Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Arlene Kushner On How The Israel - Hamas Ceasefire Is Playing Out

From Arlene Kushner:
November 27, 2012


There is a question mark after "Normalcy" because it's more than a bit difficult to ascertain precisely what "normal" is. But I'm aiming for it, certainly in my own life. Postings will resume their regular frequency -- which means they will be sent often, but not necessarily every day. To my many readers who have written to me in past days, please know that I've done my best in terms of responding.

The world at large is definitely "certifiable." But even here in Israel, I think a bit "crazy" is what's normal. And we'll see that as I write today.


We start with a disturbing follow-up on the ceasefire, which immediately illustrates how crazy things are:

A ceasefire agreement was drafted and made public when the fighting stopped last week. It has been analyzed up and down and sideways, with regard to its legality and the implications of its every word. Some analysts staunchly maintain that we are not required to honor it because it was not signed -- that it is not even a legitimate legal document.

But you know what? It doesn't matter if we are required to honor it, for we are honoring it. And when you see what's going on, it becomes clear that Israel is behaving not as a victor, but as a petitioner. Israel is making concessions, while Hamas has made none and is adamant in its insistence that none are required.

I wrote once already about the fact that we are now permitting Gazans to come closer to the fence along Israel's border, while Gazan fisherman can go out farther into the Mediterranean. According to reports I'm seeing, there seems little question that these "adjustments" have taken place; but they've been done in a very low key fashion, with a certain amount of ambiguity adhering to the arrangements.

What particularly concerned me is this:
"...an Israeli government official told The Times of Israel. "Easing restrictions also helps reinforce the quiet in the south." (Emphasis added)
Read: Under the radar, Israel eases restrictions on Gaza


This, my friends, is appeasement, plain and simple. And it's the sort of thing that makes me want to bang my head against the wall.

So, why?

Reports coming to me make it clear that US media represent this situation in terms of moral equivalency. No good guy and bad guy. Not one party wearing white hats and the other wearing black (which allusion Americans of a certain age will understand).

How much pressure is being brought to bear on us, and how hard is it to buck this? If I were running the show, I like to think that I would tell Hamas that what they've seen so far is nothing compared to what they'll get if they start with us again. No perks for being quiet. But I'm not running the show, and I recognize that it's impossible for me to imagine how complex the situation is or what has to be dealt with.

I only know I really do not like what I am seeing.


And then, as nauseating as it is for me to consider this, I must additionally report that Israel and Hamas are currently meeting indirectly, with Egypt mediating, as follow-up to the ceasefire agreement -- to decide what else Israel can do for Hamas. The issue on the boards right now is allowing a further opening of the crossings between Israel and Gaza.


What is most galling is that there is no equivalency to the concessions. That is, Hamas is not expected to give anything. Most specifically, there is no commitment to stop weapons smuggling; Hamas leaders have made it clear that they believe they have a right to do this and fully intend to continue:
"Gaza's ruling Hamas will not stop arming itself, the No. 2 in the Palestinian group told The Associated Press on Saturday..."
Moussa Abu Marzouk, deputy to Hamas' top leader in exile Khaled Mashaal, rejected demands that Hamas stop arming itself:
"These weapons protected us and there is no way to stop obtaining and manufacturing them."
Read: Israel eases anti-smuggling sea restrictions as Hamas notes truce does not restrict weapons smuggling


I'm still hearing from readers about what has been proposed with regard to this, what the US will do, etc. etc. And, I reiterate, it all comes to nothing -- only vague words.

Consider this, first, from the JPost (emphasis added):
"The senior US official said that Washington realized that stopping the smuggling is a 'critical element' of the cease-fire, and that the US will make this a priority in its discussions with the Egyptians and other international players."
Read: Talks in Egypt start to flesh out cease-fire details

There is no mention of a commitment by the US to do something about the smuggling -- simply a promise to talk to the Egyptians about it.


What this official is referring to was spelled out earlier in this same article:
"Washington understands well that Israel’s restrictions on the Gaza Strip are related to arms smuggling, and that a total relaxation of the restrictions would necessitate assurances that arms stop pouring into the enclave, a senior US official said Monday."
"a total relaxation of restrictions" refers to Israel's sea blockade of Gaza. Washington is being sooo understanding in recognizing that Israel cannot lift that blockade while Hamas is trying to bring in further weapons. Washington will point this out to Egypt as negotiations continue. Likely the US will stand behind Israel's right to sustain that blockade under current circumstances.

But we have no indication that the US will intervene to stop that smuggling.


Then I invite you to look at the text of a Memorandum of Understanding from January 16, 2009, immediately after Cast Lead, the last war with Hamas.

This was signed by the US and Israel. It specifies a host of steps the US was committed to taking to stop smuggling of weapons by Hamas into Gaza. The result? Hamas stockpiled tens of thousands of rockets and missiles in Gaza, including those Iranian Fajr missiles.

Read: Israel eases anti-smuggling sea restrictions as Hamas notes truce does not restrict weapons smuggling

Why expect more now, when there isn't even an agreement this time that the US signed?


