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Israel Announces Unilateral Cease-Fire

Israel Announces Halt To Offensive Operations In Gaza At 02:00 GMT Sunday Morning-Any Hamas Violation Of Cease- fire To Be Met With Severe Israeli Response

Israeli Forces To Remain In Gaza Until Quiet Takes Hold

Egypt, Incoming Obama Administration & NATO Ready To Act To Prevent New Hamas Military Build- up In Gaza After Cease-fire

IDF forces in ground operation in the Gaza Strip

Israel's security cabinet has voted overwhelmingly to accept an Egyptian proposal for a cease-fire in Gaza. However, Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned that Israeli troops would respond severely if Hamas continues attacking Israel. But while Israeli leaders in Jerusalem were announcing the unilateral cease-fire, Hamas launched more rockets into Israel.

After three weeks of war with Hamas in Gaza, Israel has announced a unilateral cease-fire to take effect at 2AM local time Sunday morning. In announcing Israel's acceptance of the Egyptian cease- fire proposal, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert declared that Israel had achieved its goal of establishing a mechanism to block future Hamas arms smuggling into the Gaza Strip. Hamas has declared that it was not obligated by the Israeli decision.

An Israeli official has said: 'Now there is a real chance for implementing the durable part of the cease-fire because Egypt means business about stopping the arms smuggling'

Israel went to war in Gaza with the goal of blocking the Hamas arms smuggling from Egypt. Now that a deal is in place with both Egypt and the U.S., the Israeli government is expected to accept a cease-fire arrangement. Egypt has now committed to getting serious about finally stemming the flow of rockets that Hamas has launched into Israeli towns and villages for eight years. The U.S. is also to play a role in blocking the rockets that come mainly through a sophisticated Iranian network operating through the Red Sea and Africa. Even NATO is reportedly ready to play a role in what is emerging as an international effort to prevent the rearming of Hamas. Israel Radio also reports that the incoming Obama administration is a partner to the deal.  Secretary Rice summed up the approach by declaring:" Hamas must not be allowed to again make Gaza a launch pad for rocketing Israel".    

Halting this weapons supply could make it next to impossible for Hamas to start another war of terror against Israeli civilians. At the same time, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni declared: "Israel reserves her right to self-defense if Hamas again tries to again smuggle rockets again into Gaza for renewing attacks on Israel". With these new arrangements in place, the Israeli government is expected to vote in favor of the cease-fire, after first rejecting the U.N. Security Council resolution calling for 'an immediate and durable cease-fire'. An Israeli official has said: 'Now there is a real chance for implementing the durable part of the cease-fire because Egypt means business about stopping the arms smuggling'. 

The Israeli security cabinet is set to meet after the Sabbath to formally approve the cease-fire deal worked out in Cairo and the memorandum of understanding with the U.S. There is no agreement as such between Israel and Hamas; Egypt has a separate deal with Hamas which reportedly includes an understanding on Israeli 'flexibility' when it comes to keeping open the border crossings between Israel and the Gaza Strip. When rockets were fired from Gaza at Israeli civilians, Israel would close these terminals which meant suspending the flow of international aid. Israeli expert Gen. (res.) Shalom Harari has said that in effect what is emerging is a 'unilateral cease-fire' by Israel because there is no real Hamas leadership that can take any meaningful decisions. Hamas-Gaza and Hamas-Damascus are split, the Gaza leadership hiding out in underground bunkers is out of touch and an Israeli air strike has killed Hamas 'Defense Minister' Sayid Siam, who was considered to be the top operational commander. Egypt is dictating to Hamas that 'this is their last chance, if they do not accept the cease-fire accord, Israel will continue its campaign and eventually topple the Hamas regime in Gaza'. This by the way has been the declared position of Likud leader Bibi Netanyahu who is front-runner in the Israeli election campaign set for February 10th.

A former IDF Chief of Staff, Gen. Amnon Lipkin-Shahak has said: 'This will be now be a different Hamas and it will think many times before attacking Israel again!'

Moreover, a cease-fire summit summit meeting may be convened shortly in Egypt that might include leaders from Egypt, Israel , the U.S. and Europe as well as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. However,  Hamas would not be invited. This would counter-balance the recent Doha Conference show of support for Hamas mainly from Iran and Syria. Although it is still early days, the Gaza conflict may impact on the mounting confrontation in the Arab world with Egypt and Saudi Arabia on one side facing Iran and Syria on the other. 

