As desperate diplomats still angle for a truce.
Tuesday, by the evening, had been the roughest day so far for Israel since launching Operation Pillar of Defense against Gazan terror last Wednesday.
A soldier and a civilian were killed by fire from Gaza. A rocket with a heavy warhead hit and severely damaged a building in the city of Rishon Lezion near Tel Aviv, causing injuries and panic attacks. Another person was injured when a rocket hit a building in the coastal city of Ashkelon not far from Gaza. Two more rockets were fired at Jerusalem but missed the target considerably.
Altogether about 140 rockets had been fired by evening. On a personal note, my city of Beersheva (25 miles from Gaza) was startled awake in the morning by a salvo of rockets; about 20 hit the city in the morning, damaging a home and vehicles, and the fire continued in the afternoon and evening.
While the celebrated Iron Dome kept downing projectiles launched during the day, Israelis were reminded that no defense is good enough to seal the skies hermetically. By evening Israeli forces had unleashed heavy fire on terror targets in Gaza.
Later in the evening it was reported that an Israeli woman in the West Bank was seriously injured in a terror attack.
But it was also a day of frenetic diplomatic activity, with the international big hitters all converging on the same goal: a ceasefire, warding off a possible Israeli invasion of Gaza.
German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle paid a visit, as did UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. President Obama reportedly worked the phones to Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi and Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu till late at night from Cambodia. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was dispatched to the Middle East; a commentator on Israel’s Channel 2 TV called it “an antitank missile against an Israeli ground operation in Gaza.”
The most reliable reports said Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak were, for their part, hoping as well to avoid a ground operation. With Israeli elections coming up in two months, a Gaza campaign that goes wrong—costing too many soldiers’ lives and/or not achieving enough—would be a liability. An international climate almost totally inimical to such a campaign is also not encouraging, though the New York Times reported that, according to U.S. deputy national security adviser Benjamin Rhodes, “Obama had not asked…Netanyahu to hold off a ground incursion into Gaza.”
Rumors were flying about a temporary truce to be declared in Cairo that, if it held, would turn into a longer ceasefire. Former Obama adviser Dennis Ross claimedMorsi was eager to help guarantee such a deal because an Israeli invasion of Gaza would spark heavy popular pressure on him to scrap Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel—a treaty that enables Egypt to get cash infusions for an economy on the verge of collapse.
For many Israeli citizens, talk of a ceasefire evoked bitterness amid the ongoing rocket sirens, the disruption of normal life, the casualties and wreckage. Military analyst Yoav Limor gave a more upbeat assessment, claiming that
if the international community manages to broker a ceasefire, its breach, whether by Hamas or some other group that fires rockets on Israel, will have broken a promise made toward the West and the Arab world, creating legitimacy for Israeli action.
In other words, the unofficial truce that appears to be in the works in Cairo will serve as the foundation for the next IDF campaign. The agreement will try to make it very hard for terrorists to act against Israel from the Gaza Strip and will provide Israel with significant international backing.
This is, of course, disputable, considering that similar undertakings were made after the 2008-09 Gaza War, including talk of the international community putting a stop to the smuggling of Iranian weapons into Gaza—claims that can only arouse derision four years later as Gazan rockets reach Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
More likely is that such a ceasefire would remove legitimacy within Israel for any further passivity once the inevitable breaches begin, compelling the government to finally take decisive action.
And the other possibility is that no such deal will be reached and, in the coming days, the Israeli ground forces now massing and training at the Gaza border will go into the Strip. At least in southern Israel if not in the country in general, it’s what most of us want.
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