As Israeli papers went to print last night, the skies seemed strangely calm and there was talk of ceasefire in the air. Thus on day five of Operation Pillar of Defense, Israelis woke up to find the conflict raging with renewed vigor, but their newspapers speaking of peace, or at least a lack of hostilities, around the corner.
Haaretz, whose left-leaning writers and editors have been the least gung-ho about the operation from the start, leads off with the news that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told US president Barack Obama, Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti and German Chancellor Angela Merkel that he was ready for a ceasefire, if rocket attacks on Israel cease completely, “but if not — we’ll invade Gaza,” according to the headline. The story notes that the foreign leaders asked Netanyahu to hold off on any move to widen the conflict while Egypt tries to broker a ceasefire.
“There are serious efforts towards a ceasefire being led by Egypt,” a senior American official is quoted as saying. “We want to allow this a chance to succeed but it is necessary to give enough time for the talks. We are hearing from the Israelis that a ground action is an option but we understand they prefer arriving at a ceasefire.”
The paper’s resident far-leftist Gideon Levy writes, in not so many words, that Israel basically brought Gaza’s rockets upon itself by ignoring the Palestinians’ cries for freedom.
“This current round of never-ending fighting has come upon Israel when it finds itself at a new peak of denying the existence of a Palestinian problem. From Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Liberman to Yair Lapid and Shelly Yachimovich, everybody tries to stick their heads in the sand and claim that the problem is not a problem, until the first Kassam explodes in their faces.”
Speaking of Liberman, the foreign minister, Yedioth Ahronoth reports that the missile that landed in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc south of Jerusalem on Friday was aimed at Liberman’s house.
The paper, which splits its front page between news of the massive call-up and news of a possible ceasefire, is full of interesting tidbits like that. A feature on reservists heading south features tales of a soldier whose wife is nine months pregnant (not so unique), a married couple who were both called up within minutes of each other (more unique) and a kibbutznik about to celebrate his 79th birthday who threw on his olive threads when he got the call and has now joined up with his unit (very unique). “Yishai is the torch of our unit,” his commander told the paper. “He is full of energy like a young youth.” (Yes, he said young youth).
The paper’s Shimon Shafir handicaps the thoughts possibly going through Netanyahu’s head as he weighs whether or not to engage Hamas in talks and reach a ceasefire. There are many factors — from elections to making sure the army gets the job done to international pressure — that factor into such a decision, Shafir writes. But, he says, it’s probably still too early by a few days to talk about an end to the operation, though it shouldn’t be: “One could estimate that Netanyahu and Likud ministers will say that they are not prepared for a give and take with Hamas. This claim can be rebutted since just a year ago Netanyahu was engaged in indirect talks with Hamas over the fate of Gilad Shalit and paid the full price demanded. If so, why does the prime minister refuse to announce that he will engage in talks over the fate of a million Israelis?”
In the “that’s more ridiculous than a rocket being fired at Tel Aviv department,” the paper reports on two people who were traveling in Beersheba Friday night when a siren went out and they leapt out of their car to take cover. While this was going on, a group of four youths came along, saw a car with keys in it, and took off with it, leaving the man and his elderly mother-in-law stranded on the side of the road.
Maariv, on the other hand, says a ceasefire is just around the corner, reporting that an Israeli negotiator has been in Egypt since Friday and will return to Israel Sunday, amid Arab reports that a ceasefire will be signed in the coming hours. The paper also writes about a report in the Sunday Times of London that IDF ground forces are already operating in Gaza, hunting down rocket-launching crews.
The paper’s Amir Rapaport writes that with the army geared up and Iron Dome protecting the south, the ball is now in the government’s court to decide how to proceed. “According to IDF intelligence estimates, Hamas has already been dealt a heavy blow, morally and physically, and its leaders want a ceasefire, even if they will refer to the end of hostilities as a victory. Have the results been enough to ensure there will be quiet from Gaza, even without widening the operation? I’m not sure.”
Israel Hayom also reports that a ceasefire may be close, or a ground operation, and the leadership must decide which path to take. The paper also homes in on the power of the Iron Dome anti-missile system, which has had a 90% success rate in shooting down rockets aimed at Israeli cities and has kept much of the south, and now the center, safe.
Aharon Lapidot writes that beyond the actual rockets being shot down, the success of Iron Dome represents another victory in that it sends a message to Hezbollah and Iran that Israel cannot be so easily messed with. “For our neighbors, this is very bad news. Their rockets are their doomsday weapon, and in the balance of threats against Israel, this is the main thing they put their hopes in, from Lebanon to Iran.”