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Quiet For Quiet With Gaza

Defense Minister Barak : 'If Palestinians Keep The Quiet In Gaza, So Will We - If They Break It, We Will Act'

'IDF Has Used Truce To Strengthen Its Capability Of Hitting Hamas Targets, If Need Be'

Palestinians Launch Fresh Attacks Shortly After Hamas Officially Ends Truce

Hamas Terrorists in the Gaza Strip

Hamas has announced that its 'tahadiya' truce with Israel ended officially on Friday morning, six months after it began. A short time after the deadline, Palestinian terrorists launched fresh attacks on Israeli civilians just over the border. Israel and the Palestinians have entered a new juncture with both sides having to decide what happens now. IsraCast examines several possibilities that could lead either to an extended lull or a dangerous escalation.

Gaza Strip: December 19th, 6 AM  - Hamas announced officially that its six month 'tahadiya' truce with Israel is over. Within an hour, Palestinian terrorists launch three more Qassam rockets at Israel; later gunmen open automatic weapons fire at farmers in the fields of an an Israeli kibbutz just over the border. When a resident of Sderot, the terrorists favorite target, was asked what he thought about the cease-fire, he retorted : 'What cease-fire?!'  But although the Palestinians have fired over 200 rockets and mortars at Israel during the 'tahadiya' this was far fewer than the more than 7,000 rockets fired from Gaza over the past seven years.

What happens now? Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has declared that its Hamas's call - if Hamas calls off the terrorizing of Israel civilians Israel will not carry out military operations against the Gaza Strip- but if Gaza continues being a launch pad for more attacks, the IDF will hit back hard . The Defense Minister has been under intense pressure both from inside the government coalition and the opposition, as well as much of the media, to take off the gloves after the terrorists escalated the rocketing in the last days of the truce. Even Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni have declared 'enough is enough' and the IDF must do all it takes to defend the Israeli civilians along the Gaza border, who are being terrorized day and night by the sporadic rocketing.

Opposition leader Bibi Netanyahu of the Likud has accused Barak of 'failing to defend these Israeli civilians' and that it's outrageous that the IDF has not been sent back into Gaza, which Israel totally evacuated over three years ago. Barak's critics are demanding action charging that no country in the world would not retaliate to the relentless terrorizing of its citizens. Much of the Israeli public also views the ultimate solution as being a major ground operation into Gaza to dismantle the Hamas regime which vows publicly to destroy Israel. With Israeli voters set to go to the polls on February 10th, Barak is paying politically by not launching a major counter-offensive, rather than recent isolated air-strikes against rocket storehouses and workshops in Gaza.

Amir Peretz

At the same time, Israeli officials are talking about 'new rules' if there is a continued escalation of the terrorism. But this may not necessarily include a big ground operation into Gaza. For example, a former defense minister, Labor MK Amir Peretz, who makes his home in Sderot, has warned that Hamas will risk losing the  'bank of targets' it built up during the truce, when the IDF did not strike the terrorists. Peretz backs Barak saying residents of his town have enjoyed a much needed breather during the past six months. Peretz also opposes a major ground operation into Gaza saying the IDF has also exploited the past six months to devise new tactics against the terrorists. He does not rule out the targeted killing of Hamas leaders saying there is no distinction between the military and political leadership of Hamas. Peretz also goes on to say that Hamas did succeed in reining in the Islamic Jihad and other terror groups for much of the truce proving that it could control the violence from Gaza, if it so desired. Now he adds, Hamas will not be able to claim that it is opposed to the violence and others are to blame.  

In any event, a senior IDF officer told Haaretz newspaper, that Israeli artillery will not fire into populated areas of  Gaza from where the terrorists deliberately launch the rockets, using the Palestinian civilians as cover. The officer explained that artillery fire is not 'precise' enough and there would be a danger of hitting innocent Palestinians. Barak had also objected to directing artillery fire at rocket teams inside populated areas. Previously, several cabinet ministers had proposed lifting the artillery ban but the senior officer said that Israeli artillery will be directed only at open areas and that other would employ other tactics to hit rocket teams, who operate from behind civilians. In the past, this has included smart missiles fired from helicopter gunships which are far more exact than artillery fire.

Gaza - State of Hamastan

Maj.Gen.( res.) Giora Eiland, also argues that Israel should now target Hamas if the escalation continues. At the same time, he opposes a major ground operation into Gaza at this time.  In his view, Hamas brutally expelled President Mahmoud Abbas over two years ago and has shown it is in control of Gaza, which in effect now has the trappings of a state with defined borders with Israel. Therefore if 'Hamastan', chooses to make war on Israel, then Israel should reply in kind. In his view, it is absurd that Israel continues to supply electricity to Gaza, while terrorists try to rocket the Israeli power station in Ashdod or that Israel should agree to transfer money to Gaza to pay public employees there. Rather than being drawn into another round of attrition with the Palestinians, Eiland advises that Israel should create a crisis - it should now be 'total quiet or total war'. Only if this response does not succeed, should the IDF be sent back into Gaza.

This is somewhat similar to Barak's approach - to avoid all out war if possible. Some Palestinian experts believe that Hamas is now in a quandary about how to proceed; on one hand, it has its Jihadist goals of attacking the Jewish state relentlessly while on the other hand it has solidified its control over Gaza during the six months that it was not subjected to the IDF's counter-strikes. Ismail Haniyeh, the Palestinian leader of Gaza has hinted that he may be ready to continue the truce, if Israel is.  But in the meantime, if one of those Qassam rockets scores a bull's eye on an Israeli school, kindergarten or Sderot shopping center as it nearly did this week, all bets will be off and Israel will have no choice to launch a major offensive against Hamas in Gaza.

This was Barak's analysis of the Gaza situation in an interview with Haaretz:

Q: Wasn't the tahadiya with Hamas a mistake? Did it not create an intolerable situation in southern Israel?

Ehud Barak (Photo: Amit Shabi)

"Clearly, the tahadiya was not a mistake. The IDF is still here, we haven't dismantled it. During the tahadiya the IDF has been strengthened and there is no comparison with its enhanced capability to hit Hamas targets. I am the Minister of Defense and not the Minister of War. I am continuing the policies of Ben Gurion and Rabin which say that Israel has no interest in wars and has an interest in postponing them as far as possible. Therefore, I am not deterred from action nor am I hasty for act. If quiet continues there will be quiet- if the lull is broken we will act."  

"The talk by some Kadima ministers about firing immediately back at the sources of the terrorist fire is populist talk, flagrantly oversimplified and not serious. It is a 'Pavlovian' proposal that would make Israel the Pavlovian  hostage of every terror group in Gaza. I do not see any value in acting before thinking. We tried that in the Second Lebanon War.  We must count to ten, carefully prepare an operation and if there is no alternative at the end, then to execute it. The possibility of the tahadiya seems to me to be preferable. But I tell you with all responsibility that I and the IDF Chief of Staff think deeply about this matter, in contrast to all the hotheads and slick talkers. If the confrontation is inevitable, we will act correctly at the right time and the right place."

David Essing

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