What once was a local security problem impacting Israeli towns and villages within a few miles of Gaza’s border has now become a major national threat. Missiles from Gaza have been disrupting the daily lives of more than a million Jews living in the region. Residents of Beer Sheva, Ashdod and Ashkelon, and dozens of smaller towns now live in constant fear and must literally run for their lives at the sound of the sirens announcing the arrival of the latest barrage of missiles.
While there have been recurring short-term cease fires over the past 5 years during which the terrorists in control of Gaza would pause to re-arm and prepare for the next attack, this time there is no end in sight because the Israeli government, despite its belligerent rhetoric, lacks the will to forcibly reenter Gaza and expunge its terrorist leadership.
Israel has made recurring efforts to deal with the problem, First, Israel tried to suppress the terrorist threat with an occupying military force. Then Israel tried to separate itself from the problem by turning the area over to the weak rule of the Palestinian Authority in the 2005 Gaza disengagement, have been miserable failures.
Within two years of the disengagement, the Palestinian Authority lost control of Gaza to the forces of Hamas, which has pursued a major effort to increase the local production of short range, home-made Kassam rockets, while smuggling in quantities of larger and longer range Katyusha, Grad and Fajr rockets which are now a real menace to a significant portion of Israel’s population.
At the same time, Hamas has turned Gaza into a heavily armed terrorist fortress, designed to ensnare any invading Israeli army, and deliberately using Gaza’s civilian population as human shields.
A FOCUS OF CONFLICT SINCE 1948
Gaza has been a focus of the so-called Israeli-Palestinian conflict since Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. The vast majority of Gaza’s current population of 1.7 million Arabs trace their origins to the 200,000 displaced Arabs who fled their homes in Yafo and Arab villages to the south just before the 1948 war started.
They had expected that the invading Arab armies would easily wipe out the local Jewish population. Believing the grandiose promises of the Arab leaders of the day, the Arabs who sought temporary refuge in Gaza were confident that they would soon return behind victorious Arab armies to claim the empty Jewish homes and property of Israel as spoils of war.
These Arabs were genuinely surprised to discover that by leaving their homes, in many cases, voluntarily, they had become permanently stateless refugees. For the next 65 years, they and their descendants would become political pawns, exploited by their own corrupt government leaders and cruelly manipulated by the Arab heads of state who cynically claimed to be their protectors.
The situation of these displaced Arabs and their descendants in Gaza was unlike those in the West Bank. Upon their arrival in Gaza, the 1948 refugees swamped the indigenous local population, outnumbering them by 3-1. When the 1948 war ended, the cease-fire lines were determined by the final positions of the opposing armies, leaving Egypt militarily in control of Gaza. But unlike Jordan, which tried to assimilate the Arab population of the West Bank and Yerushalayim into its own, and sought to annex the territory, the Egyptian government made no effort to absorb Gaza or to offer citizenship to its large refugee population. Instead, it turned over the bulk of the responsibility for Gaza’s Arabs to UNRWA, the special UN agency which was established to take care of them.
MAKING REFUGEE STATUS PERMANENT
Unfortunately, instead of trying to resettle the refugees and find them permanent new homes, UNRWA has sought to perpetuate their refugee status, now to the fourth generation, while keeping alive their expectations to someday reclaim the homes of their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents in pre-1967 Israel.
Soon after the fighting ended, in September, 1948 Egypt, with the support of the Arab League, set up a puppet All Palestinian Government which was nominally put in control of Gaza, but in fact, its primary purpose was for use as a propaganda vehicle against Israel.
In fact, the refugees in Gaza were deliberately kept isolated, destitute, jobless and powerless by the rest of the Arab world. They were never a cohesive nation in any sense of the word. The only thing they had in common was the Arab language and a hatred of Israel, which they were encouraged to falsely blame for all their troubles. Egyptian dictator Abdul Gamal Nasser dropped even the pretense of a Palestinian self- government in Gaza in 1959 and placed it directly under Egyptian military occupation.
From that point forward, even the concept of Palestinian self-rule was largely abandoned until Israel defeated the Arabs in the 1967 Six-Day War and conquered East Yerushalayim, the West Bank, Gaza, the Golan Heights and the Sinai Desert. Only once these lands were no longer under their military control were the Arab states willing to recognize the Palestinian claims to them.