Make no mistake about it: If there is going to be any serious effort made to stop smuggling, it will be by Israel.

We are not going to send IDF troops into the no-man's land of Sinai, which is controlled by jihadist terrorists. And re-taking the Philadelphi Corridor does not seem to be in the plans right now.

If Israel stops smuggling, it will be by intercepting weapons before they reach the Sinai. We've done it before. While there was no official acknowledgement of responsibility (there wouldn't be), we can assume it was Israel that hit the Iranian-managed munitions factory in Sudan recently. And there have been weapons caravans traveling in the Sudanese desert that have been hit.

It is difficult for me to imagine that there won't be some sort of "intervention" with regard to the Iranian ship (sailing under various flags) that is presently carrying Iranian missiles intended for use against Israel. This is critical.


But what happens if rockets and missiles are successfully brought into Gaza again?

My own hard-nosed approach says that taking out such rockets and missiles is a justified pre-emptive defensive action. There is only one reason such weaponry would be brought into Gaza, and that is for Hamas to use against Israel, at the time of Hamas's choosing.

But it is not likely that this is the way Israel will play it. In the past, Israel has adopted a policy of "quiet for quiet" -- meaning we don't hit them until they start. There seems scant hope that it will be any different this time.

This is what our prime minister had to say to pilots at the Palmahim Air Force Base on Sunday (emphasis added):
"You carried out the missions that were defined for you in a precise manner. If the quiet is maintained – you will be able to continue preparing for the next campaign.

"If the quiet is violated, you will go back and hit what's left...If the quiet continues, it will be met with quiet. If it is violated, we will respond strongly."
Read: PM Netanyahu: Hamas weapons safe from attack if Hamas remains quiet (PM Netanyahu Visits Palmahim Air Force Base)

There is no suggestion in these words that if additional weaponry is brought in the rules change.


My assumption is that this has to do with the moral equivalency approach of the international community, and the pressures that are put on us. If we hit first, nations of the world will not see it as a defensive action. We will be broadly accused of aggression, and support for us in the ensuing war would be diminished. Especially would this be so now, as we would be accused of breaching the ceasefire.

Better, apparently goes the reasoning, if we wait until they hit and then respond with a powerful blow, which will have been thoroughly prepared.

The comfort is in knowing what we can do to them -- we've just proved it.


One must hope that any infraction of the ceasefire on the part of Hamas will bring a significant Israeli response. No looking the other way, no minimizing the size of the infraction, no justifying it (saying perhaps that the attack was by a renegade jihadist group that Hamas cannot control).

But the history of this conflict is not reassuring on this score. It is only when damage is done, that the response gets serious.

Commentator Uri Heitner speaks to this:
"Our experience tells us that after a short time, the Palestinians will begin to chip away at the cease-fire and fire one mortar shell. Israel, following the suffering of the last round of fighting, will fear an escalation and will avoid sending the entire south into bomb shelters again because of one mortar. So they will then shoot two mortars, followed by a Qassam rocket, until we gradually find ourselves mired in yet another 'round' of exchanging fire. If this happens, the operation was a waste.

"The main test is tomorrow's mortar. Will we have the strength to respond with full, completely disproportionate force, as opposed to our past mistakes?"
Read: Tomorrow's mortar test

Heartily do I agree, quibbling only with the word "disproportionate": A "proportionate" response does not mean we shoot one mortar for their one mortar. That's a common misunderstanding. A "proportionate" response in international law is what is takes to stop what they are doing to us.


Please! Do not write to me telling me what Israel should do. PM Netanyahu is not taking advice from me these days.


With all of the above said -- with all the anger that it generates, and, quite frankly, all the sleepless nights -- there is still this news, which is related to the Gaza situation. According to Times of Israel:
"Iranian scientists have run computer simulations for a nuclear weapon that would produce more than triple the explosive force of the World War II bomb that destroyed Hiroshima, according to a diagram obtained by The Associated Press.

"The diagram was leaked by officials from a country critical of Iran’s atomic program to bolster their arguments that Iran’s nuclear program must be halted before it produces a weapon. The officials provided the diagram only on condition that they and their country not be named.

"David Albright, whose Institute for Science and International Security is used by the U.S. government as a go-to source on Iran’s nuclear program, said the diagram looks genuine but seems to be designed more 'to understand the process' than as part of a blueprint for an actual weapon in the making."
Read: Iranian scientists running simulations of large nuclear weapon


So they're not there yet. But if this isn't a wake-up call...

I am mindful, when I see this news, of the fact that Netanyahu's calculus on how to respond to Hamas may well be factoring in the need to address the growing danger of Iran.


Mahmoud Abbas says he's going to the UN General Assembly on Thursday, seeking a change in UN status for the PA that is a step towards Palestinian statehood. And he has the support of sufficient nations to get it -- even France has just signed on to support him. I will be dealing with this in the next few days.

As it comes down to the wire, the US, which is still seeking negotiations on a "two-state solution," is attempting to block this on a procedural technicality.

