Almost 24 hours after Israel and the Palestinians agreed to a Gaza ceasefire, it appears to be largely holding. All Israeli forces have withdrawn from Gaza. Mahmoud Abbas has deployed 13,000 security officers throughout the area to deter rocket attacks. This should silence those rightists who continually claim that Palestinians leaders have never done anything to enforce calm in their areas. While Prime Minister Haniye says that all militant groups agreed to the truce, a representative of Islamic Jihad, in explaining why his groups launched rockets after the ceasefire said his group was not party to it. Haniye immediately disputed this characterization. Haaretz claims that three rockets were fired after the ceasefire by Hamas and Islamic Jihad (NY Times claims nine).
The Israeli government appears guardedly optimistic and Olmert announced that he’d ordered the IDF not to fire on Palestinian rocket crews. He also announced that his goal was to create an atmosphere that would lead to peace talks with the Palestinians. All this is excellent news. Some of it is unprecedented as I noted above.
But apparently, there are elements of both the IDF and the far-right political scene who are gnashing their teeth and already mouthing the expected imprecations. What I find strange is that Haaretz notes that IDF officers in the Southern Command have objected to an explicit civilian order coming from no less than the prime minister:
In army circles, and particularly at IDF Southern Command, there is a great deal of skepticism about the agreement. Senior officers have warned that without enforcement and an end to the smuggling of weapons through tunnels from Sinai to Rafah, the cease-fire is a dangerous development.
The officers maintain that Hamas is making enormous efforts to arm itself. They add that when the organization thinks it is ready, its members will resume the violence and then its military capabilities will pose a greater threat to IDF troops.
Senior security sources in Israel pointed out Sunday that leaders in militant groups spoke of a cease-fire only in terms of the Qassam rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip, and did not commit themselves to stopping other forms of attacks in other parts of the territories.
What is ridiculous about this statement is that Israel did not offer a West Bank ceasefire as far as I know. So why would you blame the militants for not observing a West Bank truce if you weren’t observing one yourself?
I think this IDF chuffing and puffing underlies the tenuous relationship between civilian and military authority. In reality, Israeli security policy is run by the IDF with very little control exercised by civilian officials. After all, can you imagine the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff telling the Washington Post that he objected to a policy initiative of his commander in chief? Douglas MacArthur tried that ploy with Truman and it didn’t work for him. There has rarely if ever been such a MacArthur moment in Israeli history because the IDF essentially gets its way on most matters.
The rightist political parties are performing their usual stalking horse role for the military by echoing its carping about the ceasefire:
[They] warned that the militant organizations would take advantage of this hiatus to grow stronger in advance of a renewal of violent actions against Israel.
MK Silvan Shalom (Likud) said,…”We are playing make believe. The cease-fire is imaginary. It will give the Hamas time to get reorganized.” MK Yuval Steinitz (Likud) called on the government to rescind its agreement to a cease-fire, saying: “Israel is missing a golden opportunity to carry out a Defensive Shield 2 [broad ground offensive] in the Gaza Strip, and is in essence enabling the creation of a threat, Hezbollah-style, in the south of the country.”
Imagine, if you will, George Bush announcing a peace initiative for Iraq and the Democrats immediately rejecting it and saying we should carry on till the bloody end. Even if there were such pro-war Democrats remaining, I doubt even they would dare to denounce presidential policy. They might if the policy were tried for a period and it failed. But for the denunciation to come within 12 hours of its initiation seems the height of chutzpah. You know, the right always accuses the left of treason. You could make a reasonable argument that in this case it is the right that is acting in a manner injurious to the interests of the State.