Tuesday, January 13, 2009

War With Hamas: Day 18 - "Let's Eat!"

The old joke about the root of all Jewish holidays is, “They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat.” According to Dr. Guy Bechor, an expert in Arab affairs, Israel has won the war with Hamas, all that remains now is the diplomatic victory. Bechor believes that Hezbollah, whom he calls Hamas’ mentor, is disappointed with the Hamas failure. But he says that Hamas should learn from Hezbollah, and agree to a UN force in the Gaza Strip.

Bachor says that neither Egypt nor Turkey should be used as moderators since both have vested interests. Only an international force that patrols the strip, keeps Hamas from firing rockets, and uncovers Hamas tunnels, will be an effective solution.

He is also in favor of closing the crossings from Israel into Egypt. “What country feeds its enemies?” he asks. He also states that the return of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit should be one of the terms of the cease-fire. Some soldiers interviewed in the media say that freeing Galit is one of their goals.

Hamas Prime Minister Hanniyah spoke for twenty-minutes yesterday from his hiding place. He was adamant that Hamas would not surrender, but left open cease-fire offers. This was in opposition to the hard-line stance taken by Hamas leaders who are headquartered in Damascus, Syria. Israel’s media reports that Hamas leaders have gone to Egypt again to meet with Egyptian leader Mubarak. Yesterday EU Middle East envoy Tony Blair, former Prime Minister of England, met with Mubarak in an effort to bring about a cease-fire.

Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the IDF will continue fighting in Gaza but at the same time Israel will look for a diplomatic solution. Chief-of-Staff Gabi Ashkenazi criticized Hamas’ cynical use of civilians as human shields. Israel’s cabinet today decided not to expand the fighting to stage three, but to keep the pressure up on Hamas until they agreed to a cease-fire. A member of the cabinet, Minister of Justice Daniel Friedman told the press that the release of Gilad Shalit had to be part of any cease-fire agreement.

Israel’s media reports that Israeli soldiers are approaching Gaza City. Fierce fighting has been reported between Israel and Hamas fighters. Yesterday a paratroop officer who was only recently married, was critically wounded in Gaza City when his squad entered a booby-trapped house. Two other soldiers were injured in the incursion. Reportedly twenty Hamas fighters were killed in exchanges.

Former General Danny Rubenstein joined a chorus of former generals warning that Israel has won the war, so far, but a mistake by the army, or a significant blast by Hamas, could change the rosy perspective. Like others he was in favor of saying Israel won and calling a cease-fire.

Hamas continued firing rockets into Israel, although in decreasing numbers. Fourteen fell on Israel by late afternoon, one punching a hole in “an educational institution.” On Monday about twenty missiles fell in Israel, compared to the nearly 100 at the start of the operation. Israeli security sources warn that Hamas may try to fire deep into Israel in a hail of rockets as the cease-fire draws closer so that Hamas can claim a victory when the leaders emerge from their safe bunkers.

“Give it to them in Arabic,” said Jackie, the barber, originally from North Africa, referring to the damage Israel is inflicting on Gaza. “That’s the only language they understand.” Jackie was one of the vast majority in Israel in favor of the war. A recent survey showed most Israelis thought that however horrific this war was justified. “If Hamas wants to use children, schools, mosques, hospitals, civilians as human shields, they’re guilty for the deaths. We have to protect ourselves. Can you imagine another country that would allow rockets on its people for years?”

One of Israel’s best-known authors, left-wing writer A.B.Yoshua, supported this view. He told a French reporter, “Can you imagine Paris struck by a missile fired from Belgium, and France not responding, even if all that happened were windows on the Champs Elysees were broken?”

Reportedly calls went out to Peace Now activists to sit out this operation. Few Jewish Israelis have demonstrated against the action in Gaza.

Jackie shook his head, “Why does this happen? What do they want from us? Why can’t they leave us alone?” His wife nodded agreement. “And can you imagine, during the day the air force bombs Gaza and in the evening helicopters take out wounded Gazans to Israeli hospitals? Only us. Dumb Jews.”

When told that a ship carrying humanitarian aid, doctors, and sixteen journalists, including crews from CNN and Sky news, Jackie said, “Who needs them? All they do is show how bad we are. They never show what we’re going through. Let them stay out. Who needs a televised war? We had that with the War in Lebanon. Everyone became a TV star and we lost the war. Now we’ve got a good Chief-of-Staff who knows his job, a good Minister of Defense who is doing a good job. Let them do what they have to do. This can’t go on.”

According to Dr. Bachor, Hezbollah thought Israel was a spider web that could be easily broken, that Israelis had lost the will to fight, had grown lazy and indolent. But both Hamas and Hezbollah found, said Bachor, that contrary to the way Israel fought the War in Lebanon II, the Israeli army has the will to win, and the will to inflict enough damage to win, a major change from the way Israel fought the War in Lebanon II.

Many of the soldiers interviewed on TV and radio, and in the press, are from the towns hit by the rockets. For them this conflict wasn’t abstract, but personal. This was about protecting their families, and their homes from rocket attacks. About survival. One pundit said the Israeli army once again showed it can be fierce and win. Others say this determination has brought back a deterrent capacity that the Arab neighbors can no longer ignore.