Oh, so it's not Phase III in Gaza, at least not yet – goal trumps mission

It was not really clear.

Now, after days of ambiguity — apparently, ambiguity with pleasure, to keep the opponents off guard — the top story now (Tuesday morning in Jerusalem – but still Monday night on our time-stamp) in Haaretz is that “Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Monday sent a message to a number of world leaders that Israel wants to see a diplomatic move through Egypt that would lead to a cessation of arms-smuggling into Gaza, before the Gaza operation enters its third phase. Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni met last night to discuss contacts with Egypt. It is still unclear when the Defense Ministry’s security chief, Amos Gilad, will leave for Cairo to discuss ways to stop the smuggling with Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman … Emissaries from Hamas arrived last night in Cairo for cease-fire talks with Egyptian officials. They are expected to present objections to Egyptian demands but will apparently not reject the Egyptian initiative outright. Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said Monday that his organization would cooperate with initiatives for a cease-fire and an opening of the crossings in Gaza. Olmert told foreign leaders that talks with the Egyptians were moving ahead, and that he was ready to give these talks a chance before deciding to expand Operation Cast Lead. Olmert told them he wanted to try to avoid an expansion, but would do so if there were no other choice and the Egyptian effort proved fruitless. In contrast with his statements abroad, Olmert has broadcasted a tougher message domestically. Speaking to mayors in Ashkelon on Monday, Olmert said there were two conditions for an end to the operation: a cessation of Hamas rocket fire and a cessation of smuggling and Hamas’ strengthening … ‘If these two conditions are met, we will cease the Gaza operation. Anything else will slam into Israel’s iron fist. Will it take time? It will take time. We will continue for as long as it takes to remove the threat over our heads. We have reached marvelous achievements in the fighting’, Olmert said. ‘This is the moment for the test to see who has stronger willpower, us or them’.” This report in Haaretz can be read in full here.

So, Olmert is saying it will take some time to stop Operation Cast Lead, and that Israel will continue in the present mode until Egypt plays out its intermediary role with Hamas.

Meanwhile, Hamas official Ismail Haniya called the war “foolish” [as in “unnecessary”]. But what Hamas wants is a total Israeli pull-back [NO Israel-created “security zones” inside the Gaza Strip] and an end to the blockade [including open crossings].

Olmert bragged on Monday in Ashkelon that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was “shamed” — after Olmert’s phone call to Bush — by the order from President Bush not to vote in favor of the UNSC cease-fire call last Thursday (so she abstained, and the resolution passed). Condoleezza must [NOT] have been pleased to read Olmert’s words …

Now, UNSG BAN Ki-Moon is coming to the region for a week — and from now until the weekend, at least, Israel will be under diplomatic pressure (perhaps Rice’s revenge?) not to go too crazy.

But, the humanitarian situation is completely untenable — and it is getting worse. So Israel will also be under enormous diplomatic pressure (more Rice) to be nice to Gazan civilians. And how can that be done while escalating the military operation? How can it even be done while continuing the operation?

Yaakov Katz, who is very well connected inside Israel’s Defense Ministry, wrote last night that:
“Meanwhile, Israel is considering establishing a field hospital in the Gaza Strip to treat Palestinian civilians wounded in fighting between the IDF and Hamas. The plan would be to establish the field hospital outside the Gaza Strip, but the IDF is also considering the possibility of erecting the hospital inside the Palestinian territory so it will be more accessible to the Palestinian population. It would be run by the IDF Medical Corps”. This report can be read in full here.

