It’s difficult to think about a ceasefire while rockets continue to fall on Israeli civilian centers, but a ceasefire is emerging as the outcome of the past, very violent five days of engagement.
First, there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that a ceasefire is the outcome most favored by the Obama administration. This explains why Administration officials are eager to spread the word about assurances Prime Minister Netanyahu has given the president that a ground war is a remote option, to be used only if Hamas revs up the shooting.
Two U.S. officials briefed on the call between Obama and Netanyahu have told The Daily Beast that Netanyahu told Obama Israel would not consider a full-scale ground invasion unless there were an escalation on Hamas’ part, or a strike that caused significant casualties.
TDB points that there has not been a date set for such an invasion—nor are the other kinds of contingency plans Israel would need in such a circumstance in place, according to these unnamed U.S. officials.
But the notion of a ground war should give pause to anyone who is aware of the potential second front, on Israel’s northern border. As Ethan Bronner writes in the NY Times this morning. Hezbollah has thousands of rockets pointed at Israel. Hamas’ arsenal is tiny compared with what Hezbollah in Lebanon is thought to have: thousands of rockets capable of hitting Tel Aviv. A ground invasion that doesn’t take into account the opening of a bruising, second front might end in disaster. And so far it doesn’t appear that anyone at the IDF command is working without a plan.
The Times of Israel quoted Israeli officials who said Saturday evening that Jerusalem is not currently interested in a ceasefire, suggesting that operation Pillar of Defense would only end after Hamas had been dealt “a serious blow.” But some analysts, according to the TOI, say that Netanyahu and some top ministers “would not in fact be opposed to a rapid halt to the campaign if the other side were to commit itself to a ceasefire.”
Retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey told MSNBC this weekend that Iranians have manipulated Hamas, exploiting years of multigenerational hate and supplying terrorist groups in Gaza with weapons.
Hamas had an estimated 100 of the Fajr-5 king-range rockets, writes Bronner, until the Israeli attacks, which have, hopefully, destroyed most of the stockpile.
According to Bronner, the rockets are assembled locally after being shipped from Iran to Sudan, trucked across the desert through Egypt, broken down into parts and moved through Sinai tunnels into Gaza. That’s four culprits: Iran, Egypt, Sudan and Hamas.
There’s no doubt that Israel has to reduce the Gaza Strip arsenal of rockets significantly, and continue to maintain its watch over smuggling operations that probably go on as this piece is being written. The Egyptians who hug dead babies in Gaza are among the architects of this unwanted war, and at some point should be brought to task over it.
But Netanyahu and his cabinet are weighing today not only the cost of entering Gaza with ground troops, but of opening at least one more front with Hezbollah. It’s doubtful that Hezbollah has the stomach for another punishing war with the IDF, but, as Gen, McCaffrey has put it, the Iranians are deeply involved in manipulating events on Israel’s borders, and they have tangible military presence in the immediate vicinity of Israel. Just as they were able to push a confrontation, using their experts and advisors in Gaza, they may not even require Hezbollah’s permission to ignite a second front.
Netanyahu must be weighing all of these factors, and, despite the possibility of disappointing an Israeli populace eager for a massive blow to Hamas, he might prefer the less costly ceasefire.