Sunday, January 18, 2009

Cease-fire -- Day 1

SUNDAY
Deterrence restored?

If the cabinet's decision Saturday night to halt Operation Cast Lead is premised on the notion that such restraint will afford this country renewed international legitimacy to defend itself against continued Hamas aggression, the ministers are likely to be disappointed.

Nevertheless, under intense worldwide pressure, including from the US, the cabinet declared an immediate unilateral Gaza cease-fire whose longevity will depend on how Hamas responds. The cease-fire comes in the wake of commitments by Egypt regarding the Philadelphi Corridor. Meanwhile, our forces will remain in-place; the crossing points from Israel and from Egypt into Gaza will stay closed until security arrangements to prevent Hamas arms smuggling can be implemented.


UN Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon declared: "We cannot wait for all the details, the mechanisms, to be conclusively negotiated and agreed, while civilians continue to be traumatized, injured or killed."

Though Hamas has repeatedly rejected the cease-fire, and even now says that "resistance and confrontation will continue," the feeling among ordinary Israelis is that Ban was hectoring Israel and not the Islamist aggressors. Because the international community never seems to have the time to "wait for all the details" on how to stop Hamas or Hizbullah from arming themselves to be worked out; and because the UN has said not a single word to criticize Hamas's belligerence or its unlawful practice of fighting from behind Gaza's civilian population, it may be setting the stage for yet another round of bloodshed.

The goal of the IDF operation which began on Dec. 27 was to halt continuing Hamas rocket attacks and infiltration attempts against southern Israel; to change a reality in which a generation of Israeli schoolchildren has grown up thinking the threat of rockets and mortars was part of the fabric of life; and to plug up the hundreds of tunnels from Egypt into Gaza which deliver military hardware, trained gunmen and illicit cash that prop up Hamas. Defense Minister Ehud Barak argues that Israel is "very close" to reaching these goals "and securing them through diplomatic agreements."


Time will tell.

Israel's decision to agree to a cease-fire was facilitated by its talks with Egypt and a rather nebulous memorandum of understanding signed Friday between Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and outgoing US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (in coordination with incoming Obama administration officials). Washington pledged to "work cooperatively" with Jerusalem on an array of steps to stem the flow of arms to Hamas. Separately, Italy, the UK, France and Germany have signed on to the memorandum.

ISRAELIS HAVE every reason to be skeptical that these pledges will translate into a tangible diminution of the enemy's capacity to smuggle Iranian weapons into Gaza. Moreover, while the US and EU have always supported Israel's theoretical right of self defense against terrorism – and do so again in these latest commitments – when push comes to shove, as it did at the UN Security Council debate on Gaza, that support evaporated.

We are hardly encouraged by Egypt's announcement that the Israel-US memo does not obligate it. Indeed, all we heard from President Hosni Mubarak was an adamant demand for "an immediate and unconditional cease-fire" and "a full withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Strip."

Leaders of several EU countries are due to visit Egypt and Israel tomorrow to bolster the cease-fire. But unless Mubarak can be convinced to fulfill his responsibilities to stop the smuggling beneath the Philadelphi Corridor, all the photo-ops in the world will be to no avail.

Whatever the fate of the cease-fire, it is not too soon to praise the IDF for an astoundingly effective war against Hamas, and to thank our fighters for their extraordinary efforts -- the disparagement of the foreign media notwithstanding -- to avoid hurting non-combatants.

Operation Cast Lead has taught Hamas that just because Israel is a civilized society, and though we cherish life and are loath to engage an enemy that shields among its own civilian population; our army can nevertheless overcome its inhibitions. It has admittedly been disagreeable for the IDF to strike back at Hamas as it operates out of mosques, schools, hospitals and aid buildings. But the enemy now knows that Israel will not commit national suicide -- not even if surviving makes us unpopular.

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