Two voices in Haaretz today — both apparently reading from the same briefing book — called for stopping Operation Cast Lead, and declaring victory:

1.) Amir Oren in Haaretz wrote: “To judge by the sights and sounds on the Negev’s roads, at military staff headquarters and at training facilities, Operation Cast Lead is about to take off to new heights.
This is not fraud, and not even self-delusion. They really are preparing, and who if not the Israel Defense Forces of recent years knows that it is better to be prepared to fight without fighting than to fight without being prepared? But the implementation of the operation’s next phase will mean admitting failure because the operation, including surrounding Gaza to pressure Hamas, is meant to support diplomatic moves. The international arena and the politics of decision making all focus now on stopping the operation. On Monday, a white flag was raised for the first time – not Hamas’, but Ehud Olmert’s, as he joined Tzipi Livni and Ehud Barak in understanding that stopping now is better than an entanglement that will overshadow the operation’s achievements.

“Defense Minister Barak, IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi and Shin Bet security service head Avi Diskin know that the desire to thwart terror justified doubling the operation. But they also know that broader considerations are working against this desire. They are all devoted to the principle of ‘sticking to the mission in light of its goal’, and when the mission – striking hard at Hamas – clashes with the goal, the goal wins out. The main goal, which dictated the operation’s logic in its aerial phase and ground phase so far, was deterrence – to convince Hamas to refrain from shooting its rockets for a very long time. The image of solid American support builds deterrence no less than the taking of a fortified objective in some God-forsaken neighborhood. The Israeli threat to embark on a year-long operation is not serious, GOC Southern Command Yoav Galant warned (and did not recommend) Olmert and Barak at the Gaza Division headquarters. A week before Barack Obama moves into the White House, and a month before Barak and Livni hope to reach the elections without a slap in the face from the Americans, who would risk a bitter honeymoon with Obama? We are quick to forget, but our great friend George W. Bush protested vehemently after Operation Defensive Shield entered Palestinian population centers in the West Bank, and demanded that we stop. If that was Bush, what will Obama do when the IDF conceded that of 901 Palestinians killed (as of Monday morning) only 400 were identified as Hamas operatives? Some 250 men, women and children were caught in the cross-fire, and the others are in some in-between group. And what will happen when the forces roll southward in a firestorm, followed by bulldozers that will mow down hundreds of houses on the Philadelphi route to put an end to the tunnels? Israel will be quickly tossed out of both south and north, losing diplomatic assets in the process … The chances of persuading Hamas to stop the rocket fire is high: The rate of firing has fallen continually, from 80 to 60 to 40 to 20. And the chances of it signing a pledge to stop smuggling is low. Israel will have to take what it can get, not as little compared with before December 27, but less than it had hoped”. This report, in Haaretz, can be read in full here .

2.) Ari Shavit wrote in Haaretz that: “The war on Hamas is a war for Israel’s sovereignty. It was launched due to repeated rocket attacks after Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip. No country in the world would put up with a situation in which its sovereignty is undermined and its citizens threatened. Given its small size and many enemies, Israel cannot put up with this. It is therefore up to every decent person who wants Israel to strive for peace, end its occupation and return to its original borders to support its fight for sovereignty. The war on Hamas has bred a humanitarian crisis. Hundreds of Palestinian civilians have been killed, thousands have been wounded, and more than a million have been left homeless and in despair. There is no denying that Israel should have done much more to prevent the enormity of this crisis from happening. But the international community – which openly supports a war against the Taliban that has taken the lives of hundreds of innocent people – cannot, and must not, condemn this war. Over the past two weeks, Israel has behaved obtusely and insensitively. But waging war is not a crime. It is yet another chapter in this tragic saga that must come to an end. Since launching its attack on Gaza on December 27, Israel has achieved most of its goals. Hamas received a harsh blow, Israel regained its deterrent capabilities, and there is a chance the rocket fire on southern Israel will end. A correct diplomatic move may now stop the arms smuggling from Egypt and undermine the Palestinian extremists. If this happens, Israel could achieve its desired overall goal: peaceful coexistence with a weakened and deterred Hamas … But to maintain these achievements, Israel must not expand its operation in Gaza. On the contrary. The relative success should be used to forge a swift diplomatic agreement – one that would stop the firing, halt the killings and bring the soldiers back home. Olmert should abide by his own mantra: Enough is enough”. This report can be read in full here .

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