Operation Madness, Day 14: Palestinian dead, nearly 900, 40% women and children. Israeli dead, 13, three civilians.
It never ceases to amaze me the level of sheer wish fulfillment emanating from the Israeli intelligence establishment regarding their assessment of their Arab enemies. Listen to these statements quoted in the N.Y. Times today:
Israeli troops pushed into a heavily populated area of Gaza City…and senior Israeli officials said for the first time in the two-week-old war that they believed that the Hamas military wing was beginning to crack and that Hamas leaders inside Gaza were looking for a cease-fire…
The Israeli cabinet secretary, Oved Yehezkel, told reporters that in the cabinet meeting the heads of army intelligence, Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin, and of the Shin Bet security service, Yuval Diskin, said, “It is the inclination within Hamas to agree to a cease-fire, given the harsh blow it received and given the absence of accomplishment on the ground.
…“I can say with a high level of confidence that for two days, what we have been hearing repeatedly is that Hamas inside Gaza is eager — eager — to achieve a cease-fire,” said the senior official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the issue’s delicate nature. “This is as opposed to the leadership in Damascus that is willing to fight to the last Palestinian.”
The Israelis were clearly all pushing a concerted message, but no official provided details on how Israel supported its assertion. It was impossible to get a response from Hamas leaders in Gaza, because they were in hiding from Israeli military strikes.
Israeli intelligence reminds me of the con man who thinks that if he says something convincingly enough and often enough his listener will believe him. And surprisingly many people are conned by such people. The reporters, though they dutifully reported the story left themselves an out in recognizing that Israeli officials have a tendency not only to attempt to snow the world media, but apparently to snow themselves (if they believe what they’re saying).
The only hopeful interpretation of this malarkey is that perhaps Israel makes this claim in order to prepare its own people for a near-term ceasefire. If they can convince the nation that it is Hamas clamoring for a ceasefire and ready to say “Uncle,” then it is easier to climb down from the precarious branch onto which they themselves have crawled.
I have said this any number of times and will say it yet again. There IS no way Israel can defeat Hamas short of occupying every square inch of Gaza and remaining there in force to prevent Hamas from reasserting itself. Hamas knows that no matter how severe the losses it must endure, it can only win. Even losing is a win as long as it survives.
Hamas, as Hezbollah before it in 2006, has emerged as the lions of resistance to Israel. Islamists the world over are lining up to do whatever they can to help Hamas. Israel’s assault throws Hamas ever more firmly into Iran’s embrace. This is a perfect storm for U.S. Middle East policy. Add this to the devastating failures we’ve endured regarding Iraq and our inability to negotiate a resolution of the Iran nuclear impasse.
On January 20th, when Barack Obama meets George Bush at the White House he’ll be tempted to quote the old Laurel and Hardy line: “That’s a fine mess you’ve gotten us into Ollie.” That is the Middle East policy Bush leaves Obama as his legacy. It’s an utter disaster.
The same report sketches out a possible ceasefire proposal. Frankly, I’m astonished it’s taken 16 days of fighting to get a coherent report of a ceasefire proposal. Until now, all I read from the U.S. and Israel was what they demanded from Hamas. I didn’t hear a peep about what Israel offered in return. So here it is finally:
Israel and the United States are trying to secure agreement on a deal brokered by Egypt that would mean a Hamas commitment to stop all rocket firing into Israel and an Egyptian commitment to block smuggling tunnels into Gaza, to stop the resupplying of Hamas with weaponry and cash. In return, Israel would agree to a cease-fire and the opening of its crossings into Gaza for goods and fuel and the opening of the Rafah crossing into Egypt, with European Union supervision.
Tony Blair, the former British prime minister and now an international envoy to the Palestinians, said in an interview that “the only way this is going to stop is if there is a genuine plan to end the smuggling into Gaza and a genuine plan to open the crossings.”
That’s good as far as it goes. But I wonder what is envisioned by “opening the crossings into Gaza for goods and fuel.” Does that mean an end to Israel’s siege? Or does it mean a continuing blockade under more beneficent rules? Further, these are almost the same provisions inscribed in previous ceasefires. Just as Israel wants to know that Hamas won’t be able to rearm & rocket southern Israel even if it wanted to, Hamas wants a guarantee that Israel can’t renege on its commitments and restore the blockade at its earliest convenience, which is what it has done in the past. In that sense, Blair’s got it precisely right.
The only way to guarantee that this works is to take it out of the hands of Hamas and Israel. The border with Egypt needs to be monitored carefully and illegal transfers need to be disrupted. If Egypt isn’t will to do this then they have to give the job to outsiders who will. Similarly, closing the Israeli crossings must not be left solely to Israel’s discretion. Monitoring the crossings certainly should be done by the Israelis, but not the decision on closing them. Again, this should be put in the hands of outsiders that both parties trust (at least nominally).