A gun in act one
Anyone who claims there is a military solution for pushing back the rocket launchers without a protracted stay in Gaza does not know what he is talking about. But a lengthy presence, even partial, in the Gaza Strip could turn into a copy of the First Lebanon War.
I am not sure why our media and politicians are using the Arabic word tahadiyeh instead of calling the baby by its name. No matter how you look at the agreement taking shape between Israel and Hamas, it boils down to a "truce" in plain English and a "cease-fire" in plainer English. The image that comes to mind is of two boxers in a clinch, leaning on one another, sweaty and exhausted, until the referee comes and pulls them apart.
When one of the founders of Kibbutz Nahal Oz writes a letter to Haaretz saying that "as of now, Hamas is the victor in the western Negev," he is articulating the feelings of many residents of the south. It is hard to digest the idea that a terrorist organization has been shelling Israeli cities for the last seven years, and Israel has been helpless to stop the daily assault on its home front. A cynic might wonder what good our nuclear option is when we cannot even stop primitive rockets from turning the lives of our southern residents into hell.
Israeli security forces have struck Hamas and the inhabitants of Gaza hard, with targeted assassinations and sanctions on food, fuel and electricity. It seemed clear that Israel would embark on a major offensive and go deep into Gaza sooner or later. We have experience in operations on that scale under our belts, although we tend to remember them more for the bloody toll on our side than for any glorious victory. For a regular army to make mincemeat of terrorist gangs is not that easy.
Nevertheless, for the leaders of Hamas, Israel's threat of a major campaign was like waiting for the other shoe to drop. They worried about their loss of support in a besieged Gaza suffering from hunger and physical devastation. The last thing they wanted was for our leaders to go berserk and sic the Israel Defense Forces on them in their eagerness to restore Israel's power of deterrence.
Egypt, fearful of the actions of the Muslim Brotherhood on its own turf, is hardly alone in wanting to see Hamas stopped. At the same time, Israel has rightly weighed the possibility that a major military offensive could fail. There may be detailed blueprints for a Gaza incursion, but the unexpected can happen even with the smartest of plans. It would be enough for one company commander to flub up and turn left instead of right, getting dozens of soldiers killed, to wreck the entire campaign. And with the overcrowding in Gaza, all you need is one girls' school collapsing with everyone inside for the world to insist on an end to the operation before the work is done.
Anyone who claims there is a military solution for pushing back the rocket launchers without a protracted stay in Gaza does not know what he is talking about. But a lengthy presence, even partial, in the Gaza Strip could turn into a copy of the First Lebanon War, where our soldiers became sitting ducks, targets of roadside bombs and ambushes, for 18 years.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak had enough sense not to reject the initiative for a six-month cease-fire out of hand. He is right when he says that Hamas is there and is not going to evaporate. Opponents of the truce worry that if Israel opens the border crossings, the cease-fire will enable Hamas to regroup and tiptoe toward the Hamasization of the whole Gaza Strip. These are formidable dangers, but in principle, even an imperfect calm is better than an imperfect military campaign.
Obviously, a cease-fire does not solve the problem. Hamas will take advantage of it to stockpile arms, but it is doing that anyway. It already has tens of thousands of missiles. On the other hand, Israel will also use the time - to install shelters and other protective measures in front-line communities, and to shore up cities deep inside the country, just in case.
This period of calm will be measured by what the two sides make of it. To the global community, a situation in which Hamas says yes to a lull in hostilities and Israel says no would be incomprehensible. A cease-fire is not a sign of weakness, but of mutual interest. If it holds up, the possibility of it continuing beyond six months is not inconceivable.
Hamas is in trouble: Its leaders are afraid for their lives and afraid of losing the support of the people of Gaza. Israel has its share of troubles, too: It is in desperate need of a government to replace the current one, headed by a prime minister under criminal investigation who can neither make war nor peace without someone suspecting his motives.
If this six-month lull, or cease-fire, holds up, it is certainly possible that the two sides will want to extend it for another "term." At the moment, this is more wishful thinking than anything else. But we are being given an opportunity to chill out and put critical military decisions on hold.
Anton Chekhov had a rule: If you hang a gun on the wall in Act I, you must use it by Act III. That applies beyond the theater. The success of this cease-fire will be determined by whether the gun is allowed to rust peacefully on the wall after the six months are up.