Sunday, November 25, 2012

Ceasefire ambivalence

Normally one would be very happy to have a ceasefire, to stop the firing and save lives.  But, under the circumstances of the situation of Gaza, where a terrorist organization, Hamas, controls a highly armed enclave and lobs missiles into Israel whenever they feel like it, the cessation of fighting of Operation Pillar of Defense leaves me ambivalent. 
There were good reasons for PM Netanyahu to accept a temporary ceasefire proposal: 1. A ground invasion of Gaza could have been costly in Israeli soldiers lives; 2. There was pressure from the US and EU to cease fire; 3.  A ground invasion was not popular with the Israeli public (partly because the IDF is a citizen army); 4. A temporary ceasefire may lead to a longer term improvement in the situation; 5. The ceasefire enhances the credibility of Pres. Morsi of Egypt, which might aid future peace efforts; 6. A ceasefire shows that Israel is a reasonable country led by reasonable men.  On the other hand, the main drawback of a ceasefire now is that by not finishing the job and destroying Hamas, the ceasefire will be only a prelude to the next round of conflict.
Of course, Hamas lost a lot, both in leaders as well as men (ca. 100 killed) and in terms of infrastructure destruction.  Pres. Haniyeh of Hamas must find new offices and much of the government buildings of Gaza have been destroyed.  He knows that had he continued with the shelling and had the IDF invaded Gaza, the death and destruction wrought on his side would have been much worse.  So they stopped and declared victory.  To what extent Haniyeh and his advisors have internalized the truth that they cannot destroy Israel and they cannot achieve their aims is unknown, but maybe Pres. Morsi of Egypt, who seems to be a more pragmatic Islamist (he needs American money) has talked some sense into them.  If they want to continue to rule Gaza they must come to some pragmatic accomodation with Israel.  At least we hope so.  Otherwise it's back to the old "cycle of violence" again.
At present we don't know the details of this ceasefire or what compromises have been made, if any, by either side, and the negotiations are still continuing.  For Israel a continued cessation of missile fire is paramount.  PM Netanyahu has stated that if missile fire resumes then a ground invasion of Gaza is inevitable.  Secondarily Israel needs assurances that another build up of missiles thru the tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border will not be allowed. Hamas has announced that they gave no such committment. According to various sources it is hoped that this ceasefire might last as long as that with Hizbollah on the northern border, that has lasted 6 years since the Second Lebanon War.  But, don't get too complacent. 
Who are the winners from this ceasefire?: 1. Definitely Pres. Morsi of Egypt who has enhanced his position as guarantor of Hamas; 2. The US, under Pres. Obama and Secty of State Clinton, for their success in achieving the ceasefire; 3. Hamas by facing down Israel and surviving.  Hamas declared a victory, but if that is a victory I'd hate to see what a defeat is like; 4. Israel once again wreaked extensive destruction on a vicious enemy and reestablished its detterence capability, they won't want to go back to being pounded again soon.  Who were the losers? 1. Pres. Abbas of Fatah and the PA, who was essentially irrelevant in this situation and was ignored by all sides (incidentally Hamas announced that they will not support Abbas's application for non-member status at the UN);  2. Iran played essentially no direct role and its position vis-a-vis Hamas has been usurped by Egypt and the Sunni axis;  3. Hizbollah lost credibility, since it failed to react and open a second front with Israel as it had promised to do.   
So overall the ceasefire has short-term positive gains for Israel, but with possible long-term negative consequences, hence the ambivalence felt by much of the population.


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