Today is day 33 of Israel's war with Hamas. It was a quiet day until hours before a new ceasefire was to go into effect. For most of the day was another day of semi-war. Hamas “only” targeted locations close to Israel's Gaza border and the IDF limited its response to a small number of attacks. But as the clock neared midnight Hamas began firing at other cities. At 10:00 PM they attacked Ashdod, at 11 Ashdod again and then Ashkelon, finally as the clock neared midnight at 11:58 and explosion could clearly be heard in Tel Aviv. No sirens went off, most likely a missile landed off course in open areas or at sea. As of now a few minutes after midnight a 72 hour ceasefire is supposed to be in effect.. Hamas has, (at least for the moment), climbed down from its tree and agreed to the ceasefire. Israel will return to the negotiating table tomorrow in Cairo – if indeed the firing completely ends – as has been promised by Hamas.
If the war does actually end with this impending ceasefire (for which there are no guarantees and many believe is unlikely), Israelis will be left very confused. There are many questions left to answer. Did we win or not? Is Hamas weaker or stronger? Did our government do a good job or a bad one? These are the standard set of questions asked at the end of every military campaign. The answers often break down along traditional political views.
However, this time is different. This time Israelis are confused about matters beyond the usual events that lead toward the end of a war. The landscape in the Middle East has been changing so rapidly over the course of the last two years – enough to legitimately give any average spectator a case of whip lash.
The usual calls to turn the terrible events of the past month into an opportunity to achieve a breakthrough are already being sounded, "let's turn lemons into lemonade", as the saying goes. Though average Israelis, the ones who live in places like Tel Aviv, the ones who oppose – and always opposed – the settlements, look around the Middle East today and ask themselves if now really is the time to take risks.
Tonight, on one of the most distinguished Israeli news shows, a professor attempted to explain what is going on in Lebanon today between ISIS and the rest of the Sunnis, the Shiites and Christians. I have an MA in International Relations with a specialty in Middle East Studies from a prestigious University, but was still unable to understand what is truly going on in Lebanon. Average Israelis see a Middle East in which the United States is finally, and very reluctantly, intervening on behalf of the Kurds (a strong ally of the U.S. and a nascent democracy) before they are beaten by the most extreme Muslim force in history ... a force that makes Al Qaeda seem moderate, an entity which makes the extremist Iranian regime appear moderate and sane. Then, they ask themselves: how can this be the time to make concessions? How can now be the time to take risks?
The war in Gaza has been a wake up call for many Iiberal, left-leaning Israelis in other ways as well. Most Israelis who supported Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, did so believing that once we withdrew, if they fired on us, we would be justified in using as much force as was necessary to stop them. Over the years that notion has proven to be patently untrue. Despite over a decade of constant missile fire over our border, the world has repeatedly accused Israel of using disproportional force. Moreover, most Israelis were deeply shocked at the level of hatred displayed towards Israel and Jews during numerous anti-Israel held during this war; a war Israel clearly did not start, nor did it want.
As a result, Israelis end this war (if the end is in sight) perplexed. What do people expect us to do when our cities, and even our capital, is fired on repeatedly with missiles? Is the hatred of our critics so strong that the only thing that will satisfy them is our death?
One final note ... Israeli media gave extensive coverage today to Thomas Friedman's interview with President Obama. Those "in the know" were surprised to see President Obama acting as a political commentator. The President told Friedman that Prime Minister Netanyahu is politically too strong to make concessions. Israelis were shocked to see the President of the United States so misread his Israeli colleague. Historically, only Israeli prime ministers who were politically strong (e.g. Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin and Ariel Sharon) have been able to make concessions. Furthermore, though Prime Minister Netanyahu's poll numbers were high this past week, his political situation within his own coalition is anything but strong. Even if Netanyahu is inclined to take significant risks for peace, he would find it very difficult to do so given his current fragile political coalition.