While some Arabs did have historic roots in the communities which they abandoned in 1948, most were the descendants of migrant Arab workers who had drifted into Israel relatively recently. Until the start of the 19th century, the land we now know as Israel was a desperately poor, largely barren and underpopulated backwater province of the Ottoman Empire with a primitive, subsistence agricultural economy.
The influx, first of religious Jews from Eastern Europe who made up the old yishuv, followed by those who were attracted by the Zionist movement, generated a sharp increase in local economic activity. This, in turn, drew large numbers of Arabs workers from throughout the region who came in search of jobs, and who, with their descendants, eventually made up much of the 1948 refugees.
PALESTINIANS AN “INVENTED PEOPLE”
Thus, most of those in Gaza who call themselves Palestinians are not indigenous to the area, or to Israel. This is a well-documented, but widely suppressed historic fact, which was discussed openly most recently during the race for the 2012 Republican nomination by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. In December, 2011, one month before the first GOP primaries were held, Gingrich created a media controversy by exposing the fraudulent claims of Palestinians and their advocates. In an interview with a Jewish media channel, he called the Palestinians an “invented” people, and challenged the historic basis for their claims against Israel.
“Remember there was no Palestine as a state. It was part of the Ottoman Empire. And I think that we’ve had an invented Palestinian people, who are in fact Arabs, and were historically part of the Arab community,” Gingrich said. “And they had a chance to go many places.”
Commenting further on the false basis for the so-called Israeli-Palestinian dispute, Gingrich added that, “for a variety of political reasons [they] have sustained this war against Israel now since the 1940’s, and I think it’s tragic.”
Gingrich’s knowledge of the facts on this point, as a former professor of history, has not been seriously disputed. Nevertheless, he was forced by a storm of media criticism to issue a statement declaring his support for “a negotiated peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, which will necessarily include an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians over the borders of a Palestinian state. However, to understand what is being proposed and negotiated you have to understand decades of complex history.”
PLISHTIM WERE THE AUTHENTIC PALESTINIANS
It is also true that there is ancient historical precedent for the hostility of Gaza’s residents towards Jews.
Indeed, the original and authentic Palestinians (as opposed to the Arabs who fraudulently claim that title today), the Plishtim, were recurring enemies of the ancient Jewish people during the times of the Tanach. Gaza is identified in Sefer Shoftim as the name of the city in which Shimshon Hagibor met his heroic death in battle against the Plishtim oppressors of the Jews of those times.
Unlike other parts of Israel, Gaza never had rich farmland or valuable natural resources. Its main value, historically, is its strategic location on the Mediterranean coast, along the main trade route connecting the population centers of Mesopotamia to Egypt. It has been the site of many battles with invading conquerors, from Alexander the Great to Napoleon.
The Gaza region has a long and distinguished Jewish history. The Gaza Jewish community had many prominent rabbis, including the author of the popular Shabbos zemer, Koh Ribon Olam.
PREVIOUS EXPULSION EFFORTS
More to the point of today’s headlines, Gaza’s many foreign conquerors, going back to the ancient Romans, and including the Crusaders, the Ottoman Turks and the British Empire, made repeated efforts to expel its Jewish population, but the Jews always resisted.
The Jewish population of Gaza increased substantially in the 19th and early 20th century, along with the rest of the land of Israel. Most of those Jews were forced to leave Gaza by the Arab riots of 1929, which, including the Jewish massacre in Chevron, resulted in the death of 135 Jews across the country. To appease local Arab feelings in Gaza, the British, who controlled the area under a League of Nations Mandate, sought to prevent Jews from returning to the area. However, as British rule waned, Zionist settlers founded the kibbutz of Kfar Darom in the middle of Gaza in 1946, in order to prevent the British from declaring the Negev to be Arab territory.
Nevertheless, Gaza was identified as Arab territory in the 1947 United Nations partition plan which precipitated the War of Independence. Furthermore, Israel gave up its claim to Gaza in the cease-fire negotiations with Egypt which ended the 1948 war.