Israel's position on this seems to be in a state of bewildering and frustrating flux. First there were warnings that we can respond as we see fit, as this action will have gone beyond the pale with regard to what can be accepted within the context of Oslo negotiations. Then it was said that we'd wait and see.

Now, the government is saying that this will not be considered a cancellation of Oslo, and that other punitive measures will be levied.
"This position ...marks a remarkable alteration of Jerusalem’s previous stance.

“We won’t cancel any of our agreements,” the senior official [in Jerusalem] said."
Read: In about-face, Israel says it won’t cancel Oslo if Palestinians pursue UN bid

Do I see the firm hand of Obama in this turn-about? Do we begin to have a clue as to what's going on here?


And now for the good news!

First, Defense Minister Ehud Barak has announced that he is retiring from politics. Thus, he will not be running for the Knesset with his Independence Party, a break-away from Labor established almost two years ago.

For those interested in the Jewish integrity of -- Jewish rights in -- Judea and Samaria, this is good news indeed.

But the fact is that -- were he inclined, and were Barak agreeable -- Netanyahu could still appoint him as Defense Minister again after the January elections even if he isn't in the Knesset.

We have to hope that Netanyahu will not be inclined and that Barak means it when he says that politics was never a passion and that he wants time with his family.

There is talk of Minister of Security Affairs, Moshe (Bogie) Ya'alon replacing Barak.


Our nation owes a great debt to Ehud Barak as military man -- the most decorated soldier in Israel's history.

Credit: IDFblog

But as a politician? Both his judgment and his style of handling himself have left a great deal to be desired.

Credit: Israelmatzav


Yesterday and the day before the Likud party held its primary, to determine the order of its list for elections. It was two days long because an electronic glitch caused problems that slowed voting down.

Now we have the results, which are most encouraging: Nationalist, right wing candidates dominate the list. Almost to a person, they are opposed to the "two state solution." When Labor party Chair Shelley Yachimovich, declared Likud now a "radical rightist party," I knew something promising had happened. Perhaps the new Likud will provide the prime minister with necessary backbone for the difficult times ahead.

Following below are the names of the top 35 people on the list. As the way in which candidates are selected is complicated -- some elected nationally, some regionally, etc. -- the rules allow Netanyahu some measure of flexibility in re-ordering the list. But only within certain narrow limits.

Now that the Likud list has been determined, it will be merged with the Yisrael Beitenu list for one combined list for the national election in January. Netanyahu will head the list and Lieberman will be second. Then there will be two from Likud and one from Yisrael Beitenu, alternating. The combined list is expected to garner some 42 mandates (which is what the two parties collectively have now), or possibly less. Thus, those who placed lower on the list are considered to have very little chance of getting into the Knesset.

* = current MK; ** = current minister or deputy

1 – **Benjamin Netanyahu; 2 – **Gideon Sa’ar; 3 – Gilad Erdan; 4 – **Silvan Shalom; 5 – **Yisrael Katz; 6 – *Danny Danon; 7 – *Reuven Rivlin; 8 – **Moshe Ya’alon; 9 – *Ze’ev Elkin; 10 - *Tzipi Hotovely; 11 – *Yariv Levin; 12 – **Yuli Edelstein; 13 - *Haim Katz; 14 – *Miri Regev; 15 – Moshe Feiglin; 16 – **Yuval Steinitz; 17 – Tzachi Hanegbi; 18 – **Limor Livnat; 19 – *Ofir Akunis; 20 – *Gila Gamliel; 21 – *Carmel Shama Hacohen; 22 – David Bitton; 23 – Uri Faraj; 24 – Keti Shitrit; 25 – *Ayoub Kara; 26 – Shuki Ohana; 27 – David Amsalem; 28 – Yitzchak Danino; 29 - Keren Barak; 30 - Abraham Negosa; 31 – David Even Tzur; 32 – Shai Keinan; 33 – Avraham Simhon; 34 - Nurit Koren; 35 – Moshe Ben Zaken.

Reuven Rivlin is Knesset Speaker; Ze'ev Elkin is Coalition Chair. This is the first time that Moshe Feiglin, who has identified as very far right but has moderated his stance, has placed on the list in a way that assures him a seat. On the other hand, **Dan Meridor is too low on the list to make it, and **Benny Begin's and Avi Dichter's chances are slim. There are a number of newcomers on the list.


I believe that Avigdor Lieberman, Chair of Yisrael Beitenu, will select the members of that party's list, and that final lists that will be presented to the electorate must be submitted next week.


In coming days I will be writing at greater length about other political events. At the present, matters are still very fluid.

Tzipi Livni, who headed Kadima and then retired about six months ago, has just refused a top spot on the list of Yesh Atid, offered by party head Yair Lapid, and has now said she will start her own party, "The Movement." Seven members of Kadima hope to leave that party to join her. She is being severely criticized for dividing the center/left in a way that helps ensure a Likud-Yisrael Beitenu win.

I said there was good news!


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