The long wait, for Gazans and Israelis
Israel is not thinking of reoccupying the Gaza Strip, but every day of waiting for news from Cairo could weaken what Israel achieved at the beginning of the operation and increase the risk of a disaster in which innocent people are hurt.
It was another day of waiting in the Gaza Strip. While Israeli envoys held indirect discussions in Cairo on a cease-fire with Hamas through the Egyptians, the Israel Defense Forces continued pounding targets in Gaza, killing more than 20 Palestinians.
Throughout the Negev, tens of thousands of regular and reserve soldiers also waited with growing trepidation for the government to decide whether they were going into the Strip or not.
On the sixth day of Operation Pillar of Defense, answers have yet to be given. The reports from Cairo are relatively optimistic, but partial. Apparently some progress has been made. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's visit to the region may help to achieve further restraint, beyond the time limit set by Israel.
The mediators' goal is to reach a general cease-fire agreement first and discuss more detailed terms later. If no agreement is made, Israel is threatening a ground invasion into Gaza within a day or two.
The relatively good news Monday was the reduction in rocket fire to the south for the second day running. This could reflect the growing difficulty experienced by the Palestinian factions in launching rockets systematically, due to Israeli air strikes on their launching teams. Many of the rockets being launched now have a range of less than 20 kilometers.
IDF officers now assume the Palestinians have lost at least a third of their 40-kilometer-range rockets, after most of their 75-kilometer rockets had already been destroyed. Despite this, Monday evening rocket fire increased, shortly after a senior Islamic Jihad official was assassinated.
As part of its threat on Gaza, the IDF Monday released pictures of Chief of Staff Benny Gantz visiting the training units in the south. A senior officer told reporters the forces are ready for action.
When the offensive ends there will be time to find out exactly how this operation blew up into the devastating war machine with which the government is now threatening the other side. However, the mass of forces captured on camera is an important element of the psychological pressure on Hamas. There is still time to decide on a limited move of sending only the best-trained forces into Gaza.
But the long wait goes against one of the most significant lessons the IDF learned in the Second Lebanon War in 2006. Senior officers stressed the importance of shortening the round of fighting. Waiting around is to be avoided. Once you decide on an operation, you need an intense show of power followed by continuous action.
This time around, the IDF predicted that prolonging the waiting without achieving the desired goals would lead to international pressure on Israel. And on top of that, since the terror organizations are not partner to a written agreement, an arrangement at the end of the fighting would be indirect and unofficial, with the deterrence element especially important.
But what is happening on the border of the Gaza Strip now is the opposite of that: Israel is returning to the waiting periods of the Second Lebanon War. The waiting seems to be undermining the operation's achievements. The IDF says all the right things between wars, but when the next round comes, it finds the other players - Hamas and, no less, the Israeli government - aren't willing to stick to the script.
The political hesitation is based on the fear of fatalities. The leaders' nightmare is that the victorious picture of the assassination of Hamas' military chief Ahmed Jabari will be replaced by a series of military funerals in Israel. At present, the government is undecided.
Israel is not thinking of reoccupying the Gaza Strip. Its leaders are talking about smaller moves that would seem to make Hamas pay a higher price. But every day of waiting for news from Cairo could weaken what Israel achieved at the beginning of the operation and increase the risk of a disaster in which innocent people are hurt.