A BREEDING GROUND FOR TERRORISM
After 1948, the refugee camps in Gaza were, by design, a fertile, breeding ground for Arab terrorism. Fedayeen raids into Israel from Gaza were a common occurrence. Israel conquered Gaza in the 1956 Sinai campaign, but was quickly forced to withdraw under United States pressure. In the 1967 Six Day War, Israel captured Gaza again. Three years later, settlement activity began with the re-establishment of Kfar Darom. That activity accelerated in the early 1980’s with the relocation in Gaza of Israeli settlements from Sinai after the area was returned to Egyptian control under the terms of the Camp David Peace Treaty. Ultimately, 21 Jewish communities were established in Gaza, which became home to more than 8,500 Jews, most of whom lived off of a thriving hydroponic agricultural industry.
Physical and economic conditions in Gaza’s overcrowded Arab refugee camps remained poor, as UNRWA and Arab leaders resisted all efforts by Israel to improve the standard of living of the refugees and their descendants. However, over time, using foreign economic development money, many of the refugee tents in Gaza were turned into modest homes, and Gaza City was slowly transformed into a modern city, with some high rise apartment houses and even some luxury homes and stores.
THE REFUGEE “INDUSTRY”
By that time, Palestinian refugee status had become a self-perpetuating local industry. The Arab economy in Gaza was almost entirely dependent on welfare payments from UNRWA, which, ironically, were funded mostly by contributions from the US and other Western nations rather than the wealthy Arab oil states.
A local tradition grew up that when an Arab refugee in Gaza died, that fact was almost never reported to UN officials, so that the welfare payments would continue to go to his family. This is why official Palestinian population estimates have always been suspect, and why a number of prominent Israeli demographers claim that the so-called Arab population threat to Israel’s Jewish majority is a myth.
However, nobody doubted that the suffering of those forced to live in the Gaza refugee camps was very real, and stoked Arab tensions with the Jews who lived there. Those tensions came to a head in 1987, with the eruption in Gaza of Arab riots which would eventually spread to the West Bank and become known as the first intifada.
At that point, it became clear that Israel’s repeated attempts since 1967 to foster peaceful coexistence between Arabs and Jews living in Gaza had failed. This realization paved the way in 1992 for the Oslo peace process, and the creation of the Palestinian Authority (PA) under Yasser Arafat, and Israel’s agreement to initially turn over control of 80% of Gaza, along with Yericho to the PA in 1994.
The hope that the PA under Arafat would be willing to actively prevent further Gaza-based terror attacks was short-lived. Arafat was actually protecting the terrorists while publicly claiming to fight them. Ultimately, with the outbreak of the second intifida, the PA actively promoted attacks on Israeli communities, particularly in Gaza, where they were surrounded and heavily outnumbered by a hostile Arab population.
JEWS IN GAZA LIVED UNDER SIEGE
From that point until the 2005 disengagement, Jewish communities in Gaza lived under an almost constant state of siege, including recurring mortar and rocket attacks. The rocket and mortar attacks were also directed at Jewish communities just outside of Gaza, such as Sderot, which was at the maximum range of the primitive, homemade Kassam missiles at that time.
The justifications given by then- prime minister Ariel Sharon for the disengagement, aside from the dubious threat to Israel’s Jewish majority, was that once all the Jews had been (forcibly) removed from Gaza, the Israeli army would then have a free field of fire to attack any terrorists launching missiles beyond Gaza’s border. Furthermore, he claimed that once Israel had voluntarily evacuated Gaza, the international community could no longer accuse Israel of maintaining an “occupation” over its Arab residents.
WHY THE DISENGAGEMENT FAILED
Israel’s efforts to persuade the PA to take firm control over Gaza failed. The Israeli evacuation created a vacuum of power which was quickly exploited by Hamas and other terrorist groups. Missile attacks on Sderot continued, and diplomatic pressure on Israel limited the ability of the Israeli army to mount effective counter-offensives to stop it. Israel’s attempts to prevent Gaza terrorists from smuggling in weapons led to Arab charges that Gaza was effectively under Israeli occupation, further tying its hands.
Despite the huge cost of the Gaza disengagement, both in human and financial terms, Israel received virtually no credit in the international community for voluntarily withdrawing and turning Gaza over to full Palestinian control. Instead, the disengagement put the Israeli government under new diplomatic pressure for further territorial withdrawals, while Israel would receive nothing of substance in return, not even credit for trying.
The post-disengagement experience undermined the faith of many Israelis in the peace process. It was seen as a litmus test proving that the Palestinian Authority had no real interest in peaceful co-existence with Israel, and that every Israeli good-will gesture would only be countered by fresh Arab demands for more concessions.
