Friday, August 8, 2014

Dozens Of Rockets Fired At Israel, IDF Hits Back, Livni Presents Plan To End Conflict

Dozens of Rockets Fired At Israel As Hamas Ends Ceasefire, IDF Hits Back

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon ordered the IDF Friday to “respond with force” to rocket fire against Israel originating from the Gaza Strip, after Palestinian terror groups in Gaza broke the ceasefire at 8 a.m. and began firing dozens of rockets at southern Israel.

Hamas officials refused to extend the three-day cease-fire, but said they were willing to continue negotiations in Cairo. Israel said it would not negotiate under fire and would protect its citizens by all means. The Israeli delegation left Cairo on Friday morning, and it was not clear if it would return. Egyptian officials were continuing talks with the Palestinian delegation, which was reportedly divided, with PA representatives having urged an extension of the ceasefire, overruled by Hamas representatives.

Within minutes after the temporary truce expired at 8 a.m., Gaza militants began firing rockets. By afternoon, some 40 rockets had been fired. Some 30 landed in Israel, several were intercepted and at least four fell short in Gaza, the army said. Four Israelis were hurt, one seriously. One rocket landed meters from a gasoline station. Later, a rocket directly hit a home in Sderot.

Police also reported fire from Israeli tanks on northern Gaza and from Israeli gunboats at the central area of the strip.
In Israel, the army said it was prohibiting gatherings of more than 1,000 people in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and other areas within 80 kilometers (50 miles) of the Gaza border because of the rocket fire.
The resumption of violence cast doubt over the Cairo negotiations.
Both Israel and Hamas are under international pressure to reach a deal. As part of such an arrangement, Israel wants to see Hamas disarmed or prevented from re-arming, while Hamas demands Gaza’s borders be opened. Israel and Egypt maintain a security blockade of Gaza to prevent Hamas importing more weaponry.

Hamas, which has seen its popularity boosted for confronting Israel, entered the Cairo talks from a point of military weakness after losing hundreds of fighters, two-thirds of its rockets arsenal and all of its attack tunnels.

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (Hatnua) said she presented Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday with a diplomatic proposal to end the fighting in Gaza while restarting peace talks with the Palestinian Authority.

Her plan would include, in this order, a ceasefire; the immediate transfer of humanitarian aid to Gaza; “steps” that would answer Israel’s security demands while also addressing Gazans’ economic needs; the recognition of Palestinian Authority rule over Gaza overseeing one set of armed forces; the establishment of a Palestinian Authority system that would ensure funds and aid would reach civilians and not terror leaders; the opening of the crossings with Gaza and the simultaneous establishment of a system that would bar the transfer of raw materials, such as concrete, for the purposes of terror; and the renewal of peace talks with the Palestinian Authority.
Livni told Channel 2 she was set to submit the proposal to the security cabinet for approval.

“The steps we are seeking don’t need Hamas’s approval. If Hamas had wanted to have the blockade lifted since 2007 [when it seized power from the PA], it had a choice. It would have stopped the violence, recognized the known agreements [signed between Israel and the Palestinians, including renouncing terrorism] and recognized Israel as a Jewish state. It would have then become [a] legitimate [power].”

“Hamas does not really want to have the blockade lifted. It wants legitimacy as a terror organization that rules Gaza. And Israel will not agree to this,” she said during the interview.
Livni said Israel must continue operating militarily as long as Hamas fires on Israeli cities. She did rule out sending ground forces back into the Gaza Strip. “All military options, from my point of view, are back on the table since Hamas has resumed fire,” she said.

The former chief negotiator with the Palestinian Authority said she is against negotiating with Hamas and does not think Israel should meet the group’s grandiose demands for a seaport, an airport and a crossing between Gaza and the West Bank. These are things that are part of a permanent agreement, she said, and they should not be given to Hamas as a reward for its use of force. And it would be “out of the question” for Hamas to retain its arms under a PA-led Gaza.

It may be that the next few days see Hamas contenting itself with “symbolic” strikes, largely on the south, to show the Gaza public that it has not been broken. At the same time, it has declared its desire to continue the ceasefire talks in Gaza. It’s first goal for now: To defy Egypt’s framework, which conditions talks on a cessation of hostilities. Israel’s formal response: It won’t talk while the rockets are flying

Hamas’s second goal is to get a seaport opened in Gaza. The spokesmen of its military wing are insisting there’ll be no long-standing ceasefire without it. Why the insistence on a seaport? As a symbol that the blockade has been broken. Even if such a port were overseen by international officials or the Palestinian Authority, Hamas would portray it as a breakthrough, a real achievement that justified the past month’s death and devastation. And also as a link to the outside world that does not pass through Egypt. Even if Hamas were to negotiate a ceasefire deal that saw the reopening of the Rafah border crossing, it would still be dependent on the Egyptians there; not so with a port (although Israel, of course, could always control access from the sea).

