Monday, August 22, 2011

"In Flux"

Arlene Kushner

Briefly, that's the sum of it. The situation in the South is fluid -- with outcome uncertain.

There is an enormous feeling here in Israel that strong deterrence is essential. We cannot tolerate aggression against our civilians -- what is required is a rapid and painful response that delivers a message: You hurts ours, and you will suffer. Barak's comment today was, "You attack us, you lose your head."

A good position. A necessary position.

But now what? There was talk about escalation of the attack on Gaza; of an operation that emulated the very intense first stage of Cast Lead, before the ground troops went in; of targeting Hamas leadership; of finally taking out Hamas completely; etc. etc.

However, the inner Cabinet, which met during the night, last night, decided not to decide yet -- but to continue as we are doing now and see how Hamas responds. Sometimes, apparently goes the thinking, it is enough for the enemy to understand that we are serious about various escalating options if the launching of rockets does not stop.


Last night I already indicated that the political wing of Hamas did not have the enthusiasm for the continuing violence that the military wing was promoting.

Tonight a report has surfaced reflecting a willingness on the part of Hamas to cool matters. What is interesting about this report is the broader dynamic:

A Hamas spokesperson said that Egypt was involved and had delivered a message to Hamas that Israel would not stop air attacks in Gaza unless the groups in Gaza first stopped shooting at Israel. An Islamic Jihad official further indicated that the "militant" groups in Gaza had convened in Cairo to discuss a ceasefire with Israel. It was being said that the ceasefire would start on Sunday (today) and would be monitored by Hamas.

Use of the term "ceasefire" is inappropriate, however. Israel's position -- which I pray holds -- is that there is no negotiation for a "ceasefire." In a ceasefire, there is an agreement that stipulates that both sides are to stop together at a predetermined time and within certain parameters.

Israeli terms are simpler: As long as they keep attacking us, we keep hitting them. If they stop, then we'll stop. This would mean we reserve the right to start responding again if they begin to attack again or if we see preparation for an attack that requires pre-emption. There is no "breaking of a ceasefire" that would be involved.

Yet, we should take note of the reported Egyptian involvement in this matter. The message that the Hamas spokesman said Egypt delivered to Hamas may have been real (that is, delivered on behalf of Israel).

We should further take note of the fact that Hamas may truly be eager to cool it. There seems to be some credibility to reports that Hamas called on all militant groups in Gaza to stop firing on Israel as of 9 PM tonight.


However -- and this is a big however -- Hamas may not control the situation. It has for some time now been understood that it is not the most militant of the groups in Gaza any longer.

And yet, Israel holds Hamas, which is the governing authority in Gaza responsible, and must do so. Sometimes Hamas has control, but prefers to allow others to do their dirty work.

First the Popular Resistance Committees said they would not abide by a "ceasefire."

Then Islamic Jihad officials weighed in, but their story was somewhat different: They indicated that UN envoy to the Middle East Robert Serry had sent a "lull" draft agreement to be discussed. An Islamic Jihad spokesman said they had no intention of handing Israel a lull agreement "free of charge." Their demand would be that Israel halt attacks in Gaza.

This, as I see it, is not a small matter at all. Islamic Jihad wants to be able to say that they forced Israel to stop. But if there is to be Israeli deterrence, it must be that the militant groups felt compelled to stop because of Israeli attacks.


Today was considerably quieter than yesterday had been, but when additional mortars and four Kassams were launched from Gaza late in the day, our planes were in the air again. Israel, for the time being, declares intention to continue thus. There is no official Israeli acknowledgement of even a "lull" agreement being considered. And these words are bandied about (see below).


I read today that an IDF official said we were doing well, because we were hitting the people who were responsible for launching the rocket attacks. This was definitely true with regard to the PRC leaders who were eliminated outside of Rafah. And I hope it continues to be true to some extent since then. It must be higher-ups who are hit -- those who plan and order the attacks. The people who actually shoot the rockets are readily expendable, and taking them out does not change the equation.


As to the Egyptians, there is much being written, all reflecting great unease about our current relationship with them: Will they sustain the peace treaty? Should we allow them into Sinai in sufficient numbers to regain control? Do they have culpability for Thursday's terror attack because they have fallen down on their responsibility to maintain control in the Sinai? At least one commentator is incensed at the notion that Egypt is angry with us because of the problem at the border when Egypt hadn't held up its end.

This is definitely a situation to be watched closely. I've picked up an eagerness on the part of at least some Israeli officials to mend fences -- figuratively speaking only -- with Egypt following that border cross-fire. And I speculate as to whether the message reportedly delivered to Hamas by Egypt was an attempt by Israel to work with Egypt (my idea only -- have no data on this).


For the record I wish to clarify various terms being bandied about. What is referred to as a "lull," is in Arabic "tahadiyeh," simply a period of calm. It's a state, perhaps agreed to informally and off the record. (Which is why a written "lull" agreement doesn't quite make sense.)

What in Western terms is a "ceasefire" is referred to by the Arabs as a "hudna." It's an agreement. But there is a very significant proviso: It is conceptualized by the Arabs as a given that it is temporary. This is built into the culture. What this means that while there is a "hudna" they don't maintain the status quo, but scurry to gain strength towards the time when that "hudna" will be over. I've always been vastly uncomfortable with such agreements struck between Israel and Palestinian Arabs. It buys calm now at a cost later.

Thus, for this reason as well, do I fervently hope that if the situation quiets down, it is because the Arabs back off and not because of a "ceasefire" agreement.


Final thought for the night:

If things quiet down again now, is this in our best interest both in terms of our security and diplomatic situation? There are many parameters to consider -- the impending UN vote, the implications of taking down Hamas and having the PA move back into Gaza, etc. My sense of matters is that our government knows that in due course there will be a war, but that this is not the right time.


There was intelligence today about plans for an imminent terror attack (exactly where or how was not specified) inside Jerusalem. Traffic was checked all day coming into the city. In the center of town, sniffer dogs were being worked by the police (which my youngest grandson found fascinating).


After the terror attack last Thursday Secretary of State Clinton offered a statement of condolence to Israel and said, "The US stands with Israel in fighting terror." How does she say this with a straight face?


© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.

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