THE RISE OF HAMAS
As part of the Oslo peace process, the Palestinian Authority, under Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas, had scheduled parliamentary elections in January, 2006. Over strong Israeli objections, the Bush administration insisted that Hamas candidates be allowed to run for office, and to everyone’s consternation, they won majority control of the new parliament. This forced Abbas into an awkward national unity coalition agreement with Hamas which soon fell apart as the two factions battled for political control.
In 2007, after a brief but bloody coup d’etat, Gaza fell entirely under direct Hamas control, and the Israeli government at that time did nothing to prevent Hamas from becoming entrenched there.
At that point, Gaza became a failed terrorist state, and the security situation in southern Israel began to deteriorate further. Hamas, with the help of its supporters in Iran, turned Gaza into an armed terrorist camp, and expanded the number and range of the missiles it was smuggling into the country and producing in its own workshops.
OPERATION CAST LEAD
The recurring flurries of missile attacks from Gaza became more frequent, making living conditions in towns within range, like Sderot, intolerable. This led to the full scale invasion of Gaza by the Israeli army, known as Operation Cast Lead, in late 2008.
But once again, intense diplomatic pressure on Israel prevented the army from completing its mission. Eventually it was forced to withdraw, leaving Hamas still in control of Gaza, and Israel the target of vicious attacks in the media and international forums for the alleged “atrocities” it carried out against civilians in Gaza.
In fact, the Israeli army had gone to extraordinary lengths during Operation Cast Lead to protect Gaza’s civilian population. But Hamas and other terrorist groups deliberately launched their attacks from within civilian buildings. The Hamas leadership took refuge in the basement of a Gaza hospital, knowing that it would be spared Israeli attacks. Hamas had hoped to draw an Israeli retaliation causing major collateral damage that would be condemned by the international community, and despite Israel’s attempts to avoid that outcome, Hamas largely got their wish.
Within a few months after Cast Lead, the pattern of flurries of missile attacks from Gaza resumed. Each time, the international community would then apply pressure to Israel. The attacks would be halted just before Israel felt that it finally had sufficient justification for serious retaliation. However, over time, the intensity and duration of the attacks, and the range of the missiles employed, gradually increased until it reached the current situation.
ISRAEL’S CURRENT DILEMMA
Israel now finds itself forced to take drastic military action to protect the civilian population of its major southern cities, which is coming under intense daily bombardment. Even its two largest cities, Tel Aviv and Yerushalayim, which had always been far out of range before, have now come under sporadic fire from long range Fajr missiles, smuggled into Gaza from Iran.
IRON DOME SAVING JEWISH LIVES
One major difference in this round of attacks from Gaza is that, for the first time, Israel has an effective missile defense system which it developed with US help called Iron Dome.
The project to develop Iron Dome was initiated by former Labor Party chairman Amir Peretz, who served as Israel’s defense minister in a national unity government headed by Ehud Olmert in 2006. At the time, Peretz was widely dismissed as a poor choice for the post, given his lack of any significant prior military experience. But Peretz was a native of Sderot, and had a keen understanding of the psychological as well as the physical damage being done by the incessant missile attacks from Gaza. He therefore insisted that Israel find a way to protect itself against such attacks.
Many experts claimed at the time that the goal was beyond Israel’s technical capabilities, and that Iron Dome was a waste of time and money. But the massive attack with thousands of missiles on northern Israel during the second Lebanon War in the summer of 2006 convinced enough other Israeli leaders that it was worth a try, and $200 million was allocated for its development and the deployment of two anti-missile batteries.
US HELPS FINANCE THE SYSTEM
Three years later, as development of the system began to show promise, the Obama administration, then eager to provide tangible proof to its critics of its support for Israel’s security, proposed $204 million in American funding to deploy four additional Iron Dome batteries, which was quickly approved by Congress.
The first Iron Dome missile battery was put into operation in March 2011, and quickly proved its ability to shoot down missiles launched from Gaza at the nearby cities of Ashdod and Ashkelon.
It was not perfect. There were some initial operating problems which let more missiles through than expected, but these were quickly fixed. As more Iron Dome batteries were deployed to extend the protection to more cities in Israel’s south, the percentage of successful missile interceptions rose to 85-90%.
In February, Israel approached the Obama administration for more funding to put additional Iron Dome batteries in place, and that request was also approved, with $70 million already allocated, and another $610 million promised.
