So now we watch and wait — confident in our army, wary of a mounting death toll, certain of Hamas’s evil, aware of the price of confronting it.
The prime minister credibly asserted on Friday morning that he had not wished to expand this conflict. He launched the ground offensive only at the end of the tenth day of the IDF’s effort to stop Hamas’s rocket fire on Israel, with the rockets emphatically still falling, and after troops had foiled what would have been a “mega-attack” — when a dozen or more Hamas gunmen were spotted pre-dawn Thursday emerging from a tunnel they had expended immense time and resources digging under the border, en route to killings and kidnappings, likely at the nearby Kibbutz Sufa. As my colleague Mitch Ginsburg noted, “Israel could have woken up Thursday to an entire kibbutz under siege.”
Netanyahu sent in the army because those tunnels can’t be stopped from the air, and because the rocket fire evidently can’t be either. Hamas has spent the 20 months since Operation Pillar of Defense significantly bolstering its underground operations — digging those tunnels, and building a network of subterranean bunkers to store its rockets, to keep its terror chiefs and operatives safe while the rest of Gaza suffers, to house its command and control centers. On land, at sea, and in the air, Israel enjoys decisive advantages over Hamas; not so underground. And so thousands of Israeli soldiers have now moved into Gaza to literally root out the 2014 iteration of the Hamas terror reality.
There has been much talk about Hamas’s ceasefire demands. It wants the Rafah border crossing to Egypt opened. It wants its 40,000-plus Gaza clerks paid. It wants Israel to release security prisoners freed in the 2011 Shalit exchange who were rearrested in recent weeks as Israel sought the killers of its three teenagers — Eyal Yifrach, Gil-ad Shaar, and Naftali Fraenkel — abducted and murdered in the West Bank on June 12. The word is that the US is trying to help broker a deal. Mahmoud Abbas is centrally involved. Egypt holds the key. Qatar and Turkey, sought as brokers by Hamas, are being rejected by Israel. And Hamas is proving inflexible, with its military wing, apparently ready to fight to the last drop of Gazans’ blood, deaf to the pleas of the ostensibly more pragmatic political leadership.
Is the prime minister fooling everybody when he indicates that his ambition here is not to reconquer the Strip? Is he deluding himself? Or might he be satisfied with a ceasefire that, while leaving Hamas capable in theory of continuing to terrorize Israel, will see Hamas sufficiently deterred in practice as to eschew terror for the foreseeable future? We are about to find out.
However, much of this reporting and speculation seems to miss the point. What about Israel’s position, Israel’s single demand? Netanyahu has said, over and over, that the goal for this resort to force is achieving sustained quiet for the civilian population of Israel. That is, putting a guaranteed end to the threat posed by Hamas — its rockets, its tunnels, its kidnappings. Its terrorism.
A ceasefire that leaves Hamas capable of rebuilding and improving its rocket capabilities; a ceasefire that leaves Hamas free to dig more tunnels into Israel; a ceasefire that leaves Hamas’s military wing sufficiently intact to organize more kidnappings and killings, more infiltrations, more bombings — well, it’s hard to see how that would meet Netanyahu’s goal.
So is the prime minister fooling everybody when he indicates that his ambition here is not to reconquer the Strip, not to bring down Hamas, and when he says he won’t be influenced by the “background noise” supplied by the likes of Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, who are pushing for the destruction of the Hamas regime? Or is he deluding himself? Or might he be satisfied with a ceasefire that, while leaving Hamas capable in theory of continuing to terrorize Israel, will see Hamas sufficiently deterred in practice by the Israeli military response as to eschew terror for the foreseeable future? We are about to find out.
Hamas was largely deterred from firing rockets at Israel for almost four years after Operation Cast Lead in 2008-9. It was somewhat deterred from doing so for the 20 months after Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012. Would that kind of post-conflict reality meet Netanyahu’s definition of success? His new best allies, Israelis and their political leadership on the left and in the center, would say yes. Many Israelis and their leaders in his natural political camp, on the right — loudly disgruntled until Thursday night, now supportive — would give an emphatic no.
And so all of civilian Israel waits — many of its sons and brothers and fathers now engaged in combat in Gaza — relatively safe, if increasingly traumatized, beneath our Iron Dome. Fearful of a mounting IDF casualty rate. Wary of Hamas’s ruthless indifference to loss of life, horrified and wrenched by the deaths of civilians in Gaza, frustrated by much of the world’s willful misjudgment of a conflict Israel did not seek with a terrorist organization committed to our destruction. And torn, between those who want this over yesterday, those who want it over as soon as possible, and those who want Netanyahu to send the army all the way.