Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Head-Scratching Time Out?

That's how Jerusalem Post columnist David Horovitz described a potential cease-fire between the IDF and Hamas. According to various media and diplomatic reports, Israel is considering a 48-hour suspension of its attacks against the terror group--and possibly, a longer pause--if Hamas agrees to stop its rocket attacks against southern Israeli towns.

The cease-fire would come as Israeli forces are inflicting severe damage on the terrorist organization, its leadership, and key infrastructure targets. As Horovitz writes, the idea of a cease-fire at this juncture is simply mind-boggling:

Operation Cast Lead, launched with the defined goal of restoring security to the Kassam-battered south of Israel, was code-named for the Haim Nahman Bialik poem about a Hanukka spinning top cast from solid lead.

If the code name was relevant on Saturday for the Hanukka timing, it gained new resonance on
Tuesday night because of the spinning reference. The notion that Israel was leaning toward suspending the operation for 48 hours, and indefinitely if Hamas ceases its rocket fire, seemed head-spinning, indeed.

It plainly dizzied the Chief of General Staff, Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi. As soon as reports broke that Defense Minister Ehud Barak was considering accepting a proposal to this end from French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, and would take it to his colleagues Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on Tuesday night for a decision, Ashkenazi approved the release of a statement dissociating the IDF from any role in hatching or advancing the idea.

Lieutenant General Ashkenazi had plenty of room to distance himself--and the IDF--from the apparent, growing indecision among Israel's political leaders. As Mr. Horovitz notes, the IDF Chief of Staff has worked diligently over the past two years to restore the military's fighting capabilities--and its confidence.

Indeed, the opening salvos of Cast Lead revealed a well planned, expertly-executed operation, aimed at crippling Hamas. But, with the terror group reeling, the Israelis are considering an operation pause, a move the IDF must find galling.

In fairness, there are legitimate reasons for taking a time-out. Some reports suggest that the IAF has run out of targets and needs a couple of days to assess the air campaign's results. Additionally, weather conditions in Gaza are expected to deteriorate over the next couple of days, limiting some air platforms and making conditions more difficult for a ground invasion.

Additionally, Israel could score public relations points by allowing Gaza residents to receive humanitarian supplies and expanded medical attention during a cease-fire. If Hamas violates the cease-fire (a virtual certainty), the IAF has the option of quickly re-starting the air campaign, and launching a massive ground assault.

But there are better reasons to maintain pressure on Hamas. Much of the terror group's military forces remain intact, and there are still enough crews to fire 30-40 missiles a day into southern Israel, inflicting additional damage and casualties. With much of the Negev still under the gun, the Israelis have ample justification for continuing the air offensive. Israeli leaders are also aware that a short-term suspension of hostilities would be interpreted as a "de facto" victory for Hamas--a perception that Tel Aviv can hardly afford.

There is also the possibility that talk of a cease-fire is simply an Israeli deception measure. Before the air war began last week, Israeli leaders actually implemented conciliatory gestures toward Gaza, and suggested that any attacks were still days away. As we noted in a previous post, the Palestinians took the bait; as IAF jets and attack helicopters swooped down on Hamas facilities Saturday, they observed a graduation ceremony in-progress at a police academy--one of their primary targets.

So far, Cast Lead has been a remarkable success for the IDF--and the Israeli leaders that ordered the operation. But in modern warfare, perceptions are often as important as results on the battlefield. The internal debate over continuing the air strikes or offering a cease fire suggests confusion at the upper levels of Israel's government.

It's another perception that could (potentially) undermine the IDF campaign, creating an image of confusion and indecision, at the very moment that Israeli forces had gained a decisive advantage. Having bungled the Second Lebanon War in 2006, could Israel's leaders accomplish the same feat again?


LGD said...

Your analysis contains several points making it clear why a cease-fire now is far from head-scratching mystery. Running out of targets, damage assessment and poor weather are ample reasons for Israel to do this.

The stated aims of Israel as I understand them included the end to the rocketry. Under the terms of the ceasefire, Israel would gain its war aim. Again, not a head-scratcher.

Where I see some confusion is in Israel's repeated failure to understand that the press will never give them a fair shake. In any just world, Israel's actions, restraint, humanity and now willingness to stop kicking an opponent when he's down would all be applauded worldwide. Sort of what like President Bush expected in Iraq.

And in a just world, the press would be first in line to make it clear that Hamas accepting a ceasefire now would be an admission of defeat.

But in this Jimmy Carter world of Hamas somehow being morally superior to Israel-- with the press telling the story that way-- I agree that there seems to be little sense in Israel offering to let their opponent get back on his feet.

I suppose it's just as well that Hamas will probably not accept the terms and will keep making itself a target. Let's hope their term in office ends soon in 2009.

lgude said...

Yes, the problem is the media war. It's heads Hamas wins, tails Israel loses. One reason to do a temporary ceasefire is as a deception operation. The Israelis have achieved a unified press effort this time. They might be able to set the press up by stopping, then providing lots of evidence of Hamas continuing their usual provocations, and then lowering the boom again.