Jerusalem – The Israel government’s inner security cabinet gave those in charge of the effort to secure a truce agreement with Hamas in the Gaza Strip two weeks to accomplish their task.
If the rocket and mortar fire on the western Negev communities fails to stop by the end of that period, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) will be given a green light to launch a ground operation deep inside the Gaza Strip.
Israeli Security officials said that most of the details of the cease-fire agreement had been worked out between Israel and Egypt, but there were still a number of issues in contention, including when Israel will allow the Rafah border crossing to be opened. IDF intelligence officials said on Wednesday that they believed, “Hamas is liable to try to intensify its fire up until the moment before the cease-fire becomes effective in order to demonstrate that it is beginning the agreement from a position of strength.” Other security officials said they believed, “even if a cease-fire becomes effective, the chances that it will last more than a few weeks aren’t high.”
Following are the components of the Tahdia agreement: the truce will include a cease-fire on either side of the Gaza Strip’s borders and will extend to all the Palestinian organizations. It will not apply to Judea and Samaria, where the IDF and the GSS will continue to operate as usual to foil terror attacks. Immediately after the cease-fire becomes effective, Israel will ease the economic sanctions on the Gaza Strip.
The security cabinet, as noted, decided on Wednesday not to instruct the IDF to begin a large-scale military operation against terrorism from the Gaza Strip but, rather, to maintain the policy of restraint. Following a five hour discussion, the security cabinet decided that Israel would give the truce agreement a chance but that the IDF would continue to prepare for the possibility of a large-scale operation.
Director of the Political-Security Staff in the Defense Ministry Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad left on Thursday morning for Cairo, where he will discuss the truce agreement with Director of Egyptian Intelligence Gen. Omar Suleiman. One security official said, “if Hamas and the other factions make sure to keep the peace, in return we’ll extend the border crossings’ opening hours. The Rafah crossing, which has been closed since the summer of 2007, will be reopened solely in exchange for significant progress in the talks over Gilad Shalit’s release.” The security official also said, “Hamas wasn’t prepared under any circumstances to link Shalit’s release to the truce agreement. Our threats to launch a military operation didn’t make them hesitate either. One can say that they won on that issue.”
Israeli Army Disappointed With Hesitant Decision
The security cabinet’s decision was received with distinct displeasure by senior security officials even though it was the defense minister who supported it and Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi voiced a similar opinion. One assessment is that Lt. Gen. Ashkenazi would not like to begin a large-scale operation without defining for it in advance a clear end scenario and goals.
“The chief of staff is hesitant to operate in Gaza and he is the one who represents the army to the political echelon,” said a high-ranking IDF officer in a conversation with the daily Israeli newspaper, Israel Hayom. The officer said that the political echelon was not always exposed to the plurality of opinions, and that some of the more senior officers refrained from voicing their opinions in full so as not to be perceived as defying the chief of staff. “That is the hesitant army in the wake of the Second Lebanon War,” he said.
Israeli intelligence chief Yuval Diskin does not believe that the truce agreement will endure. One of the most salient proponents of a military operation in the Gaza Strip is OC Southern Command Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant as well as OC Operations Directorate Maj. Gen. Tal Russo. “Hamas will exploit the truce to build itself militarily,” said another high-ranking security official to Israel Hayom, “without an end to Hamas’ military build-up and Gilad Shalit’s release there isn’t any point to a truce.”
Yaakov Amidror, a retired IDF major general, gave a lecture in Jerusalem where he commented on the situation and said that “The security cabinet decision is not clear. It lacks a clear definition of the goal, and it is vague about what is worth fighting for, if need be. The security cabinet decision is liable to produce a situation in which Israel will be forced to pay the full price for its consent to turn Hamas into a legitimate negotiating partner while, in the end, it will also be forced to go to war.”
Mr. Amidror went on to say that “If a large-scale military operation is proposed without the willingness to remain in the Gaza Strip for many years to come, then Israel must not launch such an operation. Any operation that is concluded with an IDF withdrawal from the Gaza Strip after a brief presence will be catastrophic. We will pay the full price in terms of the dead and injured, we will be castigated throughout the world as a country that fought against civilians – and after the IDF withdraws, the operation will be perceived as having been a failure that culminated in flight. Hamas will rearm itself as if the operation hadn’t been carried out at all, and Sderot will continue to be pounded by Katyusha rockets. If the alternative that is chosen is a large-scale military operation, it will be effective only if Israel is prepared to remain on the ground.”
David Bedein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His Web site is www.IsraelBehindTheNews.com
©The Bulletin 2008