Thursday, August 07, 2014

“With Clear Eyes”

I will be posting less frequently now that the war is over – updating my readers often but not necessarily daily on the anticipated negotiations in Cairo and other matters of importance for Israel.
But for today, having stepped back for 24 hours plus now to assess the situation and gather information, I want to focus in this posting on how I see our current situation. And to make a couple of pertinent comments:
Wishful thinking is an indulgence we cannot permit ourselves now.  What is necessary is to look at the broader picture with eyes wide open.  And to recognize that there is no perfect solution to our very difficult and complex situation.
With all the above in mind, I do believe that stopping the war at this point – and heading towards negotiations in Cairo - is probably the best solution for Israel at present.  I write this fully aware of the fact that some strenuously disagree with me and believe Hamas must be taken out.
Indubitably I would have liked to have seen Haniyeh’s head separated from his shoulders.  But I have come to the conclusion that the price of achieving this may be too high right now.
The IDF has done an assessment of what would have been required to re-take Gaza and clean it of terrorist elements (that would mean not just Hamas but also al-Qaeda and other jihadists) and remove all weapons:
We would have seen many hundreds of our best soldiers killed; as they entered the cesspool of Gaza city, with its network of underground tunnels, there likely would have been numerous kidnappings as well (the worst of nightmares), as terrorists leaped out of tunnels and grabbed them.
It is estimated that the entire operation would go on for at least five years.
And then there is the issue of the civilian death toll in Gaza.  There are always civilian deaths in war.  And we should not allow ourselves to be manipulated by Hamas’s cruel use of human shields.  (Indeed, even as the war is over, we must continue to present to the world evidence of that tactic and of the moral integrity of Israel’s fight.) 
But neither can this factor be totally brushed aside. For the number of dead – some of them children - would have increased enormously.  And the fact is that we Israelis ourselves are not terribly comfortable with this.  I am reminded of the story told very recently by Col. Richard Kemp, who spoke to an Israeli pilot who said he was glad he had had 17 missions aborted because of civilians – he said he didn’t want to have it on his conscience that he had killed a civilian.  We have, indeed, the most moral army in the world, and we need to ask what the corrosive effect on the collective soul (and fighting morale) of Israel would be, were we to pursue a very extended battle here.
The concomitant to this is the world’s response. This is the age of TV and video and Internet, and the Western world has no stomach for the sight of bombed babies.  That the response to us is grossly unfair (and colored by anti-Semitism) is a given.  As is the bias of the media, and the way that Hamas stifles fair reporting via threats to journalists inside of Gaza. But, judging by the hammering we’ve endured these past weeks, it’s difficult to even imagine the dimensions of what we’d be dealing with, were the war to continue for years.
And the unpalatable fact is that the international response would have ramifications: be it in terms of the deaths being used as a rationale for violent anti-Semitic attacks in Europe and elsewhere, or in terms of damage to our economic growth and ability to sustain ourselves, or attempts at legal delegitimization of Israel.  Perhaps, just perhaps, this needs to be factored into the equation somehow.
Yet concern about civilian deaths and its ramifications is a small matter compared to what I believe is the over-riding concern here:
Hamas is not the only enemy we face.  Nor is it remotely the most lethal. 
Hezbollah sits at our north in Lebanon with weaponry – including guided missiles! - more sophisticated than that of Hamas.  It is not inclined to attack us now, but we must remain prepared for that possibility. 
Were we to become too pre-occupied with military battles in Gaza, it might weaken our ability to face Hezbollah effectively
And then there is Hezbollah’s sponsor, Iran. Remember Iran, which sort of fell off the radar screen these past weeks?  We require resources to deal with this threat as well.  Iran has a friend in Obama and the rest of the world sits with its eyes and ears covered.  It may yet fall to Israel to face this threat alone.
Nor are these two threats separate, as Iran supports Hezbollah and would surely promote an attack on us from Lebanon, were we to hit.
