by: Yossi Yehushua
Friday, 14 February 2020 | Despite the combative statements made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, Israeli leaders are continuing their efforts to reach a long-term ceasefire arrangement with Gaza’s rulers. Apparently, they’re hoping to reach such an arrangement much sooner than anyone anticipates—before the March 2 general elections.
Netanyahu has recently been hinting at an “unpleasant surprise” that awaits the terror group, while Bennett issued a thinly-veiled threat, warning Hamas’s leaders that they might become the victims of Israel’s targeted killings (following the Israeli assassination of a top commander from Palestinian Islamic Jihad three months ago).
The situation on the ground, however, appears to be somewhat different. In an unusual move, Israeli officials recently gave orders to the military not to respond to the rocket attacks at Israeli communities that border the Hamas-controlled enclave.
The move was done in part to force Hamas to stop launching explosive devices attached to balloons into Israeli territory, and in part to show Israel’s willingness to commit to the potential arrangement.
But Hamas, as it has always done, has failed to deliver. Although there is a slight decline in the number of explosive balloons launched into Israel, the rocket fire continues to disrupt the lives of Israeli civilians living near the border.
Israel cannot renew the overtures to Hamas—increasing the number of permits for workers and merchants to operate outside the Strip or increase the number of nautical miles off the Gaza coast the fishermen can operate in—nor can it allow construction materials to enter the enclave.
Both Netanyahu and Bennett do not want to be seen as giving in to Hamas’s pressure and easing sanctions on the enclave, so quiet along the border will remain elusive until a long-term agreement is reached.
In the meantime, as the national vote is drawing closer, the politicians have begun blaming each other for being responsible for the volatile situation in the Strip.
The recent policy towards Gaza was formulated by IDF [Israel Defense Forces] Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Aviv Kochavi, head of the National Security Council Meir Ben- Shabbat and [PM] Netanyahu himself, in full cooperation and agreement.
Bennett adopted their policy immediately upon his arrival at the defense ministry and no changes—with regards to the manner or severity of Israeli responses to attacks originating in Gaza—have so far been implemented.
The defense minister cannot be blamed for the policy currently in place, but before his appointment he was a harsh critic of those same policies. The view from the defense minister’s office, it appears, allows for a wider perspective.
Bennett is in lockstep with the three decision-makers and raises no objections when more easing of restrictions is suggested.
If calm on the southern border prevails, Israel will be prepared to take further steps to alleviate the harsh conditions imposed on Gaza, but that cannot be the case when civilians are under fire.
As long as the militants in Gaza continue to launch explosives attached to balloons, Israel should use it as an opportunity to inflict pain on Gaza’s rulers by attacking their military assets.
The way things are now, a mere 24 hours of calm can result in more Israeli concessions for Hamas, while the terror group’s endgame remains unclear.
Posted on February 14, 2020
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