After five days of combat in Gaza, Israeli papers take stock Tuesday morning of the mounting death toll, ceasefire efforts, and the options Israel must now weigh in deciding whether to press forward in its quest to destroy Hamas’s tunnels, or let international pressure put an end to the fighting. It comes as no surprise that everybody has an opinion.
Writing in Yedioth Ahronoth, former Shin bet chief Yuval Diskin, considered by some to be the doyen of Israeli politico-security discourse, walks a thin line between fight and flight, calling on the IDF to push forward until it has carried out its mission, but to also parlay diplomatic efforts for a ceasefire into a long-lasting deal with the Palestinians.
“It’s clear that Israel has military might far outstripping Hamas. The homefront is prepared to pay the price to end rocket fire long-term, Iron Dome is doing its job and allowing the public to hold its stance, the mission to destroy tunnels is of utmost importance, and politicians and security officials are managing thus far with the restraint called for in such a complex battlefield,” he writes. “But the major problem is that Hamas does not have anything to lose, since its position is so bad. It is in dire straits with Egypt, has no partner outside Turkey or Qatar, its financial situation and that the Strip is so bad it can’t pay public workers’ salaries, and the feeling of isolation is deeper than it’s ever been.… It is worthwhile to start thinking about the diplomatic endgame scenarios of this process. Israel needs to stop acting like an ostrich and willingly walking in strategic darkness. It needs to courageously recognize borders and put forward a workable peace plan that dovetails with its basic interests … Just as Israel needs to deal terror a harsh blow, it needs to put out its other hand for a diplomatic deal.”
Yuval Diskin may have his ducks in a row, but they do not align with the thinking of the Israeli public, according to a poll published by Israel Hayom. The numbers, pulled from a survey of 500 Israeli Jews on Sunday (before the full extent of the double-digit Israeli death toll was known), show wide support for Israel’s ground operation, for expanding the campaign, and for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and wide opposition to Israel agreeing to a ceasefire — though only 25 percent of the public believes the operation will actually put an end to rocket attacks.
Editor Boaz Bismuth notes that the few Israelis who do want a ceasefire are in a bad spot, since there is no party that has the trust of both sides that can truly bring one forward, not to mention the fact that even the mediators aren’t on speaking terms.
“It wouldn’t hurt if someone stepped forward to mediate between the mediators,” he writes sarcastically. “For instance, between Washington and Cairo or Ankara and Cairo. And still, the effort for a solution is gaining momentum. The US, which has willingly become nearly irrelevant, called yesterday for a timeout. But even Washington isn’t able to bring forward a ceasefire. Where are the days when former secretary of state Hillary Clinton would come and seal the deal?”
Haaretz reports that security officials believe the high number of infiltration attempts over the last few days, one of which left four soldiers dead Monday morning, are proof of the fact that Hamas is feeling squeezed as Israeli troops demolish its underground infrastructure. However, they note that the army has admitted its intelligence on the tunnel system is incomplete, quoting GOC Southern Command Sami Turgeman saying that there is “no iron Dome for the tunnel threat.”
The paper’s military correspondent Amos Harel calls the tunnels a “national failure,” writing that the fact that Israel was ready to sign a ceasefire last week before the operation to destroy the tunnels kicked off means either Israel was willing to let them stand, or truly had no idea about what a serious risk they were.
“Either way, we’re talking about an operational gap that may eventually cost civilian lives, too. Israel has been dealing with Gaza tunnels since the beginning of the last decade; first it was smuggling tunnels from Egypt, then tunnels for explosives in Gaza, and in recent years dozens of attack tunnels. Last year, intelligence and technology improved Israel’s ability to handle the threat, but this threat wasn’t addressed the way Israel addressed other problems – see the Iron Dome rocket-interception system,” he writes. “Hamas has switched over to fighting a subterranean war, and Israel has been surprised by the group’s sophistication and determination. We can no longer say that all of Hamas’s efforts to attack civilians have been foiled. We’ve received a very expensive wake-up call.”
That price has mostly been paid in blood, most notably by soldiers in an APC blown up by Gazan militants, presumably killing seven of them. One survivor, Shilo Hadad, gets write ups in Yedioth and Israel Hayom, after he met his parents for a brief reunion following the tragedy. “They met him for a short time, cried emotionally, hugged him with gladness that he was saved. While they were hugging, he told his parents what happened to him. He said the most important thing is that he return to his comrades, the fighters,” a relative tells Israel Hayom.
In Haaretz, Sami Michael pens a scathing diatribe against the Gaza operation and supporting politicians, saying that the longer it continues, the more of Israel’s humanity will be lost to the likes of extreme right-wing activist Baruch Marzel. “This war has long since lost its way. First they told us that we have to severely punish the perpetrators of the murder of the three boys in the West Bank. Afterward, we were told that we had to put an end to the firing of missiles from Gaza. Then, although the shower of missiles turned into a downpour, it became secondary in the eyes of those who are running the war. Today the tunnels are the main target. An entire naïve nation is being led deceptively from one obstacle to the next,” he writes. “Meanwhile, Israel’s humane and liberal values are being trampled by the militias of Baruch Marzel and his ilk.”