Castigating the government for the ceasefire agreement and implying that Operation Pillar of Defense was a failure is misguided and merely provides credibility to the distorted Hamas narrative of the conflict. Under current adverse geopolitical conditions, it was unrealistic to anticipate that this campaign would end the conflict as eliminating Hamas was unfeasible.
A “pyrrhic victory” could have been achieved with a long and bitter ground invasion but Israel would have been obliged to withdraw very quickly and the IDF would have suffered heavy casualties.
In addition, a ground offensive, aside from possibly leading to a military confrontation with the Egyptian Moslem Brotherhood regime and Turkey, would have diverted attention from the Iranian nuclear threat. Collateral casualties in Gaza may also have undermined prevailing favorable public opinion including crucial support from the American people.
Mobilization of the reserves was no bluff and, had casualties on the home front necessitated a land invasion, the IDF was well prepared.
The reality is that despite our frustration that the genocidal Hamas regime retains power and that we could face a new round of intensified hostilities, the outcome was far from a stalemate.
The government and IDF performance were exemplary and the enthusiastic response of mobilized reservists mirrored the high morale amongst young Israelis.
The Iron Dome functioned beyond all expectations – an almost 90% success rate – intercepting 421 rockets including the vastly improved Fajr-5 missiles. It provided defensive coverage for the major cities, dramatically minimizing casualties which were limited to 6 Israelis. In the absence of Iron Dome, a land war would have been mandatory. It also conveyed a relevant message to the Iranians and Hezbollah concerning our ability to withstand missile attacks.
IDF intelligence was impeccable, enabling the air force to conduct pinpointed surgical strikes targeting key terrorists, missile sites and weapon caches. Hamas soon realized that it had underestimated Israel’s willingness to retaliate and overreached itself.
Despite the bluster, it began desperately seeking face-saving formulas towards achieving a cease fire.
Whilst Hamas shamelessly sought to maximize Israeli civilian casualties, the IDF succeeded in further minimizing collateral damage to civilians. The ratio of NATO civilian to combat deaths in Yugoslavia was 10:1, in Afghanistan 3:1, in Iraq 4:1, and in US drone attacks against the Taliban 10:1. Yet the IDF ratio in Gaza now was less than 1 civilian to 2 combatants – an unprecedented achievement particularly so as Hamas had cynically located missile launching pads and weapons amongst civilians whom they exploited as human shields. Yet that still failed to diminish the demented obsession of much of the western media to concentrate on proportional body counts, without distinguishing between victims and aggressors.
From the outset, Netanyahu proclaimed that the objective was to achieve stability and that invading Gaza, would only be undertaken if needed to protect Israeli civilians. Public statements and responses were cool and measured, in stark contrast to the bombastic and arrogant statements expressed during previous conflicts.
Netanyahu was clearly relieved that President Obama and Congress unequivocally endorsed Israel’s right to self-defense, demanding that Hamas stop launching missiles prior to ending hostilities. In contrast to the almost universal global condemnations during Operation Cast Lead, most European countries supported Israel, despite calling for restraint, “proportionality” and opposing a land offensive.
The UN and its Human Rights Commission remained consistent, refusing to condemn Hamas for launching missiles directed against Israeli civilians – unquestionably war crimes by any benchmark.
Hamas seeks to spin the ceasefire as a victory. But its infrastructure was mutilated and its rockets failed to inflict the massive casualties it had relied on to undermine Israeli morale. For the first time, it was obliged to endorse an agreement to stop attacking or launching missiles against Israel and preventing other terror groups from doing likewise.
Hamas was also frustrated that despite all the rhetoric from Egypt, Turkey and the Arab League, it received nothing beyond supportive statements.
Despite initial inflammatory remarks against Israel, Egypt’s Mohammed Morsi, an ideological partner of Hamas, was sensitive that were he to back Hamas in a war, the US would terminate its funding and that of the International Monetary Fund, causing an economic meltdown.
Under strong pressure from Obama, Morsi was forced to act as the intermediary to achieve and underwrite a cease-fire. He was even obliged for the first time to refer to Israel by name although he rejected a request from Obama to speak to Netanyahu. Ironically, this occurred as riots erupted throughout Egypt in response to Morsi’s assumption of dictatorial power.
The main loser was the Palestinian Authority which supported Hamas but was marginalized by the Arab world. Now, even if PA leader Mahmoud Abbas proves willing or able to negotiate with Israel, there is little doubt that supported by Egypt and Turkey, Hamas would hijack the PA.
There are no grounds to be euphoric about this “ceasefire”. Genocidal Hamas, whose charter is indistinguishable from the vilest anti-Semitic Nazi propaganda, retains power, supported by Islamic fundamentalist states surrounding us. It proudly continues to proclaim that its objective remains the annihilation of the Jewish state and killing Jews. During the conflict its spokesmen sent messages to Israelis “we love death more than you love life… There’s nothing here for you but death – so be killed or leave”.
We live in a den of scorpions and realize that until Palestinian leaders emerge who are willing to make peace, we have no choice other than to remain strong and deter our adversaries with military force.
This truce is at best only temporary and most Israelis were instinctively unhappy with the terms, especially the bizarre, even incomprehensible, clause in the unsigned Egyptian press release which identified Egypt as the arbitrator in the event of a breach in the ceasefire. Can we expect President Morsi of the anti-Semitic Moslem Brotherhood – which created Hamas and regards it as a strategic partner – to act as a neutral intermediary between ourselves and the terrorists? Even the New York Times conceded that Obama may shape Morsi’s behavior but will not change his ideology. Thus, we have grounds for concern that this legitimization and newfound alliance with the US may reverberate against us.
However, before condemning the government for “capitulating” we must take into account the highly complex environment in which Netanyahu and Lieberman were operating. We should appreciate the positive aspects of “Pillar of Defense” in which much of the vital Hamas infrastructure – personnel as well as weaponry – were systematically destroyed; our relationship with the US was strengthened; and massive casualties were averted from a ground invasion, which may at best also only have achieved further deterrence.
Only time will tell whether we have deterred Hamas and can anticipate quiet on this border for some years, as now prevails with Hezbollah. In the meantime, the world has effectively provided us with a green light to resume military action should Hamas renew its attacks.
We must prevent a new military buildup by urging the US to demand that Egypt blocks Hamas from importing more lethal weapons and missiles from Iran via tunnels or the Sinai.
Only by implementing real deterrence, is there any chance of gaining benefits from this arrangement. We must no longer react passively to a “few” missiles “which cause no damage”, but proclaim that even a single rocket will be met with a harsh instantaneous response and will also include an interim cessation of electricity and other services to Gaza.
I believe that if the truce holds, history will relate favorably to Netanyahu’s strategy which he summarized as “employing military might along with diplomatic judgment”. But we should be under no illusions. The conflict is far from over and the focus must now be redirected towards Iran, where as a consequence of the confidence gained by the outcome of Operation Pillar of Defense, we will hopefully be more closely allied and collaborating with the US and Europe.
The writer may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom