Today, Israel began implementing the policy it announced last night. Israeli troops began to withdraw from Gaza and redeploy. The Israeli government decided not to expand the operation after destroying all of the tunnels that the army was aware of. The problem with this policy became very clear at 5:00 PM today, when the sirens went off again in Tel Aviv. I was on the phone with my daughter and just said “missiles!” and hung up. This time, the wait seemed forever. But finally, the two booms came that signaled a successful intercept. The second one was almost above us.
It was a day of very heavy rocket fire by Hamas, especially in the South. In total, Hamas fired as many rockets today as they had fired earlier in the war. Lately, their long-range rocket fire has decreased significantly and by all accounts, they are running out of long-range missiles. However, they still have 1,000’s of short-range missiles that can hit the cities in the South. Today, they were trying to show that they cannot be ignored.
Israelis are very confused tonight. According to one poll, 6% of Israelis say that they oppose the ending of the operation. In that same poll, 59% of the people are very happy with the actions of Prime Minister Netanyahu who has ordered most of Israeli troops out of Gaza. A different poll shows that 50% of the public does not want the operation to continue.
The average Israeli in the street mirrors the same confusion that the polls show. On the one hand, they are appreciative of the fact that Prime Minister Netanyahu has been cool under fire. He has not acted hastily or taken too many risks. On the other hand, most Israelis do not understand how the current policy will bring about an end to the missiles. And, if it does bring about an end tomorrow, what will stop us from reliving this month’s events next year. Israel’s bitter history with Gaza goes back to the 1950’s and nothing seems to change that. The Israeli government is effectively announcing that silence will be met with silence - aka a ceasefire, which is what Israel offered Hamas before this all began. The only reason to believe that Hamas may end this now is that they are running out of rockets, their people are homeless, and despite the fact that Israel is allowing in food and medicine to Gaza, the people are running out of food, water, and other essentials. Only if they end the firing will there be a way to solve these problems. Will they? It’s not clear. As I have written before, Israel has consistently misjudged Hamas.
The hope in Israel is that negotiations will eventually begin in Cairo; not right away, but in a few days, at which point Hamas will be desperate for an agreement to help the people of Gaza. They will then be willing to go along with an agreement that severely limits their ability to rearm. Wishful thinking? Probably.
Today was another sad day of funerals. Four funerals were held in Israel for soldiers who fell. The funeral that the Israeli public felt most strongly about was that of Lieutenant Goldin, the soldier who was presumed kidnaped on Friday. It turned out that the Israeli army was able to retrieve enough of his body to both confirm his death and hold a funeral under Jewish Law. On Saturday night, just hours before his death was announced, his family appeared on TV begging that the government not leave him behind in Gaza. Thus, when his death was announced last night after midnight and the funeral was held today, the Israeli public at large, together with the 15,000 who attended the funeral, all shared the family's pain and loss
Israeli parents will be sleeping just a little bit better tonight, as teh broad majority of troops have been taken out of Gaza. The chances of troops being killed or wounded tonight will be much lower than previous nights past. The number of innocent civilians killed in Gaza will also decrease, and that is just as important. Israelis, however, know that 20% of Israeli soldiers killed in this operation died on the Israeli side of the border due to cross border attacks. Palestinians know that they were dying before Israeli troops entered by ground, from air strikes. So while less people will die tonight in the Gaza area, people will continue to die on both sides for no reason, until the missiles stop. And when they do, the airstrikes will end, too.