Try a truce first
Because of both the domestic Israeli consideration and the Egyptian consideration, it is clear to Ehud Barak that the Israeli leadership had to try the truce before opening fire.
Why a truce? Defense Minister Ehud Barak has answers that are not simple but are clear. When he observes the Middle Eastern reality through the window of his home in a Tel Aviv skyscraper, it is clear to him that the situation on the Gaza border requires a decision: an agreement or an operation. Apparently, in the end there will be no getting around an operation. Israel and Hamas are on a collision course.
However, since the repercussions of an operation could be grave, it is necessary first to try the other alternative - so that every mother liable to lose her son in the Gaza alleyways will know. So that every civilian in the Gaza envelope liable to get hit during the fighting with Hamas will know. So that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak will know that Israel did not choose a military move, which the Egyptians fear, before giving a chance to the diplomatic move they initiated.
Because of both the domestic Israeli consideration and the Egyptian consideration, it is clear to Barak that the Israeli leadership had to try the truce before opening fire.
Will the truce hold up? The likelihood that six months from now there will be calm in the South is slim. There is always the possibility that an accident will happen and the experiment will succeed. But the working assumption is that the truce will collapse. Perhaps within months, perhaps within weeks. And even if this happens, Israel will have lost nothing by acceding to the Egyptian initiative. It has not recognized Hamas and it has not created an irreversible reality. It has maintained its freedom of action in Judea and Samaria and it has created linkage between opening the crossing points and stopping the smuggling. It has ensured serious negotiations in the matter of captured soldier Gilad Shalit, which are liable to obligate the government to make difficult decisions in the very near future.
Ehud Barak has no doubt: A sober, objective and deep analysis of the situation necessitates a truce first. Truce before action, arrangement before attack. However, the former prime minister is troubled because many of his colleagues in the leadership do not understand the obvious. In his eyes, Israel is currently a place where the obvious is being crushed. The public discourse is shallow, as though crushed by a steamroller. The media coverage is sometimes influenced by petty personal considerations. And people in the government can be diagnosed with Second Lebanon War syndrome: a lack of seriousness, a lack of responsibility, fault-finding.
Where is the seriousness of Yaakov Shimson Shapira? Barak is asking himself. Where is the good sense of Victor Shem-Tov? If the defense minister and the chief of staff had not insisted on their opinions in recent weeks, Israel would already have found itself in Gaza. The government would have embroiled itself in another hasty military adventure with no achievable goal.
The 2006 war is still burning in Barak's bones. He sees it as the worst Israeli failure of recent decades. The government did not want to go to war, it did not intend to go to war and it did not even know it was going to war. In retrospect it told itself that its aim had been to block the strengthening of Hezbollah, which had increased from 7,000 to 14,000 rockets during six years of quiet in the Galilee. But in the two years since the war, Hezbollah has expanded to 40,000 rockets that can reach as far as Yeruham, Arad and Dimona and are capable of hitting 97 percent of the Israeli population. The achievements of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701 have been eradicated and Hassan Nasrallah has accumulated significant political power in Lebanon.
Nevertheless, some of those who embarked on the war still believe that it was a stunning success. They have not internalized the failures, they have not done an accounting and they have even learned from the Winograd Report that the military is to blame, not the government. So they are prepared to implement in the South that same superficial way of thinking that failed in the North. If it works, they will have succeeded. If it doesn't work, it will turn out that the problem is with the reality and not with the way they managed that war.
Barak will not admit this, but he is alone. The strategic reality is challenging: Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and two sensitive and complicated diplomatic processes. The coming years will be among the most important in the state's history. But what is really bothering the defense minister is the way politics here and the media are conducting themselves regarding these challenges. In his opinion, at a time when the defense establishment is doing impressive work, the political-media establishment is engaged in manipulations and vanities. It is making things very difficult for the two responsible adults bearing the entire burden: Barak and Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi.
The reality that surrounds us, Barak is thinking, does not permit us to behave as though we are participating in a reality show. To deal with what we are capable of dealing with, it is necessary to return to the essence of things. It is necessary to return to the basic values of leadership: integrity, courage, matter-of-factness and seriousness.