza City, where there are still tunnels underground, and running the risk of being murdered by terrorists leaping out at them, or attempting to kidnap them. I think Netanyahu is hoping for a different way.
From the Times of Israel we have this most interesting report:
”In a phone call with US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro about the breakdown of the short-lived UN- and US-brokered ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vented his anger, according to people familiar with the call.
“Netanyahu told Shapiro the Obama administration was ‘not to ever second-guess me again’ and that Washington should trust his judgment on how to deal with Hamas, according to people familiar with the conversation. Netanyahu added that he now ‘expected’ the US and other countries to fully support Israel’s offensive in Gaza…”
In his address to the nation, after this report had surfaced, Netanyahu denied its veracity and talked about how he appreciates the support of the US, etc. etc.
But that Times of Israel piece rings true to me. It was the US and the UN jointly that had pushed for the ceasefire and subsequent negotiations. And after the kidnapping, it was the US that apparently called upon Turkey and Qatar to get Hamas to release Goldin immediately, so negotiations could take place. Turkey made some noise in that direction. As if – after a kidnapping during a ceasefire – we would proceed as if everything was fine if we got our soldier back.
I think that Obama and company have been made to feel very foolish with regard to this “negotiations” effort that backfired completely. And I suspect something in the dynamic here may have shifted in favor of what Netanyahu is seeking.
Time will tell.
As to Hadar Goldin, the IDF is saying they will everything possible to bring him back. But in truth there is reason to believe he is not alive – that what Hamas grabbed was his body, or that he was wounded and died after they took him. For there has been no announcement from Hamas regarding this – which would be promoted as a great “victory.”
Goldin’s very lovely family appeared on TV tonight, and they implored the IDF not to leave without rescuing him. Terribly painful stuff. I learned tonight that he had recently gotten engaged.
Here I leave it, for now. Again, I share a fantastic political cartoon: