Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Hamas truce non-offer.

By Ami Isseroff

(Some) newspapers are preoccupied with the information that Israel is considering a truce with Hamas, apparently offered by Ismail Haniyeh. At Ha'aretz, Avi Issacharoff and Amos Harel present an analysis

In some reports, the proposal is called a "hudna" - truce. In others, it is called a "tahidiyeh" - calm. In this report it will be called "Khalam Fahdi" - empty talk. As Issacharoff and Harel note:

"When two feuding families are forbidden to attack each other for a while, this could lead to circumstances enabling an improvement in their relations," Haniyeh's political adviser Ahmad Yusef said, trying to explain to Haaretz the meaning of tahdiya, or a period of calm.

He did not say what happens if such circumstances are not created. In this case Israel is likely to confront a better-armed and trained guerrilla army that would threaten the entire southern region with rockets.

What Haniyeh offered apparently, was simply to stop firing rockets. That would leave in place the entire arms smuggling industry and the Qassam manufacturing industry, and would be trouble waiting to happen.

What apparently triggered the announcements that Israel is considering the "truce" offer were non-remarks by Benjamin Ben Eliezer:

Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer said Friday that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert may consider talks with Hamas on a long-term cease-fire. But, as part of such a deal, Hamas must not only stop the rocket fire, but also cease smuggling arms into the Gaza Strip and open talks for the release of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, captured by Hamas-affiliated militants last year, Ben-Eliezer said.

"The prime minister I know doesn't totally rule anything out," Ben-Eliezer told Israel Radio. "If a serious, realistic proposal is put on the table and Hamas is willing to discuss a long-term cease-fire and is willing to stop the terror, to stop the smugglings and is willing to open talks on the release of Gilad Shalit, I would go to negotiations."

Since Hamas is unlikely to stop smuggling or release Gilad Shalit, there is not likely to be a truce.

According to the quoted in the Jerusalem Post an 'Israeli diplomat' believes that progress in peace negotiations requires that Hamas must be toppled. Moreover:

...there was nothing to signal that Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh might be interested in some kind of truce, adding that Hamas had made it clear that it had no intention of stopping its arms buildup via smuggling from Egypt or stopping terrorist attacks elsewhere.

So if you read Haaretz a truce is being discussed, while if you read Jerusalem Post, no truce was offered. Add to that that Haniyeh may be offering something that is not his to offer. The Qassam rockets are fired mainly by the Islamic Jihad, and not the Hamas. The rockets are in part a reaction to Israeli incursions in the West Bank, which arrest or kill primarily members of Islamic Jihad. The truce would not cover the West Bank, so Islamic Jihad would have no interest in this truce, and Hamas may have no way to enforce it.

The nonexistent truce is much more useful than an actual one, which has many drawbacks and risks. A nonexistent truce or calm allows Hamas to tell the world that it really wants peace. It allows opponents of Israeli action in Gaza to claim that there is an alternative, and that the people of Sderot are suffering for no reason.

The nonexistent truce is the counterpart of the nonexistent Israeli invasion of Gaza. A real invasion, like a real truce, would entail too much risk. Up to a hundred Israeli soldiers could be killed. The hypothetical plan that is contemplated would occupy the Rafiah area and the north for a while and destroy "terrorist infrastructure." As we learned in Lebanon prior to 2000 and in 2006, the problem is that terrorists don't have much infrastructure to destroy. Unless you remain in an area, smuggling routes are quickly reestablished after the IDF leaves, destroyed weapons are resupplied immediately, and everything is soon back to abnormal. At the same time, if Israel does not completely wipe out Hamas, a very improbable outcome of a limited raid, then Hamas will claim a victory. If even five Hamas people are left alive, they can claim that they stood up to the IDF as Hezbollah did in Lebanon.

The non-invasion is much more useful and less risky. It allows Israel to say to the Americans "Look, we are restraining ourselves." It hold a deterrent threat over the heads of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which would make them think twice about launching large rockets, even if they could. And perhaps most important, like the nonexistent truce and the nonexistent Israeli or American invasions of Iran, the nonexistent attack on Gaza gives journalists and bloggers something interesting to write about.

Ami Isseroff

Original content is Copyright by the author 2007

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