As Operation Pillar of Defense enters its seventh day, the Israeli press focuses on the possibility of a ceasefire to end the rocket fire against southern Israel and the Israeli Air Force’s bombing of the Gaza Strip.
Yedioth Ahronoth sums up the situation as both Israel and Hamas are trapped in a game of chicken. Both want to “close the matter,” and neither wants a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip, but neither do they want to come across as bluffing. For the meantime, “the wind will continue to blow back and forth” between threats of intensifying the war and hints of an approaching ceasefire.
Israel’s trap, writes Alex Fishman, is that “if Hamas doesn’t believe [Israel will launch a ground invasion], then [Israel] needs to do something to convince it that our threats are not empty words. On the other hand, we don’t really want to launch a ground invasion. So we are searching, in the meanwhile, for replacements in the form of more fire from the sky.”
On the diplomatic front, every increase in hostilities between Israel and Hamas will further injure the United States’s position in the region, will undermine the stability of Amman, and will increase pressure on Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi. “According to the American assessment, the hourglass for this war is running out,” Fishman writes, but the Americans believe “that it will be possible to end the matter” because both sides will be able to come to an arrangement satisfactory to its constituents.
Nahum Barnea writes in the paper that “despite the huge monetary investment in bombing Gaza and protecting from rockets, despite the great intelligence and accurate fire and interception, despite assassinating around 60 commanders of [terrorist] organizations (what, in the army, they call “a turkey shoot”), Israel will not subdue Hamas in this round. This game is not about victory, but about time.”
Israel Hayom writes that before any ceasefire takes effect, Hamas wants a “victory photo,” namely one of a downed Israeli aircraft, or a rocket hitting Tel Aviv, or a dead Israeli soldier. It quotes a source in the IDF saying that even if the operation ends today, “the outcomes will echo in the heads of the terrorist organizations for a long time thereafter.”
Dan Margalit writes that for the time being Israel has decided not to engage in a ground operation in the Gaza Strip because of the risk of civilian casualties and IDF losses. “If a ceasefire is not obtained (or if it’s obtained and it collapses within days), that option will be raised again for discussion and may be put into effect,” he writes. “Until the final whistle is heard, steps will continue to be made to fight” and the IDF will plan for surprises — fortunate or unfortunate.
Maariv calls the current situation between Hamas and Israel “Netanyahu’s dilemma.” It reports that Hamas demands an immediate ceasefire, an end to targeted killings, opening of the border crossings, and the establishment of a free trade zone on the Egyptian border. Israel, in turn, demands an immediate halt to rocket fire from Gaza, and further on, a discussion of a long-term agreement which would include ending arms smuggling into Gaza.
Hamas reportedly rejected that proposition, but unconfirmed reports cited by Maariv say that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to hold off on sending troops into Gaza for a day to allow negotiations to press forward. “The question is how much will international pressure succeed in convincing both sides in order for them to arrive at an agreement which will bring quiet to the towns of southern Israel and Gaza,” the paper asks.
Maariv also features a diagram of Hamas’s expected defensive strategy, based on a Hezbollah model published in Israel Defense magazine. The map printed in the paper shows a bull’s-eye centered on Gaza City, with each layer a different defensive line. According to the paper, the outer layer consists of scouts, snipers and anti-tank traps. Its aim: “to locate IDF troops in prepared areas and fire mortars at them in order to prevent their massing on the [Gaza] side of the border.” The next layer, consisting of explosive devices, mines, and anti-tank missiles, aims at slowing down the Israeli penetration into areas controlled by Hamas. Further in, there’s a second layer of snipers, scouts, and anti-tank traps, all aimed at deterring and slowing down Israeli forces. In the bull’s-eye, the core of the onion is a series of subterranean defense systems and rocket launchers embedded in the urban environment. Its aim: survival and rocket fire at Israel.
Haaretz reports that tens of thousands of reserve and enlisted soldiers have massed on the front line near the border with the Gaza Strip, awaiting the political decision to send ground troops in or not. It writes that the IDF estimates that the Palestinians have lost at least a third of their capability to fire rockets 40 kilometers in the past six days. Most of their capability to fire missiles up to 75 kilometers was destroyed in the opening hours of Operation Pillar of Defense, according to the military. Nonetheless, “in the evening hours the fire returned and intensified, shortly after the attack on the life of a senior member of Islamic Jihad.”
Columnist Ari Shavit argues that Israel should end the operation now that it has achieved its aims. In the first two days, Israel demonstrated “excellent intelligence, decisive aerial capabilities, resolute leaders, brave citizens and surprising international support;” it “restored its deterrent capability without causing mass Palestinian casualties or destabilizing the region.”
“If the operation had ended four days ago, the message that would have been received in Gaza, Beirut, Damascus and Tehran would have been clear and sharp,” Shavit writes. Now, he says, “Israel did not quit while it was ahead” and has gotten bogged down in rising civilian casualties. He urges Israeli leaders to obtain a ceasefire now, even if it means a few small victories for Hamas in terms of opening the Rafah crossing and easing the blockade on the Gaza Strip.