Meanwhile, with the benefit of actual battlefield experience, technical improvements continue to be made to the Iron Dome system. Israel’s fifth battery, featuring some of these enhancements, was still in the testing stages when the latest confrontation with Gaza erupted. It was quickly rushed into service over the weekend to defend the Tel Aviv area and successfully intercepted some of the missiles aimed at Israel’s largest city.
HAMAS USING LONG RANGE ROCKETS
Hamas’ decision to use its largest weapon, the Fajr-5 missile, against Tel Aviv and other targets in central Israel is worrisome for several reasons. First, it is an indication that the Egyptian government is now deliberately allowing the missiles to enter Gaza, since they are much too large to escape notice. Each assembled missile is 20 feet long and weighs more than a ton. The warhead alone weighs 375 pounds, and has a range of about 45 miles. They are sent from Iran through Sudan and into Egypt on large trucks before being broken down to be smuggled in pieces through the tunnels along the Egyptian-Gaza border.
Once they arrived in Gaza, the Fajr-5 missiles were hidden underground. When Operation Pillar of Defense started last week, they became the prime target of Israel’s air force. Israel believes that it has already destroyed most of the 100 Fajr-5 missiles Iran has smuggled into Gaza, but it fears that those which remain might still be used in a potentially devastating chemical weapons attack on Israel’s largest population centers.
Hamas is believed to have a few hundred “enhanced” Grad rockets, based on an old Soviet design, which have a range of about 25 miles. They also have a large quantity of the original version of the Grad with smaller warheads and a range of about 12 miles. The Grads are being used to attack cities like Ashdod, Ashkelon, and as far away as Beer Sheva, and may be coming into Gaza from leftover stockpiles in Libya as well as from Iran.
In addition, Hamas has the capacity to produce thousands of mortar shells and improved Kassam rockets in its Gaza workshops, with a range of about six miles. Hamas is using them as terror weapons because they lack the accuracy to be aimed to hit specific distant targets. But wherever they may land in and around Israel’s cities, they have the potential to produce enough damage and injuries to induce genuine fear in the civilian population.
ISRAEL KILLS HAMAS’ MISSILE MASTER
The opening shot of Operation Pillar of Defense last week killed veteran Hamas commander Ahmed Jabari, the man responsible for setting up and running Hamas’ sophisticated missile smuggling, production and launching operation.
According to the London Sunday Times, Israel finally hunted down the elusive Jabari by arranging to attach a tracking device to one of his cars, and then monitoring its movements. The order for an Israeli drone flying overhead to launch two missiles at the car, killing Jabari and one of his sons who was riding with him, was issued personally by the commander of Israel’s Air Force, Amir Eshel. It was done with the knowledge and permission of Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu and army Chief of Staff General Benny Gantz.
HOW IRON DOME WORKS
The Iron Dome system has three separate components: a sensitive, high speed radar tracking system, a sophisticated command and control system which analyzes the trajectory of the incoming missile and decides if it poses a threat to a populated area, and a radar-guided rocket, fired from a multi-tube launcher, which intercepts and destroys the incoming missile before it can reach its target. All three were developed and are manufactured by Israeli companies.
The Iron Dome is a short range system designed to provide local defense, which means that a single battery can only protect one medium sized city at a time. Each component is mobile, allowing the batteries to be easily shifted around the country to protect any city that comes under missile threat.
The interceptor rockets cost up to $50,000 each, and must be used sparingly both to conserve supplies and limit costs. The command and control system is therefore programmed not to issue an order to fire at any incoming missile which is likely to fall harmlessly in an open area.
THE STATISTICS OF WAR
As a result, of the more than 1100 rockets fired at Israel through Monday, Iron Dome has launched its interceptors at more than 350 of them, and achieved a more than 85% success rate. Only 37 of the rockets, at that point, had landed in populated areas, keeping the Israeli civilian casualty count relatively low. There were three Israeli fatalities during the first week of fighting, and an Israeli soldier, Yosef Partuk, Hy”d, was killed Tuesday morning in a mortar attack near the Gaza border. Another civilian death in Israel was reported Tuesday of an unnamed worker from a Bedouin village. Most of the other 250 casualties Israel reported since Operation Pillar of Defense started have been relatively lightly injured.
