Monday, January 12, 2009

"Time to Be Political?"

Arlene Kushner

As I indicated yesterday, I've been reticent because criticism of the government strikes me as unseemly in a time of war. Whatever the motivation of the various members of the "triumvirate," they have at long last been doing the right thing by going after Hamas and by making declarations about our right to defend ourselves no matter what the international community says. And for what they have been doing they deserve credit. But the unease that worked at me yesterday remains with me today: the sense that the government just might pull out under conditions that -- despite the enormous military blow we've delivered to Hamas -- are not to our long-term benefit.

It is impossible to be certain of the final outcome, as there is great confusion in the air now. Consider all that follows here:


Our current ground operation, stage two, is just about complete. Yet we're not pulling out and we're not bringing in all of the reserve units to move into stage three. Some reservists have been put into play and the operation late yesterday was referred to as stage 2-1/2, which may sound cute but strikes me as fairly meaningless.

We keep on hearing that we are "close" to achieving our goals, suggesting that we're almost done. But those goals still have not been spelled out. Hamas is severely weakened but not out of play -- still launching weapons, although many fewer than was the case a couple of weeks ago.


As yet, even if we are close to finished, there is no clear exit strategy; no final arrangements for the day after have yet been put into place.

A contingent from Hamas in Gaza went to Cairo at the end of last week, and Egypt is handling negotiations for a ceasefire with them. There are elements within Hamas that are desperate for a cease fire. Others remain defiant and want to persist. According to David Horovitz, the Damascus contingent of Hamas (Mashaal and company) was somewhat out of touch with how bad things had become in Gaza and was then set straight by the negotiating mission, which went to Damascus from Cairo.

But there's more to it than this: In Gaza, the people's lives are on the line, and there is a need for leaders to stay hidden. In Damascus, the leadership is not coping with the same degree of stress and personal deprivation. They are content to continue to push their associates in Gaza to keep fighting.

Additionally, it has been reported by Egyptian sources that Iran is pushing Hamas not to settle for a ceasefire. Two Iranian officials, Ali Larijani, speaker of the Iranian parliament, and Said Jalili of the Iranian intelligence service, met in Damascus with Hamas politburo head Khaled Mashaal and Islamic Jihad Secretary-General Ramadan Shallah.

"As soon as the Iranians heard about the Egyptian cease-fire initiative, they dispatched the two officials to Damascus on an urgent mission to warn the Palestinians against accepting it," an Egyptian government official reported to the Post. "The Iranians threatened to stop weapons supplies and funding to the Palestinian factions if they agreed to a cease-fire with Israel."

Thus would the Hamas contingent from Damascus be most persistent in holding out.

In Al-Hayat (London) yesterday, there was a report that while Hamas is still talking with Cairo, it has rejected the notion of a long term truce. They are apparently looking for quick fix to save their necks now.

Ehud Olmert, according to Barak Ravid in Haaretz, is for continuing the operation. He says that we won't stop until Hamas stops launching missiles and an end is put to smuggling.

Tzipi Livni and Ehud Barak, says Ravid, would rather see us stop now.

This division of attitude seems reflected in the statement that we're in stage "2-1/2" of the operation -- neither here and neither there.

But from another source there is information that the "triumvirate" met last night and decided to push on.

Livni has indicated that she's for a unilateral pullout by us, as this means we are not tied into any agreement and can return as we wish. She maintains that the Gaza offensive has "restored Israel's deterrence" and "created a new equation...which says that when our citizens are attacked we respond with force." And, she says, we have nothing to negotiate with Hamas, which is a terrorist organization.

Cannot say I would argue with this, as long as it doesn't prompt premature departure. Agreements with Hamas officials are worthless, as they don't honor their word (don't really believe they have to, as we're not Muslims). What matters is what we can impose upon them.


There has been some suggestion that we might retain a presence in Gaza in a strip adjacent to our border, rather like the security zone we had for years in southern Lebanon. But there is nothing definitive with regard to this.

The idea of re-taking the Philadelphi Corridor does not seem to have gained traction.


THE issue, beyond the question of whether we keep hitting Hamas or call it quits, is the matter of the smuggling.

Thus, when all is said and done, the most significant player here is Egypt, which is supposed to be working on a mechanism for stopping that smuggling. Theoretically, at least, it must be in place before we pull out.

In the course of the day today I've read information that says Egypt's attitude has changed and we're further along now in achieving the desired result of blocking smuggling.