If, when, whenever, a more lasting ceasefire agreement can be forged, however, it seems unlikely that much of real substance will change. Both Netanyahu and Hamas may want a period of real quiet, but nothing more than that. Neither wants a serious peace agreement that would require substantive concessions. Neither, least of all Netanyahu, wants a deterioration into full-scale war.

From the moment he returned to office in 2009, Netanyahu has led Israel based on one clear strategy: quiet. Not peace, heaven forbid. And not war. Just general, unassuming calm, that would allow his government to survive and wouldn’t require him to take difficult political or diplomatic decisions.

The policies that Netanyahu and his associates have followed assume that while there is no solution to the Palestinian issue, it can be managed. The commander’s intent, as signaled by the Prime Minister’s Office, also influenced the defense establishment, which sought to maintain quiet with the Palestinians in the West Bank by almost every possible means: occasional concessions, maintenance of security cooperation with the PA, and the minimizing of friction with the local Palestinian population.

As regards Gaza, on the other hand, although there was a dangerous enemy in charge there openly calling for Israel’s destruction, a strange, secretive romance developed. Apparently it was comfortable for Jerusalem to deal with this enemy, Hamas, which didn’t hide its desire to wipe Israel off the map, and thus saved Netanyahu from the need to make difficult decisions about territorial compromises. Hamas had made clear since 2012 that it wasn’t interested in an escalation against Israel. Indeed Hamas, after the end of Operation Pillar of Defense in November that year, worked seriously to maintain the quiet. It stopped activists from other organizations who tried to fire rockets at Israel, and prevented an escalation in any way possible.

Israel under Netanyahu rather liked this arrangement. Here was an organization with which it didn’t need to negotiate, but with which it could cut deals. And thus was born the strange reality that prevailed from November 2012 until July 2014—no peace, and no war against Gaza. Just quiet.
But then came the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank on June 12.
Until that dramatic incident, Israel had refused to internalize what its Gaza “mistress” was doing behind its back. True, we knew about the tunnels, the procurement of medium- and long-range rockets, and the plans for a variety of attacks. But the strategy of “quiet above all” led to tactics that involved ignoring all this in order to avoid escalation. Even in the IDF there was a tendency to regard Hamas as a relatively moderate party that prevented Gaza from falling into the hands of more radical Jihadists.

While Israel sought the killers and arrested dozens of Hamas operatives in the West Bank, a slow and steady deterioration against Israel occurred in Gaza. At first it was a drizzle of rockets fired by the rogue groups, then more fire from groups that serve as Hamas proxies. After the IDF accidentally killed a Hamas member on the border, the organization itself began firing rockets at Israel.

It is hard to say if Hamas had a master plan with a clear beginning and end. It could be that the organization wanted a limited escalation, but it’s not likely that it understood it would plunge itself into a month of heavy fighting against Israel, which would leave it battered and bruised, with basically no accomplishments on the ground, and much of Gaza in ruins.

Where does this now leave Israel? The conflict may not, at this point, have left the kind of deep scars on the country that the Second Lebanon War did in 2006. The IDF’s performance has been reasonable, sometimes even good. The army met the goals it set for itself. The home front didn’t show signs of breaking either.

Still, it seems like we are back where we were before the start of Operation Protective Edge, albeit with 30-plus Hamas tunnels smashed, at the terrible price of 64 IDF soldiers. Hamas is still standing in Gaza, without a desire for an escalation in the near future, but with military capabilities that will only improve with time, able to choose when next to attack.

It seems that the only way to change something in this equation (apart from conquering the Strip) would be for Israel to initiate a political process with the Palestinian Authority. There is not much that Israel can do with Hamas, except undermining it in the diplomatic sphere, by offering it everything — a seaport, an airport, a lifting of the blockade, a weekly pass to the amusement park in Tel Aviv… in exchange for the disarmament of Gaza and the destruction of the rest of the tunnels. In other words, to let Hamas’s leaders choose between the Gaza Underground they’ve built and the Gaza on the surface. Hamas would say no, and Israel would gain a few points.

But if it really wants to harm Hamas, to weaken it internally and in public opinion, the government of Israel would have to renew the peace talks, even at the expense of a settlement freeze. PA President Mahmoud Abbas proved a partner in fighting terror and stabilizing the region in recent months. Even the technocrat government he established, based on Hamas support, suddenly looks to Israel’s decision-makers like an entity it can work with (as opposed to being branded a terror government right after it was established).

But to be more realistic for a moment, the Netanyahu strategy of seeking quiet isn’t likely to change soon. Netanyahu doesn’t really want to drastically weaken Hamas, and he certainly doesn’t want to return to negotiations that would require him to make territorial concessions.

No comments: