Tuesday, July 22, 2014

| Tighten the siege

Dan Margalit

On October 14, 2013, Israel Hayom published an article that looking back shows how amateur an approach Israel took toward the tunnels in Gaza. It happened that hammering was heard one night at Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha. Some of the kibbutz members thought their neighbors were renovating their homes, but then they met and realized no home improvements were under way. One of them contacted me at the paper while others turned to the defense establishment, causing the tunnel to be exposed. But luck can't play a role every time, and Israel found itself facing a complex web of tunnel openings. If Hamas had managed to carry out its plan, Israel would have fallen victim to a deathly rash of kidnappings.
The murder of the three teenagers Gil-ad Shaar, Naftali Frenkel, and Eyal Yifrach in Halhoul, Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett argued on Monday, served in retrospect to throw Israel into gear to save itself from the threat. Bennett announced on Channel 2 that he would not let any cease-fire go into effect until every one of the Israel Defense Forces' brigade commanders said that he had successfully destroyed the tunnels. But Maj. Gen. (res.) Eitan Ben-Eliyahu said after leaving the studio that this would never happen because none of the brigade commanders would ever be certain that all the tunnels were in fact eliminated.

These remarks hint at dissent in the cabinet that will grow if Cairo issues a call for a humanitarian cease-fire. Israel can't accept that. It has no intention of keeping a large reservist army on alert, doing nothing, until discussions about the standard cease-fire conclude. In a day or two, the problem will be laid at the door of every country involved in the local conflict.
Thus far, Egypt has sought to have a cease-fire precede every move. Hamas has refused, Israel has agreed. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who invited himself, and PA President Mahmoud Abbas are all supposed to take part in the Cairo meeting. If a new initiative comes out of it, what will Israel do? Diplomatic officials are acting like they'll cross that bridge when they come to it. As of this writing, Hamas is the one rejecting the calls for a cease-fire under the Egyptian terms, and Israel continues to demolish tunnels.
The main debate is Hamas' demand to remove the siege on Gaza. Israel should not agree to this so long as Hamas continues to terrorize the Strip. Israel was surprised by the tunnels' strategic significance and Hamas' enormous weapons stockpile precisely because the siege hasn't been unrelenting all this time. The tunnels were dug successfully because Israel did not withhold shipments of cement. It won't repeat the same mistake, and if it does it won't forgive itself.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was scheduled to meet with Ban. As of Monday at 10 p.m., no other meeting was scheduled between him and Kerry. Many believe the latter wouldn't be sent to Cairo if he hadn't been promised ahead of time he could successfully broker a cease-fire. How many times can Kerry be expected to fail?
To this groping in the dark was added Hamas' announcement last night that it was demanding American guarantees for a cease-fire. But the opposite is true -- Israel is the one that will demand that the Arab League ensure quiet. But Israel must be careful not to drag its feet and stay in Gaza any longer than it has to.

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