Tunnel for smuggling weapons from Egypt into the Gaza Strip

What are the chances the agreement will hold? There is no question that the Hamas rocketing of Israel has wrought devastation to Gaza - this will become more and more apparent. A former IDF Chief of Staff, Gen. Amnon Lipkin-Shahak has said: 'This will be now be a different Hamas and it will think many times before attacking Israel again!' Moreover, the Hamas terror capability has been severely degraded with hundreds of gunmen killed with many more injured and its leadership in disarray - Gaza leaders were said to be ready to stop the rocketing, Hamas-Damascus, incited by Syria and Iran want to carry on.

Egypt will now be expected to act effectively against arms smuggling from its Sinai territory into Gaza. Throughout Sinai, Egyptian forces are to intercept the arms smugglers. Not only the U.S. but several European countries are also expected to provide high-tech equipment and personnel and there is also talk of digging deep water canals to prevent the building of the underground tunnels. Egypt may also set up a cordon sanitary south of its border with Gaza where all vehicles will be closely inspected. Why is Cairo finally taking effective measures against the Hamas arms smuggling? Egypt, threatened by its own radical Muslim Brothers at home, realizes the danger of an Iranian-supported, radical Islamist regime on its border. The Egyptian government opposes Hamas and sides with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on the West Bank, who was expelled from Gaza in a bloody coup over two years ago. Egyptian President Mubarak would prefer to see the people of Gaza now turn against Hamas after it brought such suffering, but it is doubtful is this will happen.

By their words and deeds, Hamas declares: "In order for the Israelis to defend their children, we will force them to kill ours!"

But not only Egypt, many other moderate Sunni Arab states in the region have a geo-strategic interest with Israel in challenging radical Islamist movements, supported by Iran, that seek to overthrow them and replace them Islamist regimes. This despite some of their anti- Israeli rhetoric that is aimed at placating domestic public opinion. That is why Egypt and Saudi Arabia did not attend the Doha summit in support of Hamas while Iran's President Ahmadinejad did. Hamas patrons, Iran and Syria, are also losers in this war. They supported Hamas to the hilt and believed its fighters could not only hold out against the IDF but also inflict many Israeli casualties. The Lebanese newspaper An-Nahar, carries an article blaming both Syria and Iran for the Gaza crisis. "Senior Arab sources' were quoted as saying that Syria and Iran collaborated in urging Hamas to launch the bloody coup against President Abbas in the Gaza Strip that triggered the rift in the Palestinian camp. Syrian President Assad, who hosts Hamas leader Haled Mashal in Damascus, also urged Hamas not to renew the 'Tahdia lull' last month. According to the report, Iran and Syria incited Hamas to escalate a military confrontation without foreseeing Israel's reaction. The unidentified senior Arab sources concluded that the result is a 'political and moral defeat for Syrian and Iranian policy'.

Although the cease-fire may go into force within several days, Hamas and the IDF are still battling inside Gaza and rockets are still landing inside Israel. In fact, there could be a dramatic escalation in the final hours before the cease-fire because both sides may want to improve the perception of how the war has ended. Israeli civil defense officials have warned the public that Hamas might launch a 'grand finale' of rockets to show it is still a force to be reckoned with and to later boast that it was not defeated by the IDF.  

So, thousands of Israeli children and adults as well will have to endure some more days of tension, but at least with the hope that eight years of rocketing may soon be over. An entire generation of Israeli kids, from toddlers on up, has been terrorized to the extent that they dive cover whenever they hear a door slam or a car backfire. This is not to speak of the air raid sirens warning they have from fifteen to forty seconds to make it to the nearest bomb shelter, before a rocket from Gaza explodes in their neighborhood. And after years of such provocation, Israel is responding with a determination to stop the terrorizing which Hamas leaders have openly declared to be their sacred right. And the ultimate goal is to destroy the Jewish state. Hamas makes no apology - on the contrary, they deliberately target Israeli kids and dare Israel to strike back while exploiting Palestinian schools as launch sites for their rocket launchers and storehouses for their missiles. The Hamas leadership conducts a policy of using Palestinian children as human shields or as suicide bombers. By their words and deeds, Hamas declares: "In order for the Israelis to defend their children, we will force them to kill ours!"

This insidious and utterly evil state of affairs may soon be over with immense implications not only for Israel and the Palestinians but far beyond on both the regional and international levels.

David Essing

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