The Foreign Ministry has created a special task force to prepare for the aftermath of the Israel Defense Forces' Gaza operation. The team will submit proposals for two of the army's main concerns - Iran and Hamas taking control of Gaza's postwar reconstruction, and the harm the offensive might cause to Israel's image abroad.
One of the task force's missions is to draft recommendations for the Strip's rehabilitation. The ministry hopes to avoid a situation similar to the one in southern Lebanon after the 2006 Second Lebanon War. There, Iran sent hundreds of millions of dollars to Hezbollah to transfer to families whose homes had been destroyed, burnishing the militant group's reputation among the population.
The goal is to allow the Palestinian Authority, as well as Arab and international entities, to lead reconstruction efforts and funding, taking credit for Gaza's rehabilitation in place of Hamas or Iran.
The task force will also be charged with repairing damage to Israel's image abroad as a result of the Gaza operation. The working assumption is that Israel has suffered a blow to its image in the West in the wake of heavy civilian casualties in the Strip.
Israeli officials believe after the fighting stops and foreign journalists are allowed entry into the territory that negative sentiment toward Israel will only grow as the full picture of destruction emerges.
The task force's preliminary recommendations highlight the need for Israel to project two kinds of messages abroad. The Arab world must receive a deterrent message indicating Israel will not accept a reality in which its civilians have to endure rocket fire.
The Western world, however, must be presented with the message that despite the scale of destruction rained on Gaza, Israel is a democratic state with a similar worldview to countries in Europe and the United States.
Still, Foreign Ministry officials are convinced that these public relations efforts will not suffice to restore Israel's image and will need to be backed up by diplomatic progress with the Palestinians.
Meanwhile, Israel is redoubling efforts to transfer humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip and hopes to continue participating in aid transfer after the hostilities end and to participate in Gaza's reconstruction. To this end, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has appointed Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog as government coordinator between Israeli and Palestinian aid agencies.
Wednesday, Herzog convened the first meeting in his new capacity with representatives of the Foreign Ministry, other government ministries and the IDF. Today he will meet with the secretary general of the UN, Ban Ki-moon, and the head of the International Red Cross, to hear their requests on humanitarian issues.
The government is also reviewing several ideas for increasing assistance to the Palestinian civilian population, including allowing more Palestinians wounded by military strikes to Israeli hospitals and setting up field hospitals in Gaza. The Palestinian Health Ministry has expressed tentative support for this.