Both Right and Left Blast Israel’s Unilateral Gaza Pullout

Hamas has not been defeated and the countdown to the next round of fighting has already begun, one critic says.

Emil Salman

Knesset members on both the right and left have criticized the security cabinet’s decision to start winding down the Gaza offensive without sealing any agreements with Hamas or the international community.

Tourism Minister Uzi Landau called on the government to continue the operation, saying Israel’s military deterrence of Hamas still needed boosting.

“We didn’t achieve the objectives of the operation because we were busy with a secondary threat, the tunnels,” Landau told reporters yesterday. “The main objective we should have addressed is the threat of the missiles and rockets.”

Landau warned that without sufficient deterrence, Hamas could use anti-aircraft missiles or missiles with chemical warheads in the future.

“Israeli deterrence is likely to erode in such a situation,” he said. “You don’t see any other dramatic achievements in this operation, given the price in fatalities we’ve paid.”

Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to bring the troop withdrawal to the entire cabinet for a vote, not just the smaller security cabinet.

MK Danny Danon (Likud) also attacked the security leaders’ decision. “The security cabinet chose the spirit of [Justice Minister] Tzipi Livni and gave the Israel Defense Forces an order to move back. You don’t hesitate against terror, you fight it,” he said.

“Hamas has not been defeated and the countdown to the next round has already begun. Without defeating Hamas we won’t have quiet for the long term. Instead of battling Hamas, the government gave the army an order to retreat. There’s a real concern that full security for the residents of the south has not been achieved.”

The chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Zeev Elkin, has said his panel will thoroughly investigate both the diplomatic failures and the IDF’s mistakes.

“Even if some people won’t be pleased, we’ll make sure the committee handles the investigation objectively and gets to the truth,” Elkin said. “The IDF will investigate itself, but the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee will investigate the various incidents on its own.”

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Labor) was more concerned about the lack of diplomatic efforts; he warned Netanyahu of a diplomatic collapse if the prime minister didn’t ignore his right-wing coalition partners.

“We are in an intermediate stage that’s very complex, and it’s hard to assess the results,” Herzog said. “The tunnel threat is being lifted, but a return to quiet and demilitarization is not assured. To get there we need to finish this diplomatically.”

The campaign in Gaza has created a chance to strengthen Israel’s alliance with the moderate forces in the Arab world and reshape the region with a coalition headed by Egypt and the Palestinian Authority, he said.

“Now is the time for a diplomatic protective edge. If Prime Minister Netanyahu doesn’t exploit this rare hour of opportunity in this area, we will witness another round of violence in the future. There is no long-term military solution without a diplomatic agreement,” he said.

“The Labor Party, headed by me, gave the prime minister a credit line during the military operation, and now, with the withdrawal of IDF forces, the prime minister must display diplomatic courage and pursue a bold diplomatic course, contrary to his right-wing coalition colleagues and his party. We’ve had enough of promises and declarations; it’s time for real action.”

Also on the left, Meretz chief Zahava Gal-On criticized Israel’s decision to boycott the talks in Cairo aimed at reaching an agreement.

“A unilateral pullout without a cease-fire agreement, which also includes a move toward conducting diplomatic negotiations, is a return to Netanyahu’s old strategy: managing a controlled military dispute just to avoid peace negotiations,” she said.

“Instead of strengthening the moderate Palestinian forces and putting pressure on Hamas in the context of negotiations, instead of recognizing that the path to a solution in Gaza runs through Ramallah, the diplomatic path has been rejected and thus Hamas has been strengthened, not weakened.”