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No Recycling of Hamas Ceasefires

Benjamin Netanyahu and IDF Chief of Staff Benny Ganz

 Isracast Assessment: Israel insisting the new ceasefire must include solid guarantees that will bar the renewal of Palestinian rocketing from Gaza for a long term. Will Hamas agree to such a demand that would pull the rug out from their vow to wipe Israel off the map? Analyst David Essing is of the view that behind the flurry of diplomatic activity to halt the violence, U.S. President Barack Obama and Egyptian leader Mohamed Morsi have been cooperating on a deal to resolve the crisis and possibly restart negotiations between Israel & Palestinians. In return, the U.S. would again view Egypt as a close ally with all that entails. As President, will Morsi put Egypt's crucial economic interests before his role as leader of the radical Muslim Brotherhood and lean on Hamas to halt its rocketing of Israel? In Jerusalem, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is weighing the pros and cons: whether the ceasefire deal offers a reasonable prospect of peace and quiet for Israeli residents in the south and the subsequent improvement in relations with Egypt and the U.S. or to launch an IDF ground operation into Gaza. He will hold off at least until U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton joins the bevy of diplomats visiting the region. Meanwhile, while the diplomatic deliberations continue, both Israel and the Palestinians are continuing to slug it out with civilians on both sides caught in the middle. So far the IDF has hit over 1400 terror targets in Gaza while signaling that there must be quiet on both sides of the border.

 It could be the final hours before a ceasefire goes into effect or before IDF troops are ordered into Gaza to halt the rocketing of Israeli civilians. Meanwhile both sides are going for broke. The Palestinians are bombarding Israeli civilians with scores of rockets, Israel's Iron Dome interceptors are racing up to hit most of them in mid-air but some are getting through. Israeli aircraft are flying mission after mission to try and pinpoint the Palestinian rocket squads and destroy terrorist target and arms depots that are deliberately deployed in populated areas.

Ceasefires can be humane – they can save the lives and limbs and combatants and civilians alike. But on one condition: both sides are seriously committed to halting the hostilities. But if one side exploits it to regroup and attack again when it deems fit, it is an act of perfidy. This is what Hamas has repeatedly done ever since Israel totally evacuated Gaza in 2005. (In contrast, the Palestinian Authority on the West Bank has honored its pledge and that is why no Palestinians are being killed or wounded there, except for Hamas and other terrorists who are still active there.)

For years the Hamas government in Gaza, which was elected democratically by the Palestinians, has terrorized Israeli children, women and men with hails of deadly rockets whenever they felt like it. Those rocket squads deliberately targeted Israeli towns and villages trying to kill as many civilians as possible. When Israel finally retaliates with surgical strikes against those terrorists, who exploit their own civilians as human shields, and when some Palestinian civilians are sadly and unintentionally killed or wounded, Hamas wails to the Arab world and the U.N. This time all the indications are that Israel will not agree to another recycling of the phony Palestinian ceasefires. This has been made clear by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on down. The more than one million Israeli residents in the south are the first to back him. Speaking with one voice they are saying: "We are ready to keep running to our bombshells for as long as it takes but this time finish the job!" On this score, the failed Hamas rocketing of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem were designed to give another million Israelis a taste of the medicine. But this has backfired. Rather than strike fear in these metropolitan areas, Israelis living there are furious. The up to seventy-five thousand reserve soldiers who have mobilized are now deployed and waiting for the order to go into Gaza and destroy what their commander Gen. Tal Russo has called the 'Hamas hornets' nest'. As they wait they are training. Some of their unit commanders have said more reservists showed up for service than were required because older men had volunteered for duty. One retired IDF general, Udi Adam, is now serving as a driver of a tank carrier!

Iron Dome delivers …

In the first five days of the campaign, the IDF recorded close to 900 rocket launches at Israel from Gaza. Of these, Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted in mid-air some 350 rockets that would have exploded inside populated areas. Only some 40 Palestinian rockets landed in places, where they could have caused Israeli casualties. What is also remarkable is that Iron Dome was able to identify well over 550 Palestinian rockets that were off course and allowed them to land harmlessly in open fields and vacant regions. To date Iron Dome has a batting average of nearly 90%! This has given Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Barak and Foreign Minister Lieberman, who are calling the shots, more time for maneuver and to delay launching a ground operation. Just imagine if those 350 Palestinian rockets had exploded inside Israeli communities. Without doubt, Israeli troops would now be fighting inside Gaza.

What is also amazing about Iron Dome is that it was developed, produced and developed by 'Rafael', Israel's Weapons Research & Development, within less than three years. Radar first detects the rocket launch, the data is then transmitted immediately to control and command center where it is assessed and, if necessary, a course is plotted for the intercept and to push the button. (If the controller decides the rocket is not on target it will be not be intercepted). If the incoming rocket is on target for a populated area the decision is taken to intercept. Time is all important. There is only fifteen seconds before a Qassam rocket will hit the villages and kibbutzim adjacent to the Gaza Strip. This requires that Iron Dome personnel, young IDF recruits, must decide almost instantly, within a second or so, whether to intercept or not. If the rocket is headed for the city of Beer Sheva, sixty seconds from Gaza, they have a few more seconds to assess the threat and decide on whether or not to launch an intercept.

Diplomatic arena…

In Cairo, Egypt's President Mohamed Morsi is playing the central role in the ceasefire contacts involving Hamas, the sovereign power in Gaza and Israel. With the meltdown of its former patron Syria, Hamas is more dependent on Egypt than ever. Morsi has heaped all the blame on Israel for the current conflagration, supporting Gaza's right to rocket Israeli civilians. On the other hand, Morsi also depends on U.S. President Barack Obama to help Egypt out of its abysmal economic condition and Obama has placed the blame solely on Hamas. In the midst of the crisis, Obama and Morsi have been on the hot line exchanging ideas on how to end the violence. Obama has obviously been encouraging Morsi to step up to the plate and seize his opportunity to assert himself as leader of the Arab world. (Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was along for the ride trying to make political capital in the Arab world by bashing Israel as the blood-thirsty aggressor).

Make no mistake. Israeli aircraft are clobbering the Hamas leadership and terrorist infrastructure in Gaza so it came as no surprise that its former political Khaled Meshal has said: "Hamas is not opposed to a cease-fire". This has opened the door for Morsi to adopt the role of mediator, albeit on the side of Hamas. In so doing, the Egyptian leader is ingratiating himself with Obama and the U.S. Congress that has threatened to block vital financial aid to Cairo after the attack on the U.S. embassy. In return, Obama may have promised Morsi that the U.S. will again try to renew Israeli- Palestinian peace negotiations after a ceasefire. For his part, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu must cope with several critical issues. First, he must present the Israeli people with a deal that will provide a reasonable prospect for peace and quiet in the south. Otherwise, he will be faced with giving the order to invade Gaza as a last resort, something that could further worsen his tense relations with two crucial partners, the U.S. and Egypt and many Western nations that have expressed support for Israel's right to defend itself from the Palestinian rocketing. In any case, the latest rocket aimed at Jerusalem is an attempt to show it is alive and kicking possibly before a ceasefire goes into force. The terrorists are also expected to escalate their rocketing of Israeli towns and villages in a final crescendo. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is arriving in the region possibly to tie up any loose strings and to reassure Israel of American support if it agrees to another ceasefire with Hamas.

David Essing

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