Motzei Shabbat (After Shabbat)
Saw it coming. It was obvious this past week that we weren’t going to go the whole route, bringing Hamas to its knees. Right now, that “qualified hero,” Olmert, doesn’t look like much of a hero.
It was announced tonight that the Security Cabinet — which met this evening to discuss the latest Egyptian proposal carried by a returning Amos Gilad — voted to declare a unilateral cease-fire in Gaza, as of 2 AM.
There were two votes against: Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On (Kadima) and Industry Trade and Labor Minister Eli Yishai (Shas).
It’s not entirely certain what happens next. Apparently we will remain in Gaza either for some days, or until it’s clear that Hamas will stop. At the moment, Hamas is still launching rockets and we reserve the right to “return fire,” which means to go after the site or the individuals who launched the rocket. This is not the same as a massive operation against Hamas.
But there is still something tentative about the announcement — with Barak, who spoke after Olmert, saying we should be prepared for all eventualities, while Olmert made threats against Hamas and spoke of what they’ll encounter from us if they continue.
Of course, there will be enormous international pressure on us to get out. But Hamas has said as long as we’re in, they’ll keep shooting. “Resistance against the occupation,” you see. (Although when we’re out of Gaza there’s also “resistance against the occupation.”)
So, what’s the resolution?
There is, it seems to me, a great deal we don’t know yet with regard to what Egyptian proposal Gilad carried from Cairo, and I feel as if we’re waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Yesterday, Tzipi Livni went to Washington, and, after consultations with Condoleezza Rice, signed a Memorandum of Understanding Regarding Prevention of the Supply of Arms and Related Materiel to Terrorist Groups, which addresses the issue of stemming the flow of weapons and explosives into Gaza. The US is offering intelligence, technological help, and training, and the Memorandum speaks of both cooperative and parallel efforts. The idea is to catch smuggled weapons before they make it either into Gaza via the sea or into Egypt, whence they get to Gaza via tunnels. It alludes to different seas and countries of north Africa by which the weapons might make their way,
I am greatly dubious as to whether this will have any significant effect on the situation, and the wording of the Memorandum is too vague to provide true understanding of what might be anticipated.
One of the questions, to which I have no answer at present, is how binding this MOU will be on the new administration, which takes over in three short days.
What am I seeing? This is the same old Tzipi who promoted Resolution 1701, which was supposed to prevent Hezbollah from re-arming. This is Tzipi relying on international guarantees as a rationale for stopping the fight and not doing the full job ourselves.
It’s instructive to see what US State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said in response to a question at a press conference yesterday after the MOU was signed:
“Well… we are not responsible for, you know, smuggling happening or not. We are able to participate in robust ways to assist others as well in making sure that smuggling, resupply of Hamas, does not take place.
“There are a lot of different moving parts to this problem. And we have been engaged on this problem for a while. I think all of you understand that we sent a team to Egypt – Army Corps of Engineers – to look specifically at tunnels. There are other aspects to this: the air aspect, the sea aspect to this. But we think we have the beginnings of that.”
This is, to me, a sure tip-off that we should not hold our collective breath.
A first analysis of possibilities for the assistance offered now by the US to be useful are provided here:
It presents a picture of how complex this whole venture is.
Says Eyal Zisser, a professor of Middle East history and a senior research fellow at Tel Aviv University’s Dayan Center quoted in this article, “How many of these rockets have been fired into Israel? One hundred? Two hundred? [Note: that would be in the very short term only — it’s thousands that have been launched over a period of years.] We’re not talking about smuggling 100 tanks across the border. These rockets can be smuggled so easily through Sudan or other countries like it. Trying to intercept them on an international level would be a waste of time and effort.”
Zisser suggests that efforts to block Hamas from acquiring weapons should focus on the Egyptian border and not on broad-based intelligence efforts.
“It’s not that I’m against doing everything we can do on other levels to stop the smuggling,. It’s just that it’s not particularly difficult for these rockets to be smuggled to Egypt, and I doubt that any effort could make it more difficult. Take a country like Sudan or Somalia, where half of the population is unemployed, and all it takes is one fisherman’s boat to bring 10 or 20 of these rockets to shore. There’s no shortage of people who are willing to do that, and I don’t see how an international force could infiltrate such a vast network.”