But then I also read that there are major problems in working things out with Egypt. What we know is that Amos Gilad, who was supposed to return to Egypt today for further negotiations, has not gone.


The report about a shift in Egypt's attitude is true, however: Egypt is enormously sensitive about being accused of not having done enough to stop smuggling in the past. According to my best sources, the Mubarak administration has until now resisted the idea of working with foreign troops because this implies they are not capable of doing the job on their own.

Mubarak sought equipment only, with no foreign forces on his soil. When he requested this of the US, he was refused. But now he has had a visit from German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who was also here. Steinmeier told Mubarak that Germany would supply the equipment and technical experts but make no demands regarding troops in the Sinai.

This message from Germany -- which essentially is an expression of confidence in Egypt -- has buoyed Mubarak's willingness to help solve the issue of stopping the smuggling. This doesn't mean he will now accept foreign troops on his soil, but that he's exploring other alternatives. One of these involves foreign troops on the other side of the border. Previously, I'm told, he objected even to this. There is also talk revived of a moat at the Philadelphi Corridor, which would theoretically block the possibility of tunnels being re-dug; but there are complications with regard to ecological issues, as the canal would be filled with water.

But this all seems rather moot. For Mubarak is still insisting that he will cooperate only with the PA at the border, and Hamas is insisting there will be no PA there. And no foreign troops either.


NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said yesterday that NATO has no plans to send troops to supervise a ceasefire in Gaza. Hoop Scheffer was here in Jerusalem and met with both Olmert and Livni. He indicated that NATO would be willing to play a peacekeeping role only if there existed a full-scale peace agreement, consent from both sides, and a UN mandate; and he wasn't expecting this to happen any time soon.

I suspect this will be more typical than not: we're not going to see foreign forces falling over themselves to come serve in Gaza -- even if the situation ultimately allows for it.


What is most unsettling with regard to this is a statement that was made by Amos Gilad on Israel radio yesterday. Gilad, head of the Defense Ministry's political-security branch, said with regard to arrangements with Egypt to stop the smuggling, that results of talks with Egypt were not particularly relevant, and the Israeli public would know if Hamas had smuggled if rockets were fired from Gaza.

As Aaron Lerner of IMRA puts it:

"It would appear that as far as Gilad is concerned, should the Olmert-Livni-Barak team he represents strike an arrangement with Egypt, critics of the arrangement should have no ability to criticize it and the failure of the arrangement can only be determined when Hamas fires the rockets it smuggles in."

This suggests that the government team would consider pulling out before solid guarantees are in place, and bury the negotiating failure in secrecy.


Also greatly disconcerting is the news that Kadima held a secret poll on the second day of the war to assess how the fighting would affect the coming elections. This is not the way to fight a war -- and it provides one more piece of evidence that the people running the government are no leaders at all.

I would hate to end up concluding that while I refrained from political observations, Olmert and Livni (most specifically Livni, who wants to be the next prime minister, I would guess) were motivated, as has been charged, by political considerations first.


And yet one other mention of a political consideration here: This is from one source only, but a reliable one in the main. He is suggesting that the issue of getting Egypt to agree to foreign forces IN PRINCIPLE, whether they are ever put in place in Gaza or not, is important for Kadima, as Livni envisions doing this ultimately in Judea and Samaria.


My conclusion here: While the right thing to do is the right thing to do, and the "triumvirate" is entitled to credit for what they have done in standing up for Israel at long last...when it comes election time, that credit should not accrue to them in the ballot box. They must be judged across the board and with regard to their motivations as well.

Enough said, until this war is over and campaigning starts.


I was going to write more about the deviousness and viciousness of Hamas -- their theft of humanitarian supplies, which they then sell to Gazans, and the ways in which they booby=trap even schools. But I find I have scant tolerance for this now. Perhaps tomorrow.


A matter of importance in closing: President Bush's term ends in eight days. It is still within his power to pardon Jonathan Pollard.

It has been reported that the White House has been so overwhelmed by phone calls urging Bush to release Pollard, that 30 additional operators have been put on.

Please! Consider joining this campaign while there is still time. Pressure must be maintained.

In the States, call 202-456-1414 or 202-456-1111, Monday through Friday, 9 AM to 5 PM Eastern time.

Phone calls can also be made in Israel, toll free: 077-566-4305, 4 PM to Midnight Israel time.


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