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The firing of Qassam rockets and mortars at the communities in the south and the air force bombings of the Gaza Strip are troubling. Two years after Operation Cast Lead the conclusion is that military solutions are able to provide only a temporary reply to a threat whose solution is political.

Of course, there is no dispute that following the operation relative calm followed, which enabled the residents of the south to resume normal lives. However, this quiet course was based on the assumption that Hamas had made a strategic decision not to set the front on fire, in order to avoid the killing and damage to the civilian population of the Gaza Strip and continue ruling the Strip without interruption.

Israel, on the other hand, which did not go through with its intentions to protect the southern communities with advanced and expensive means, is assuming that an extensive military operation could ensure another period of calm.

These are dangerous assumptions, at least as far as Israel is concerned. A military operation in which many Palestinian civilians were killed, and the policy of the brutal siege that continues even after the end of the offensive, have cost Israel very dearly in political terms. This weakened Israel, causing, among others, the break in ties with Turkey, strong criticism from European countries and American involvement that twisted Israel's hand to the point where it had to ease the siege on the Gaza Strip.

Thus, the military solution turned into a double-edged sword which, along with the calm it brought, fatally undermined Israel's international standing. We can assume that another large military operation in the Gaza Strip will not improve Israel's situation, even if it is followed by another pause in the Qassam rocket attacks.

The calm that was achieved during the past two years had been offered to Israel long before Operation Cast Lead. Hamas proposed a tahadiyeh (lull ) in the fighting, and this was actually implemented for a period with relative success. Even now, when escalation on both sides is threatening to deteriorate into another "operation," it is essential to explore other options, including an informal agreement for a long-term cease-fire.

Hamas is not a partner for political negotiations, but when the interest of both sides requires that calm is preserved, and the lessons of Operation Cast Lead are still relevant, it is possible and necessary to stop the deterioration and take action toward such a long-term cease-fire - and also bring to fruition the negotiations for the release of Gilad Shalit.