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Olmert’s Latest Debacle By: P. David Hornik
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, June 20, 2008

Hardly anyone in Israel sees much merit in the latest “ceasefire” with Hamas that came into effect at 6 o’clock Thursday morning. Even the United States, which generally supports, lauds, and pushes for Israeli capitulations, “reacted skeptically” according to Reuters and State Department spokesman Tom Casey said that “Even if this is…true…, I think unfortunately it hardly takes Hamas out of the terrorism business.”


The background noise is not too hard to discern: what happened to our good guy/bad guy dichotomy between Fatah and Hamas? Since the U.S. approach has been to glorify the former and condemn the latter, why is Israel making deals with the latter?


And in Israel, Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi said the calm in Gaza would be “fragile and short…. We have to make the most of the calm but prepare for an incursion. We are on a collision course.” Top Military Intelligence official Yossi Baidatz added that Hamas would use the calm to dig tunnels into Israel—something other than a peaceful prospect—while continuing to smuggle weapons into Gaza.


Israel’s Channel 2 news reported that many top Israel Defense Forces officers are profoundly unhappy with the deal. Even Vice Prime Minister Haim Ramon, a dovish politician who was an enthusiast of the Oslo accords and the disengagement from Gaza, called the ceasefire “another triumph for radical Islam. It won in Lebanon and now it is about to win in Gaza.”


Defense Ministry official Amos Gilad, who negotiated the truce via Egyptian mediation in Cairo, reportedlyneeds to speak out in support of the deal he reached—without any great enthusiasm—under orders from the political echelon.” As for Defense Minister Ehud Barak, he too hardly sounded excited, saying as late as Tuesday that it was “too early to declare a truce” and that it was “difficult to determine” how long such an arrangement could last.


One of the least happy with the news was Noam Shalit. Father of the soldier Gilad Shalit who was abducted by Hamas two years ago and is still being held, he complained bitterly that—contrary to earlier promises by the cabinet and by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert—the deal did not stipulate his son’s release, and threatened to take the matter to the Supreme Court.


And what about Olmert himself? “We have no illusion but that this truce is fragile and could be short-lived. Hamas has not changed its skin,” he said Wednesday. “These are despicable, bloodthirsty terrorists who have not changed, and the proof is that even today, they still are making every effort to hurt innocent civilians”—referring to Hamas’s pre-truce “gift” on Wednesday of 30 rockets and 10 mortar shells, including a direct hit on a house in Sderot that sent its residents into shock.


What, then, did Israel agree to, and why did it do it?


One year after Hamas took full control of Gaza and has been—along with smaller Fatah, Islamic Jihad, and other factions—pounding southwestern Israel incessantly with thousands of rockets and mortars, and five months after Israel imposed a partial blockade on Gaza, Israel agreed to start lifting the blockade in three days if the quiet lasts that long.


By next week Israel and Hamas, via Egypt, are supposed to renew negotiations on Shalit’s release—with Hamas, just as before this truce was agreed, demanding that Israel free literally hundreds of Hamas terrorists in return. If such a deal goes through, Israel is supposed to further reward Hamas by reopening the crucial Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt.


Egypt, for its part, is supposed to crack down on the weapons smuggling through its territory to Gaza. According to some reports, if the ceasefire lasts for six months it is supposed to be extended to the West Bank—if true, an astounding concession by Israel since it is only its military activity on the West Bank that prevents the terror threat there from growing to existential proportions.


The agreement is yet another debacle because:


* At a time when Israel had been struggling diplomatically to maintain the Western boycott of Hamas, with the inevitable cracks already showing, the agreement bestows legitimacy on Hamas as a party that can be negotiated with (albeit with the fig-leaf of Egyptian mediation) and with which peace agreements are feasible. This is, of course, concurrent with the Israeli prime minister’s description of the organization as “despicable, bloodthirsty terrorists who have not changed.”


* Even if Egypt—for the first time after innumerable promises and U.S. and Israeli pressures—finally does more to stop the smuggling, the Israeli defense and intelligence communities say unanimously that both the smuggling, in some form or another, and Hamas’s buildup of its military strength will continue.


* After first declaring that Shalit’s release was a sine qua non for a truce in the first place, Israel has again shown itself dithering and weak-kneed by caving on that point and deferring the issue. If the negotiations on Shalit are then resumed after a short span of quiet, Israel will come under immense pressure to accept a lopsided deal entailing freedom for a large number of lethal terrorists and a tremendous propaganda victory for Hamas.


* The truce repeats the pattern that was set when Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon in 2000 and under “truce”-like conditions allowed Hezbollah to keep arming there until a war broke out in 2006 in which Israel—at least in the time it had—proved unable to defeat Hezbollah or stop its missiles. Most Israelis, including the defense and political establishments, understand that Hamas’s raison dêtre is the destruction of Israel and hence any period of “calm” can only eventually culminate in a more deadly war with a stronger Hamas. The ceasefire is, then—as in the earlier case of the relative “calm” with Hezbollah—a strategic victory for the patron of both terrorist groups, Iran.


And the explanation for why Israel accepted it lies in the severe dysfunctionality of the Olmert government and particularly its chief.


His tenure of just over two years has seen a disastrously bungled war in Lebanon and the strengthening of Israel’s enemies on all three neighboring fronts—Gazan, Lebanese, Syrian—amid ludicrous ventures at deal-making and propitiation with Fatah, Hamas and, particularly of late, Syria and Lebanon. The stage was set in 2005, before Olmert became prime minister, with his abject statement that Israel was “tired of fighting…tired of defeating our enemies”—words that in themselves clearly stamped him as unsuitable and incompetent for any post involving geopolitics and national security.


Lately, though, the Olmert government has been under mounting, desperate pressure from Israeli Gaza-belt residents to do something about the Hamas bombardment they live under. At the same time Hamas itself—which would like to see a stop to Israel’s tactical military strikes and partial blockade of supplies, and recalls how well past “ceasefires” have served its purposes of replenishing itself—has been signaling an interest in a lull. Hamas no doubt also recalls that in previous “lulls” it and other terror groups were able to keep shelling Israel for months before Israel finally reacted.

Shying away, then, from the only rational solution to the Hamas problem—military defeat—because of a lack of legitimacy stemming from Olmert’s legal problems, the failed legacy of the 2006 Lebanon war, and fears of casualties and international reactions, the Olmert government grasped at what it perceived to be the straw available to it, namely, this ceasefire with its grave flaws. Although any attack on Israel is deplorable, one has to take consolation in the fact that the arrangement is not likely to last very long.

P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator living in Beersheva. He blogs at http://pdavidhornik.typepad.com/. He can be reached at pdavidh2001@yahoo.com.

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