Meanwhile, Israel has attacked more than 1,400 targets in Gaza using missiles fired from unmanned drones, planes and artillery fire. The Palestinians report more than 120 people killed, and many hundreds more wounded, but those figures have undoubtedly been exaggerated for propaganda purposes.
The Israeli army has called up 75,000 reserve troops, and massed tanks and soldiers along Israel’s border last week, but the government has delayed ordering a ground invasion in order to give intensified international diplomatic efforts more time to negotiate a satisfactory cease fire.
Even though Iron Dome has been a military success so far, it is not, by itself, an answer to the problem. That is because Israel’s government cannot permit its southern cities to remain under the imminent threat of missile attack indefinitely. The disruption to normal life has a corrosive effect on Israeli society and morale, and is intolerable in the long term.
With Israel’s largest cities now vulnerable to missile attack from Gaza, the government must act to protect its citizens and eliminate this threat, even if that ultimately means another ground invasion of Gaza and all of the troop casualties and diplomatic difficulties that would entail. In its initial stages, Operation Pillar of Defense was limited to air strikes on known terrorist targets, such as missile storage areas, launching sites and Hamas’ command and control centers. But once that list of targets is exhausted, if the rocket fire from Gaza continues, a ground assault may be the only remaining military option.
ISRAEL AGAIN LOSING THE PROPAGANDA WAR
Despite intensive efforts by the Israeli government to explain the impossible position which these attacks have created, and the necessity for it to mount an effective response, international support for Israel as the victim and its right to defend itself has been, at best, lukewarm.
President Obama, who no longer needs to impress US voters with his devotion to Israel, has had his administration say the right things in support of Israel thus far, but has adopted a very low profile in reacting to the crisis personally. He has been literally out of sight, on a previously planned trip to East Asia, a region which he has signaled will be the focus of his foreign policy efforts during his second term, de-emphasizing US involvement in the Middle East.
On Sunday, the fifth day of Israel’s military operations against the Gaza missile strikes, he made his first personal statement on the fighting, and it was very encouraging. While visiting Thailand, Obama said, “There’s no country on earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders. We are fully supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself.”
However, Obama did not say explicitly whether he would continue to support Israel if it decides to launch a ground invasion of Gaza with the intention of removing Hamas from power.
Israel’s “friends” in Europe have been even less supportive. British Foreign Secretary William Hague Sunday warned that Israel would lose support from the international community if it followed through on its threat to launch another ground invasion of Gaza.
OUTRAGEOUS MEDIA BIAS
The exaggerated sympathy in the international news media for the Palestinians, or its deep-rooted anti-Israel reporting bias (take your pick), has been obvious in the coverage of the violence so far by such respected outlets as CNN and the New York Times.
In one particularly egregious example, CNN played up the actions of the prime minister of Egypt, while visiting Gaza, kissing the head of a young boy allegedly killed in an Israeli counterattack. However, when the Israeli army checked the story and found that the boy had actually been killed by a Hamas rocket which had misfired and fell inside Gaza, CNN of course failed to correct its original report.
Similarly Sunday, when Israel bombed Hamas government offices used to coordinate the attacks, the New York Times originally reported it as an Israeli attack on a civilian site, before eventually correcting the record.
Israel also came under intense media criticism over the weekend for launching an attack on a multi-story office building in Gaza City which was being used as a headquarters by several Arab news networks. The reason for the Israeli attack became clear when the building was struck again on Monday, killing the top military leader of Islamic Jihad, who was hiding on another floor, in an effort to use the presence of international journalists in the same building as a shield.
EGYPT IN THE MIDDLE
It is not clear what Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood President, Mohamed Morsi, had done if Hamas’ continued control over Gaza were to be threatened by an Israeli ground invasion. Morsi has frequently expressed his support for Hamas, which was founded by the Muslim Brotherhood during the 1980’s, and sent his foreign minister to Gaza as a show of solidarity. At the same time, since taking office, Morsi has expressed a less enthusiastic commitment to abide by Egypt’s 30-year-old peace treaty with Israel, apparently out of a desire to protect the continuation of the substantial amount of foreign aid that the US has been giving to Egypt. An Israeli invasion of Gaza would force him to publicly choose between the two.
Thus, it is not surprising that both the US and Egypt have been working diligently behind the scenes to try to engineer a cease fire to head off what seemed to be an increasingly inevitable and imminent Israeli ground invasion.