In addition, according to Zisser, Iranian ships transporting rockets are also carrying other items: “They’re hidden away among other cargo. So who is going to inspect every Iranian ship, or Syrian ship, or Lebanese ship that arrives in their port? These days, the rockets could even arrive on a ship from Venezuela.”
And Egypt remains the weak (or non-existent) link in the chain of response. The Egyptian foreign minister has already announced that Egypt has nothing to do with the agreement just signed between Israel and the US. What Ahmed Aboul Gheit said was that, “We have no commitment towards this memo whatsoever.”
For me, this is Egypt revealing its true face.
Our prime minister has declared there’s been a lot of progress in negotiations with Egypt with regard to smuggling.
Unless we’ve got a presence on the scene, it will all amount to nothing.
Earlier today, Barak said that we had almost achieved our goals in Gaza. Chief of Staff Ashkenazi went on record as saying he didn’t think we should pursue the fighting any further.
Then Olmert, in announcing the Security Cabinet decision, said we HAD achieved our goals “in full.” How we went from “almost” to “fully” in a matter of a couple of hours is not clear.
What is clear is that these goals have not been reached. Olmert had originally said we would not stop fighting until Hamas stopped attacking our south. Today there were something like 25 rocket launchings. Hamas still has capacity and the will to hit us.
Olmert said tonight that we’ve reduced their rocket fire (this certainly seems true) and taken out most of their long-range rockets (I hope so). He also said we’re controlling most of their launching sites. But this is for now — this implies nothing about the future.
Hamas is weakened, Olmert says weakened a great deal. We’ve taken out control and training centers, a good many (but not all) tunnels, perhaps 800 or 1,000 of their 15,000 or 20,000 troops (most of whom remained hidden), a handful of their leaders. But they’re motivated by their radical ideology to keep going.
Olmert has announced that British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have all offered help in stopping arms smuggling. My only comment here — other than to indicate that none of this is a substitute for what we need to do relying on ourselves — is that this has more substance than anything under UN auspices, which is worthless.
One important point that Olmert made tonight was this:
“This is not a ceasefire with Hamas. These are understanding with elements in the international community which Hamas, as an illegitimate entity, has no place to be involved in.”
This was Livni’s original stance. And it came to be the government position, I am reasonably certain, after Hamas, at an Arab summit in Doha, Qatar, yesterday rejected our conditions for a cease-fire.
Saudi Arabia and Egypt boycotted this gathering, at which Mashaal called for Arab nations to cut ties with Israel, and Ahmadinejad made a surprise appearance.
What this means, at this point, from our perspective, is that we have no commitments toward Hamas — no promise to open crossings or to refrain from firing. Everything, presumably, is at our option and we are in control. And we’ve given them no legitimacy.
By last week I was feeling uneasy about Hamas demands that we refrain from all actions inside Gaza for the year of the proposed ceasefire; I could anticipate situations in which response would be required for self-defensive reasons because of Hamas behavior inside of Gaza even if it wasn’t directly shooting at us. And yet, as this was proposed, it would mean we and not they had broken the cease-fire.
(Remember, the beginning of the breakdown of the six month tahadiyah came with a brief IDF action in Gaza in response to a tunnel being constructed that would have led into Israel.)
And so, my concern remains one of what — if anything — comes next in terms of what Egypt is discussing with us.
Hamas’s over-riding desire is to have the crossings opened permanently. This gives them legitimacy and a measure of normalcy — this permits commerce, not just relief. Are we, as I suspect, headed down this road in short order and will Hamas broadcast this as a “victory”?
And then there is the whole issue of bringing back Gilad Shalit. We were assured tonight that this is being worked on, and rumors abound. But we have stopped fighting and there is nothing definitive. Does this come with the next stage of the deal? Or will it not come?
Lastly, I want to mention Olmert’s reference to the PA: Israel, he said, considers Gaza to be part of a future Palestinian state (implying under PA auspices). No, definitely not my hero now.
There must be no Palestinian state.
I wonder about how much we will ever know about the various discussions held regarding the cease-fire: what we demanded, what Hamas insisted upon. There are so many rumors floating. There may even be matters that are agreed to by us that do not come clear, at least in the short term. (That’s the old cynical me talking.)
One version of what Hamas ostensibly agreed to — which Mashaal has refuted — is that it would resume negotiations with the PA for a unity government. I know that this is what Egypt is pushing.