The IDF gave Hamas to green light to resume rocket fire towards the end of the 72-hour ceasefire by sending home tens of thousands of soldiers and transporting hundreds of tanks and armored personnel carriers (APCs) to training bases in the north.
Convoys of trucks carrying tanks to the north were seen as early as Wednesday, and the Jewish Press has learned from several sources in the army that orders had been prepared as early as Tuesday to release thousands of Reservists on Thursday, even there were no assurances that the ceasefire would be extended. It wasn’t.
The IDF also sent back to advanced basic training camps combat soldiers who had been called to Gaza at the beginning of the war.
The large-scale redeployment was accompanied by premature boasts by IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz that residents of Israel could go back to their homes without any fear of rocket attacks.
By Friday, Ashkelon and the Western Negev again were under rocket fire, making Gantz, who had become one of other most popular figures in Israel during the war, look like a fool in the eyes of people who have repeatedly and accurately, accused the “government of Tel Aviv” of a policy of abandoning them.
Israel had two stated goals by calling up approximately 75,000 Reservists and transporting tanks and other equipment to the Gaza front from bases in the north and from near Eilat.
The IDF successfully bombed all of the terror tunnels known to exist. Massive aerial bombing of rocket launching sites, along with artillery fire from tanks and from the Navy, sharply reduced the number of missiles launched at Israel.
There was little to be gained from keeping troops in Gaza because many of the remaining underground missile launchers are being operated electronically from Qatar.
Striking Hamas’ de facto headquarters in Gaza is virtually impossible because their leaders are operating underground, beneath the Shifa Hospital in Gaza. The only to destroy the headquarters is to drop a bunker buster bomb on the hospital.
Moving troops deeper into Gaza would have cost the lives of many soldiers with questionable gains, but the rapid redeployment to the north was both an unofficial and premature declaration of victory and an announcement that Israel was not prepared to escalate the war.
As far back as last Saturday, media reported that Israel was pulling out troops. Netanyahu quickly reassured the nation that the ground operation had not ended and the war would continue until tunnels were destroyed. The military said troops were simply being re-deployed along the Gaza border, but that was true only to a limited extent and for a short period of time.
Negotiations for a ceasefire were taking place at the same minute Netanyahu was saying that the war would continue until its goals were accomplished.
Hamas tried and still is trying to exploit ceasefire talks to negotiate under fire. Dozens of rockets on Israel on Friday and on the Sabbath were met with sporadic aerial bombings, far less than the intense air raids than before the ceasefire.
The rapid retaliation made it clear to Hamas that it will have to compromise on its demands, but the massive withdrawal of tanks to the north and sending home or redeploying soldiers far from Gaza left the government in a far weaker position diplomatically.
Removing the threat of the IDF being able to immediately re-enter Gaza has given Hamas a big advantage because it has given Hamas an incentive to drag out the war. The longer it does so, the more it can count on President Barack Obama to try to undermine the strength of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.