Hamas leader Khalid Mashaal demanded Monday that Israel pull back and release its military stranglehold over Gaza’s borders. He also publicly dared Israel to invade Gaza.
STEPPED UP DIPLOMATIC EFFORTS
As the fighting entered its second week, diplomatic efforts to reach a cease-fire agreement before Israel launches a ground invasion of Gaza became more intensive. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon arrived in Cairo Monday, and President Obama dispatched Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the region. Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood government served as the primary go between in the negotiations.
Early Tuesday, there were reports from Egyptian and Hamas sources that a cease fire agreement had been reached with Israel and would go into effect that night. However, Netanyahu’s spokesman, Mark Regev, denied that a cease fire agreement was in place, and said that the hostilities would continue along with the negotiations until an agreement is reached. Reports said that the cease fire under discussion would be implemented gradually over a 48-hour period while further details were worked out.
Meanwhile, there was a sharp increase On Tuesday in the intensity of attacks by both sides, apparently eager to hit the rest of the targets before the cease fire took effect.
The Gaza terrorists were apparently trying to overwhelm the Iron Dome system by launching numerous missiles simultaneously at the same target. On Tuesday morning, 3 out of 20 Grad rockets launched at Beer Sheva landed in the city, while 11 of them were shot down.
Another long range rocket launched from Gaza Tuesday struck an apartment house in Rishon Letzion, injuring one person and destroying the building’s 3 top floors. Two rockets landed in Ashdod, lightly wounding seven people and destroying a grocery store, and another rocket damaged a building in Ashkelon Tuesday night, seriously wounded one person.
Israel had publicly encouraged the cease fire negotiating process, but warned that it is not willing to hold back its soldiers and tanks poised to attack on Gaza’s border indefinitely. Israel insisted that any cease fire agreement must put an end to the missile threat from Gaza to its civilian population.
Hours after a bomb ripped through a bus in Tel Aviv on Wednesday a press conference was called and it was announced that cease fire agreement had been reached.
The agreement reads as follows:
A. Israel should stop all hostilities in the Gaza Strip land, sea and air including incursions and targeting of individuals.
B. All Palestinian factions shall stop all hostilities from the Gaza Strip against Israel including rocket attacks and all attacks along the border.
C. Opening the crossings and facilitating the movements of people and transfer of goods and refraining from restricting residents’ free movements and targeting residents in border areas and procedures of implementation shall be dealt with after 24 hours from the start of the ceasefire.
D. Other matters as may be requested shall be addressed.
2: Implementation mechanisms:
A. Setting up the zero hour for the ceasefire understanding to enter into effect.
B. Egypt shall receive assurances from each party that the party commits to what was agreed upon.
C. Each party shall commit itself not to perform any acts that would breach this understanding. In case of any observations Egypt as the sponsor of this understanding shall be informed to follow up.
At a press conference in Cairo, Secretary of State Clinton said, “I want to thank President Morsi for his personal leadership to de-escalate the situation in Gaza and end the violence. This is a critical moment for the region. Egypt’s new government is assuming the responsibility and leadership that has long made this country a cornerstone of regional stability and peace. The United States welcomes the agreement today for a ceasefire in Gaza. For it to hold, the rocket attacks must end, a broader calm return.
“The people of this region deserve the chance to live free from fear and violence, and today’s agreement is a step in the right direction that we should build on. Now we have to focus on reaching a durable outcome that promotes regional stability and advances the security, dignity, and legitimate aspirations of Palestinians and Israelis alike. President Morsi and I discussed how the United States and Egypt can work together to support the next steps in that process. In the days ahead, the United States will work with partners across the region to consolidate this progress, improve conditions for the people of Gaza, and provide security for the people of Israel. Ultimately, every step must move us toward a comprehensive peace for all the people of the region.
“As I discussed today with President Morsi, as well as Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas, there is no substitute for a just and lasting peace. Now that there is a ceasefire, I am looking forward to working with the Foreign Minister and others to move this process.”
It remains to be seen if Egypt will interrupt the flow of Iranian arms through its country to Hamas and whether serious efforts will be undertaken to guarantee Israel’s security and not forcing it to jeopardize the security of its citizens.
With 75% of Israelis wanting him to finally get the job done once and for all, and not just repeat the cycle of bluster and capitulation, Prime Minister Netanyahu said, “I know there are citizens expecting a more severe military action, and perhaps we shall need to do so.”