As a PLO delegation including Hamas and Islamic Jihad members prepares to leave for Cairo to discuss a ceasefire with Israel, the Israeli cabinet evidently has still not decided whether it wants to topple Hamas or leave it in power, weakened, in the Gaza Strip, The Times of Israel has learned.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is disinclined to go all the way with Hamas, but key ministers in his cabinet such as Economy Minister Naftali Bennett are urging him to redefine the goals of Protective Edge — from destroying the tunnels to destroying Hamas.
PLO official Yasser Abed Rabbo announced Tuesday afternoon that all Palestinian factions have agreed to a 24-hour humanitarian ceasefire, and were “positively considering” a UN proposal to extend it to 72 hours. But Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri denied that such an agreement was ever reached.
Israel has destroyed the majority of Hamas terror tunnels from Gaza and some two-thirds of its rocket arsenal, significantly hampering the movement’s missile-launching capabilities. But the cabinet has still not made up its mind whether to expand the ground operation and topple Hamas, or whether to reach new understandings on a status quo with the Islamic organization, which had closely adhered to a ceasefire agreement with Israel reached in November 2012.
Through Operation Protective Edge, the IDF believes it has conveyed two important messages to the non-state actors fighting Israel. The first is that thanks to Israel’s missile defense technology — some of which is still being developed — rocket launches have proven ineffective as a weapon of war against Israel; few of the over 2,600 projectiles launched at Israel have landed in urban areas.
The second message is directed at Lebanon’s Hezbollah no less than at Hamas: the organizations’ doctrine of fighting Israel from within residential areas with impunity has been disproved. Following lengthy legal deliberations, the IDF has decided that all civilian structures from which military activity is launched are a legitimate target for attack.
All military operations in Protective Edge have been carried out with the tight legal accompaniment of the IDF’s international law specialists. Thus, no house in Gaza has been bombed without prior notification at least twice: through pamphlets, personal telephone calls, and finally warning fire. Residential buildings abandoned by their inhabitants and then reoccupied by them have been spared.
The Palestinian delegates are headed for an Egypt that is much changed since the understandings last reached under its brokerage in 2012. With Muslim Brotherhood president Mohammed Morsi gone, Israel is now enjoying an unprecedented flowering in relations with Egypt on both the military and diplomatic levels.
Egypt’s systematic destruction of over 1,600 smuggling tunnels from Gaza to Sinai, continuing even at present, has significantly weakened Hamas’s financial condition.
As talks get underway in Cairo, Israel will have to quickly decide whether it wants to gradually weaken Hamas by empowering PA President Abbas in Gaza (and in the West Bank), or whether it wishes to oust Hamas through military force. That latter option will surely prove costly to Israel in human life and financial resources, and may leave the IDF in full control of the Gaza Strip for an undetermined period.