Friday, January 9, 2009

Get out and declare victory

Day 15 of the war. Saturday evening. Today we drove to the Jerusalem hills where we met old friends and took a look at the pretty Beit Jamal convent near Beit Shemesh. From there we drove to a restaurant on a moshav surrounded by greenery for a pleasant lunch . Next door at the excellent Flam boutique winery we bought a reasonably priced bottle of their Classico. We then drove home to the rooftop to hear that the death count in Gaza now exceeds 800.

illustration only

Yesterday the security cabinet rejected the United Nations Security Council resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire and decided to continue the military operation. By the look of the fighting however, it doesn't seemed to have given the green light to launch "stage three" of the operation. This would involve going into whole neighbourhoods that Hamas have turned into booby-trapped warrens in and around Gaza city and rooting out the Hamas gunmen among the civilians. The results would be devastating for everyone involved.

As is now becoming clear to all, the crux of the diplomatic wrangling that is, in effect, delaying a cease-fire ) is the question of arms smuggling along the Philadelphi Corridor on the Egypt-Gaza border. The rockets smuggled through the tunnels under this border are the ones that are now falling in Ashkelon and Ashdod and Beersheva Israel demands that it be effectively stopped and, is sending signals that it won't stop shooting and will even push harder until it's satisfied that it has received enough guarantees. The EU is reportedly proposing the stationing of French and Turkish troops along the Gaza border but here lies the rub. The Egyptians won't hear of foreign troops on their side of the border and the Hamas firmly rejects the idea on their side. Meanwhile the army is poised to launch stage 3 (but reportedly not enthusiastic about the idea)

There are plenty of people who think stage 3 would be one stage ((at least ) too many. As Ha'aretz's editorial put it, the situation is so dire that there's no time for Israel to dither about the best exit strategy. Instead it should just get out and let the diplomats find a solution. It indeed seems difficult to see what more can be gained by a bloodbath in Gaza city.

Unless, as at least one serious commentator has noted another possibility is on the agenda.
Olmert has not said so explicitly, but ministers who listened to him at the cabinet meeting the other day believe that he wishes to persist with the operation until Hamas is brought down, as per Haim Ramon's proposal. Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Olmert's cohorts in the security "troika," are sending the opposite message: They want to declare victory now and get out - Barak with an agreement, Livni via a unilateral move.

Let's hope that Olmert's wishes remain at the wish level. A regime change was never mentioned as an aim of this war and it's a bit late in the day to decide on it now. My guess (hope?) is that Israel will step back from the brink. Israel, with justification, wanted to change the rules of the game and I think that the desired effect has been achieved. If I'm wrong there's nothing stopping Israel from going in again.
Get out now and declare victory is good advice.

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