I am tired of writing these columns as I know I am beginning to sound like an endless audio track. The day begins on a positive note and then things go wrong, and that is what happened yet again today. When I awakened this morning, I was thinking that today’s column would be a summary as a ceasefire finally seemed to signal the end of the fighting. By the time I returned from a brief foray to the local supermarket, it was clear that things had already gone terribly wrong. First, my son informed me there had been an alert near Gaza, I told him not to worry as it usually takes a few hours for a ceasefire to be implemented fully. Then reports came in of heavy firing in the Rafah area. My first inclination was to believe that there was some minor local incident. Then, the television broadcast began showing the aerial attacks and it was clear that something had gone very wrong. The intensity of attacks was unprecedented. My heart sank as I posted to Facebook that something terrible was transpiring.
Soon, the full story emerged. An hour-and-a-half into the ceasefire, a Hamas suicide bomber emerged from a tunnel next to a group of Israeli soldiers on the outskirts of Rafah (on the Gaza-Egypt border) and blew himself up, killing two Israeli soldiers. Other fighters emerged from the tunnel and snatched a third soldier, Lieutenant Hadar Goldin. It’s not clear whether Goldin was alive or dead or dying when he was captured. At that moment, the IDF deployed its standard tactic -- code-named Hannibal -- designed to do whatever is necessary to stop kidnappers from escaping with a live prisoner. Massive firepower was used in order to stop the terrorists from getting away. Unfortunately, Hamas has constructed a staggeringly large number of tunnels under that area and the attackers apparently escaped.
For most of the day, I was consumed by a combination of sadness, anger and frustration. At moments, I found myself with tears in my eyes This was not going to end today, it is not going to end tomorrow, Hamas really does not want this to end, and we certainly cannot allow it to end this way. Israel had planning a unilateral withdrawal from certain areas of Gaza in another two days, once the tunnels were all neutralized. Instead, the soldiers whom I thought were no longer going to be in danger, are again in danger. More people in Gaza are going to die, as we either try to recover the soldier or go all the way to do what it takes to topple the Hamas government.
The Israeli government has a difficult decision to make tonight. They have to make a choice whether to expand the current action and modify its goals to include the destruction of the Hamas government or to continue the more limited goal of destroying the tunnels. After today’s attack, I do not see how the Israeli government will be able to agree to any new ceasefire for the foreseeable future.
Why Hamas decided on this course of action now is yet to be determined. There are a number of potential explanations, the first being that the military wing of Hamas is no longer listening to the political wing meaning that although the political wing accepted the ceasefire, the military wing did not. Another possibility is the military wing decided to try just one more attempt to get the advantage they had not achieved until now: the successful capture of an Israeli soldier. They may have decided that this goal was too important to allow the death of a few hundred more Palestinians get in the way.
Tonight, the Obama administration made some of the strongest statements yet in support of Israel’s position. Obama stated in a press conference that if Hamas wants this situation resolved,
“That soldier needs to be unconditionally released”. He went on to say, “Israel has a right to defend itself. No country would tolerate missiles every 20 minutes, or tunnels used for terrorist attacks.” Obama went on to say that after today’s kidnapping, it is going to be very hard to reach a ceasefire, since no one is going to be able to trust Hamas.
These sentiments align quite closely with what almost every Israeli is feeling tonight. Gaza has been a problem for Israel since the 1950s. But it had seemed to be a containable problem. Tonight, after the kidnapping and the years of missile fire, there is a general feeling some way must be found to permanently contain the cancer that is Hamas.