Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Tomorrow's Mortar Test

by Uri Heitner

In contrast to all-out war, low-level conflict does not provide a clear picture of victory, and time is ultimately the deciding factor. This was the case after the Second Lebanon War — which in retrospect has provided quiet along the northern border — and is also the case now following Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza. Did we win? Were we able to build deterrence? The fact that Hamas is celebrating isn't an indicator, and only in the long run will it be possible to answer these questions.

For the time being, the picture before us is rather discouraging, to put it mildly. First, there is the fact that the cease-fire is not unconditional. Hamas would erupt in a victory celebration even if it had agreed to an unconditional cessation of hostilities, but those celebrations would have been totally baseless. 

However, Israel’s agreement to a cease-fire that gives some achievements for Hamas points to the lack of effective deterrence created by Israel that would have forced Hamas to surrender unconditionally. In this situation, it is very difficult to define the result of the fighting, despite the considerable achievements Israel did obtain.

If Israel had conditioned its willingness to discuss these matters on six months of absolute quiet, it would have been acceptable. The demand for 24 hours of quiet, however, is a joke. The fact that the agreement handcuffs the Israel Defense Forces' efforts to combat terrorism is a boon for Hamas and should not have been agreed to. Furthermore, the demand to open the border crossings should be denied. Israel paid a dear price for its disengagement from Gaza, but did not disengage from Gaza. Our interest is to disengage and put an end to the anomaly of Gaza being a terrorist entity hostile to Israel while still receiving goods from Israel. The border today is too open already; to open it further is detrimental to Israel's interests.

The cease-fire's major test is tomorrow's mortar round. Our experience tells us that after a short time, the Palestinians will begin to chip away at the cease-fire and fire one mortar shell. Israel, following the suffering of the last round of fighting, will fear an escalation and will avoid sending the entire south into bomb shelters again because of one mortar. So they will then shoot two mortars, followed by a Qassam rocket, until we gradually find ourselves mired in yet another "round" of exchanging fire. If this happens, the operation was a waste. 

The main test is tomorrow's mortar. Will we have the strength to respond with full, completely disproportionate force, as opposed to our past mistakes? To my sorrow, we have already failed the Palestinians' first test. On our television screens, even while we were seeing headlines saying, "The cease-fire has gone into effect," there were subtitles saying, "Alarm sounded in Ashdod."

The cease-fire was broken repeatedly in the hours immediately following its announcement, and Israel sat idly by. This is how the erosion begins. The IDF needed to respond to the cease-fire violation with an especially powerful counter-attack (Israeli negotiators should have stipulated this from the start). As a result, the exchange of fire would have resumed and we would have gone back to another day of negotiations, but it would have been clear to the enemy that “cease-fire” means only one thing.

Since the Oslo Accords, we have grown accustomed to the Palestinians being allowed to violate agreements — all the cease-fires, "tahadiyas" (calms) and "hudnahs" (truces). Their intention is for Israel to cease firing. Even after Operation Pillar of Defense, we have come to terms with this norm. This is not how deterrence is built.

Uri Heitner


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