Israeli News: A Daily Analysis

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A Daily Analysis
By Marc Schulman

January 17, 2009--Israel Annoucnes a Unitlateral Ceasefire

As expected, tonight, Israel announced a unilateral ceasefire, after the action was approved by the Cabinet. The Cabinet approved the ceasefire with two votes against, and one cabinet minister abstained. Immediately after the discussion and vote (which lasted three hours), both Prime Minster Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak appeared together on Israeli TV and radio addressing the country to announce the ceasefire. Both gave excellent speeches. Both spoke about the fact Israel has achieved the goals it set out for itself. Hamas has been seriously hurt and will now think three times before firing on Israel. Barak gave, what I think was a particularly thoughtful and moving speech. In it he read the names of the ten Israeli soldiers and three civilians killed during the war. He stated that from a military perspective, it was easy to state casualties from this operation were low, but Israel could never make that statement. Each person is world into his or her self. He also stated to Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, he could say only one thing– as Lieutenant General in the reserves, Ehud Barak, I salute you. He went on to say he wishes he could say this is would be the last war, but it is not. Our enemies, led by Iran, including Hezbollah and Syria, are not willing to make peace. They are already planning their next actions, actions for which we need to be prepared.

Both Ehuds made it clear Hamas is not a party to this agreement. They stated that if Hamas attacked either Israeli troops in Gaza, who would not withdraw until after the rocket fire ended, or if attacks continued on Israel, the IDF would respond in the strongest way. Both ministers spoke about Gilad Shalit. They both shared they wish they had good news, but over the course of this whole war, efforts were made to bring Shalit home, and these efforts were continuing. Barak went further and stated the IDF had an unwritten contract with every parent, when they draft their child, to be responsible-- whatever the circumstances-- to bring their children home.

Israel has indeed achieved its stated goals and many of its unstated goals. First, the IDF has regained its deterrent capabilities. A well-prepared army eliminated any questions that existed after the Lebanon War. Second, the fact it undertook this mission, with all the possible consequences, has helped restore Israel deterrence. Too many in the Arab world were beginning to believe Israel had lost its will to fight, that its people were weak and unwilling to fight. The fact Israel undertook this campaign, including an intensive ground campaign that took its troops into the very center of Gaza city, underscored how wrong that view was. Finally, the inability of Hamas to inflict any serious pain on Israel, either with strong resistance to Israeli troops, or rockets that did much more than keep Israeli school children home, should significantly undermine the credibly of Hamas in the Gaza Strip and beyond.

Continuing the war beyond this point was beginning to run into the laws of diminishing returns. There were fewer and fewer military targets left to hit and while the IDF southern commander has been widely quoted as saying that Israel should not miss this historic opportunity to destroy Hamas totally, the second part of his quote has been largely ignored-- that destroying Hamas would take a year. As anyone who has studied the Middle East conflict knows, Israel is always fighting with an international clock ticking. From the War of Independence, until today, Israeli leaders have always known that when Israel is winning a war, pressure from the international community will mount for a ceasefire. Israel's earlier forbearance in the face of Hamas' attacks gained it three full weeks to act in Gaza, but time has run out. It is easy to say Israel should ignore the world, but that is much more difficult in reality. Tuesday, President-Elect Obama will be inaugurated. It's clearly in Israel's interest to be seen has having done the maximum to remove this problem from his overburdened initial plate.

Hamas has, at first, announced it would not accept the ceasefire. It was not a party to the discussion and it plans to continue firing until the last Israeli soldier left Gaza and the border crossings were opened. What it will really do when the time come is unclear. It could continue as if there was no agreement. It could fire a few missiles to show it was not beaten, or it may abide by the ceasefire. It wants desperately to get to the next stage-- the opening of the border crossings. That has not been agreed to and is the next step in discussions, which may also include Gilad Shalit. Immediately following the speech, Hamas fired six rockets at Beersheva and two at Ashdod. All the rockets landed harmlessly, the rockets that landed in Beersheva did not reach the city itself. What will happen tomorrow is something only time will answer.