Thursday, November 22, 2012

A most Uneasy Truce

by Melanie Phillips

So here we go again.

At 9 pm this evening Israel time, a ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinian terror groups of Gaza came into effect.

At 9.34, a rocket fired from Gaza exploded outside the southern Israel town of Shaar Hanegev, causing no injuries. By 10.01, 12 rockets had been fired into Israel. The Times of Israel reports:
‘Military sources indicate that they would not be surprised if rogue terror cells test the ceasefire in its early phases.’

Well of course. I mean, it's a bit unreasonable, isn't it, to expect ‘rogue terror cells’ to honour a cease-fire – even if they are the very terror cells supposedly party to this agreement.
Except that of course we have been here before. On January 18 2009, Israel’s operation Cast Lead was halted by a ceasefire agreement between Israel and the Hamas. Two days later, residents of a kibbutz near Gaza ran for cover as an air raid siren sounded; an explosion was heard, but the government denied there had been an attack.

On January 28 2009, Hamas fired a rocket towards Sderot, followed by another rocket the following day, and then another at Ashkelon. Following that ceasefire in January 2009, it took almost four years and more than 1000 rockets from Gaza for Israel finally to take action when it started Operation Pillar of Defence last week.

This time, Israelis said to each other, we have to go in and finish the job that was so shamefully left unfinished last time. But now it looks as if history is to repeat itself. Israelis are dismayed; polls suggest that some 70 per cent of them are against this ceasefire. Can it really be that Netanyahu has caved?

The way this cease-fire was reached sounded alarm bells from the get-go. It was brokered by the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, with the driving actor apparently being her protégé the President of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi. 

But Egypt is hardly a neutral actor in this drama. Morsi owes allegiance to the Muslim Brotherhood -- the parent body of the very Hamas that Israel has been fighting. The Brotherhood is pledged to wage both cultural and military jihad upon the west in order to Islamise it. 

It is the mortal enemy of both Israel and the west. Yet the Obama administration, along with the UK and France, actually helped put the Brotherhood into power in Egypt by helping get rid of President Mubarak. Under Morsi, Sinai has been allowed to become a real threat to Israel; in the past week, there were reports that Egypt was doing nothing to prevent jihadis from all over the region from going through Sinai into Gaza to join the war against Israel. In addition, Morsi is cosying up to Iran. 

Indeed, even Obama himself blurted out recently that
‘the U.S. would no longer consider the Egyptian government an ally, “but we don’t consider them an enemy.”’

Hillary Clinton, moreover, has astoundingly expressed her enthusiasm for the Brotherhood as ‘moderates’.  There are also claims (which have been denied in a furious row) that her long time adviser Huma Abedin comes from a family with Brotherhood ties; and also that the State Department has been cosying up to the Brothers in a most alarming fashion. 

In other words, this ceasefire seems to be some kind of nightmarish joke.

At time of writing, the details are still unclear. The text that has been released is absurdly vague. And Netanyahu’s remarks this evening on the cease-fire were also studiously imprecise:
‘In a phone call I had this evening with President Obama, I agreed with him that we should give the cease-fire a chance in order to enable a lull in the situation and allow for the citizens of Israel to return to routine.’

Well, ‘a lull in the situation’ hardly sounds like he envisages this cease-fire is going to last very long. Yet he has agreed to it. Why? Maybe a clue lay in this bit of his speech: 

‘Under these conditions we are required to navigate this ship, the State of Israel, wisely and responsibly while taking into account all considerations – military and political alike. This is what a responsible government does, and it is what we did here: we made use of our military might while applying political considerations.
‘...As Prime Minister, I have the responsibility, and it is the highest responsibility, to make the right steps to ensure our security. That is what I have done and it is what I will continue to do.’

So in deciding how best to ensure the security of Israel, he had to take into account political considerations. That may well imply that, for all his professions of solid support for Israel, Obama had placed him in an impossible position. 

There have been rumours that Obama made the price of his support for a Gaza ground operation acceptance of a Palestine state in much of the West Bank. Whether or not this is so, it is possible that in some way Obama did turn the screws on Netanyahu to force him to accept a clearly unstable and even farcical ceasefire. 

 Maybe in the poker game he is forced to play with Obama, Netanyahu has calculated that the ceasefire won’t hold and then he’ll be justified in going back into Gaza. Or maybe he just bottled out. 

Meanwhile, Hamas is celebrating a victory over Israel. It has not been smashed, it retains several thousand rockets – and unless Iran is dealt with, it will continue to receive ever more accurate and deadly missiles which it will be capable of firing at Israel.

Netanyahu has still left open option of ‘severe military action’. We’ll know in the next few days and weeks whether this is just another empty threat or not – and whether the ‘normal routines’ that Netanyahu envisages now returning for Israel’s citizens will see them back living in those shelters.

Melanie Phillips


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