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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Arlene Kushner on the Israeli Concessions In The Israel - Hamas Ceasfire

November 24, 2012

Motzei Shabbat (After Shabbat)

Mission Impossible


My attempts to get a handle on the Gaza situation are serious and earnest. But, as one close associate said to me tonight, "Your problem is that you're trying to do a rational analysis of a situation that is not rational." And oh, is that the case.

Every talking head has something else to say. Every Internet sources has different "inside" information. I don't use talking heads as my sources, and not primarily Internet sources providing that "inside" information, either. I try to pick the brains of analysts and those in the know -- as I've explained before, including some who are Arabic speaking. And I have found it very difficult.

This, it seems to me, is an important part my report -- to reflect the turmoil that is swirling about this issue, with all its complexities. To say that the dust hasn't settled, and that everyone has a different take.

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I would like to provide an overview here that, hopefully, will be reasonably clear. Then, in coming days, as new information and perspectives emerge, I will share them with you.

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From my perspective, the first concern is not that we stopped before going into Gaza, it's that ceasefire agreement. I would have been far more comfortable had we simply stopped and let Hamas know that if they start again so will we. But the fact is that a document was drawn up, and it touches upon a number of issues:
  • What we're seeing here is an agreement between Israel and Hamas (with Egypt as facilitator), for the very first time. Not between Israel and Egypt and/or Israel and the US, concerning Hamas -- with Hamas, as a terrorist organization, not directly included. This set-up gives Hamas increased legitimacy internationally, which will create problems down the road.

    No where in this agreement is it implicit that Israel was in a self-defensive posture against a totally unjustified and unprovoked Hamas rocket attack. This essential reality has been obscured, as it speaks of hostilities on both sides ceasing.

  • The Muslim Brotherhood Egypt has also been accorded enhanced status by the US for its role.

  • Not insignificantly, that Muslim Brotherhood Egypt has been named as the arbiter, the source to which Israel is supposed to go to register complaints about Hamas violations, rather than responding directly to the violations.

    This demeans Israel. In this part of the world it is not just power that matters, it is perceptions of power. Thus is the situation that has been set up with this agreement seriously unsettling. At least in theory, it limits Israel's autonomy and her ability to act independently to defend herself.

  • Lastly, I am very unsettled by the role of the Obama administration in putting this together. Obviously, Obama and Clinton endorsed and likely promoted the problematic stipulations in the agreement that I have just outlined above. This, once again, puts the lie to the notion of Obama as a friend of Israel who is concerned about Israeli security.
As I see it, it seems similarly clear that there was coercion involved. With regard to Morsi, the issue of US funds for a near-bankrupt Egypt was the key.

But with Israel? The facts are hard to nail down. We know that Obama was opposed to a ground operation in Gaza, and was keen to stop the fighting. He released a statement about the fact that he "advised" Netanyahu to accept the ceasefire; an "interesting" way of putting it that has about it some suggestion of a power play.

I wrote recently about a report from a highly credible source that said Obama carried to Israel information about Morsi's threat to abrogate the peace treaty if Israel went into Gaza; as Obama could have scotched that threat and didn't, he was complicit in it. Elsewhere I have read that Obama threatened to side with Abbas at the UN if Netanyahu didn't cooperate. I don't know if this is true.

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Carolyn Glick wrote a piece yesterday that, with regard to these concerns, essentially dovetails with my thinking on this issue; I share part of it here (emphasis added):
"The cease-fire agreement that Israel accepted Wednesday night to end the current round of Palestinian rocket and missile attacks is not a good deal for Israel by any stretch of the imagination.

"At best, Israel and Hamas are placed on the same moral plane. The cease-fire erases the distinction between Israel, a peace-seeking liberal democracy that wants simply to defend its citizens, and Hamas, a genocidal jihadist terrorist outfit that seeks the eradication of the Jewish people and the destruction of Israel.

"...At worst, the cease-fire places Israel beneath Hamas. The first two clauses require both sides to end hostilities. The third suggests Israel is expected to make further concessions to Hamas after the firing stops.

"Then there is the cease-fire's elevation of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood government to the role of responsible adult. Hamas is the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. Egyptian President Muhamad Morsi openly supports Hamas...

"Over the weekend, Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood held what the media claimed was a stormy meeting. Its members were split over what to do about Israel. Half wanted to go to war with Israel immediately. The other half called for waiting until the Egyptian military is prepared for war. In the end, the voices calling for patient preparation for war won the day.

"And for their patience, the Muslim Brothers received the plaudits of the US government. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her boss President Barack Obama were effusive in their praise of the Egyptian government, and joined Egypt in placing Israel on the same moral plane as a terrorist group.

"Moreover, Obama and Clinton compelled Israel to accept wording in the cease-fire that arguably makes Egypt the arbiter of Israeli and Palestinian compliance with the agreement.

"Aside from the administration's de facto support for the Hamas regime in Gaza, it is hard to think of a greater humiliation than Israel being forced to submit complaints to its sworn enemy about the actions of the sworn enemy's terrorist client.
Read: The Trap That Arik Built

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Having said that this dovetails with my own thinking, I must now add some provisos and additional information:

Glick speaks elsewhere in this article about Netanyahu signing on the dotted line. She may have meant this metaphorically. But in any event there was no dotted line: It turns out that no one signed this document.

What I am as yet unable to determine is whether the document carries weight even though it is not signed. One analyst said that it most certainly does, for Israel publicly acceded to this. Another said that virtually there is no document and Israel can do as she pleases.

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What we must continue to hope is that whether this unsigned document carries weight or not, when the moment comes for responding to renewed Hamas aggression, the Israeli government will act decisively on her own, without delay.