My understanding is that we’ve done sufficient damage to Hamas at this point so that efforts to control it without further fighting have a reasonable chance of being successful.  If this were not the case, there would be no excuse for pulling out.  As it is, Hamas, while not out, is badly injured and in an extremely weak negotiating position.
Egypt has already rejected several Hamas demands, such as opening of a port and an airport, and is reportedly negative on requests for a crossing from Gaza into Egypt at Rafah.  Nor are we about to lift the sea blockade.  While we will permit goods to go into Gaza (via crossings from Israel), we will monitor them.  Israel will work with Egypt to prevent the smuggling of weapons into Gaza via the Sinai.
An Israeli team is already in Cairo and meeting with Egyptian intelligence. Israel maintains the right, at any point, to go back into Gaza should Hamas begin launching rockets again.
Deputy commander of the Nahal Brigade Ori Shechter told Army Radio this morning that Hamas “crawled to Egypt” to beg for a ceasefire. He described Operation Protective Edge as an “overwhelming defeat for Hamas.”
This is all to the good, but does not addresses the demilitarization that Netanyahu is seeking.  Without some form of demilitarization, keeping Hamas down indefinitely will be problematic.  It may be crawling, but still has leaders and some rockets, and rocket-building know how. 
As was anticipated, that consummate diplomat, John Kerry, is back pushing “the two state solution” again.  No point in wasting time. He is seeking a "bigger, broader approach to the underlying solution of two states" and suggests negotiations on this be tied to the negotiations with Hamas.
There are more holes in this approach than there are in a bath sponge.  There is a Jewish saying; You cannot ride on two horses with one tuchis.  But indeed this is what Abbas is attempting to do.  He represents himself as the moderate in contrast with the radicals of Hamas, but he is defending Hamas and seeks to join in negotiations in Cairo at the side of Hamas.  What makes it all the more ludicrous is that Hamas and Abbas’s Fatah have a “unity agreement” that Abbas has not chosen to disavow.  One tuchis, two horses.
There is some poorly conceived scheme afoot to put Abbas and his PA in control again in Gaza, at least partially.  I think very few have a clear conceptualization of what is involved here.  When Hamas took over Gaza from the PA, the PA forces fled or refused to fight.  Yes, they are better trained now (thanks to the US), but still cannot even protect the PA administered areas of Judea and Samaria without considerable assistance from the IDF.
PA involvement in Gaza would be used by the likes of Kerry to further promote that “two state” vision, as now in theory all of the Palestinian Arabs would be under the same administrative umbrella.  But it can also work to Israel’s advantage, as the PA has obligations, under the Oslo Accords, to eliminate weapons not on the list of those specified as permissible by the Accords.  You had better believe rockets are not on that list, and Abbas would have accountability for removing them.
Stay tuned here...
Breaking news:
“Israeli security officials on Tuesday evening announced the arrest of the chief of a Hamas cell, who has confessed to organizing the abduction and murder of three Israeli teens a month-and-a-half ago.
“Hussam Kawasma, who arranged the three-man cell which kidnapped Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Sha’ar and Naftali Fraenkel from a hitch hiking post south of Jerusalem on the night of July 12,  was arrested several weeks ago.
“He was caught trying to flee to Jordan, according to The Jerusalem Post.
“The State Prosecutor said Kawasma told investigators that he funded, found weapons, and helped bury the bodies on land he’d recently purchased.
Under interrogation, Kawasma admitted that the operation, whose brutality shocked the Israeli public, received training and funding from Hamas handlers in Gaza, according to Army radio. (Emphasis added)
“Officials said he is related to one of the kidnappers.
“The other  two cell members are still at large.”
Husam Kawasma, who was a resident of Hevron, was arrested in the Arab neighborhood of Shuafat in Jerusalem in a joint operation involving IDF forces and the Shabak.  The other two cell members are Marwan Kawasma, 30 and Amar Abu-Eisha, 32.
The IDF in Gaza captured a training manual that describes the advisability of using human shields.  See it here (and thanks to the many people who sent me this link):
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