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The fact that this feels like a bad deal for Israel does not mean that there were no Israeli gains or victories. The pinpoint elimination of Hamas leaders, done with absolutely no collateral damage was fantastic, and struck a note of terror in the hearts of the terrorists.

We also took out a sizeable number of smuggling tunnels -- more than we had previously. There are still many more, however, and I'm sure the terrorists are digging like crazy as I write.

And most of the Iranian Fajr long-range missiles were taken out -- although thousands of the medium range rockets are still in place.

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As to those long-range missiles, I picked up some interesting information tonight. A few of the Fajrs were launched by Hamas, towards Tel Aviv, certainly, and I believe also towards Jerusalem. I've been told that Iran was angry about this, for they didn't provide those missiles to Hamas for them to use at their discretion. They were intended to be used only when Israel attacks Iran and a second, diversionary, front is supposed to be initiated by Hamas.

Several significant thoughts follow from this:

Israel's primary objective in responding to Hamas right now may have been taking out those Fajr missiles, precisely so that they will not be in place when (if?) we attack Iran. Israel may not have truly been interested in taking on Hamas beyond this at this point in time. Netanyahu and Lieberman both made comments about now not being the time to take Gaza.

For Netanyahu and his ministers, this entire issue may dwarf the question of whether Israel needs to report to Morsi if there are Hamas violations. This is speculation -- I have no private information on Netanyahu's intentions vis-a-vis Iran, but it provides a different perspective.

If this is the case, then it explains why Iran already has even better missiles in the pipeline. No time to be wasted, it would seem. Our actions in this regard would have alarmed Iran.

And it makes even more critical the issue of how Israel intends to stop the smuggling and prevent the new missiles from being set in place in Gaza. On this, I have no information, and truly wish I did.

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As far as stopping the smuggling is concerned, what I can say is that this will not be accomplished by US troops placed in Sinai by Obama next week. This is not a facetious statement. It is a response to a story making the rounds, sourced by Debka, that claims this is going to happen.

On the face of it, this is not a plausible possibility when you consider how hard Obama is working to extricate US troops from doing battle with Islamists forces; he's hardly likely to open on a new front. But we also have official denial of this from the Egyptians: Egyptian military denies foreign troops will be deployed in Sinai

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Glick refers to Israel being required by the ceasefire agreement to make further concessions to Hamas, and we are already seeing indication of this: Israel is now permitting Gazan fisherman to go six miles into the Mediterranean, instead of the three miles permitted until now.

I find this unsettling because of the increased possibility for smuggling via this avenue that this greater latitude presents. Ships farther out at sea can drop weapons, in sections and carefully packaged, into the water, where they move with currents. Fishing boats out another three miles into the sea have a greater chance of picking them up.

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Part of what's happening here, though, is that Hamas is lobbying for lifting of restrictions that will improve the economic situation of Gaza, making it a more viable entity. This is just one more step towards encouraging the world to see Gaza as an entity (quasi state) that can be dealt with.

It's very important to note that the PA and Abbas are increasing irrelevant, with what's going on -- notice that Abbas had no role. Hamas's goal is the takeover of the PA/PLO in due course. We're looking at a shifting dynamic.

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As to an Israeli ground operation into Gaza, there is fairly broad consensus on the eventual need for this. There is the feeling that we cannot continue with the status quo, with indecisive battles with Hamas every few years. But there is no unanimity on when or what precisely should be accomplished.

There are those who maintain that we must start to work towards retaking Gaza. (Glick addresses this issue.)

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Others believe that we should do in Gaza what we did in Judea and Samaria in 2002 in Operation Defensive Shield. When horrendous terrorists attacks -- which emanated from Palestinian Authority areas of Judea and Samaria -- occurred repeatedly, the IDF entered those areas. The PA wasn't "defeated" or driven out, but the IDF maintains a presence in these places to this day. That's what keeps Israel quiet today: there are operations nightly that round up terrorists, confiscate weapons and explosives, and shut down weapons factories.

What is suggested is that Hamas not be taken out completely, which would then make us responsible for the civil administration of over a million not particularly friendly Arabs. We would instead maintain a presence there sufficient to interfere with rocket launching operations, while Hamas continued, in a sense, to operate as a civil government in Gaza.

Yet other suggestions include the re-taking of the Philadelphi Corridor at the border between Gaza and Sinai, in order to prevent smuggling, and dividing of Gaza into several sections that would make movement (and thus terrorist actions) difficult.

What will transpire, and when, remains to be seen. But it's good that we are talking about it. It may well be that this truly was not yet the time, because a take-over in Gaza, at whatever level, would represent a huge undertaking at a time when we truly do have to focus on Iran.

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Obama had said that he was opposed to a Gaza operation by Israel because this would increase unrest in the area and threaten stability in both Egypt and Jordan (which is very shaky right now, with Islamists seeking to overthrow the king). I confess that this logic confuses me. Where Jordan is concerned, one would think that a weakening of Islamist elements anywhere in the region would be a good thing. As to a Brotherhood-leaning government in Egypt, what would his preference be?

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One final word in closing. Right after the finish of the operation, I wrote about the groundswell of protest that it had been stopped, and the desire of Israelis to see the IDF move into Gaza. That is, very much, what I was picking up in personal communications. There were demonstrations in the south on this issue, as well, and a poll indicated that some 70% of the population wanted the operation to continue. Thursday night I encountered in town some soldiers who were returning. "Yes, we're coming back," one said. "Haval." (It's too bad.)

Certainly, 70% is not everyone, and I must acknowledge this. I've had messages from two readers making this point to me. One of those readers had a grandson at the border, waiting to go in. She is greatly relieved that he's not in battle -- as undoubtedly are many like her. This is understood and appreciated.

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© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.

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