For Israel, the rules in Gaza have now changed
By: Ron Ben-Yishai/Ynetnews/08.02.14,
Given that Hamas deliberately violated the ceasefire in order to kidnap a soldier, Israel cannot unilaterally end the fighting now without delivering Hamas a victory.
Assuming it becomes clear beyond any doubt that Second Lt. Hadar Goldin has indeed been kidnapped, it would be a development that requires not only the army, but the government as well, to devise a new policy vis-a-vis the Gaza Strip.Before dealing with the long-term repercussions, there is the current phase in which most of the operational and intelligence efforts are devoted to locating the Givati officer, or at least prevent him being taken out of the reach of the IDF in the Gaza Strip. Heavy artillery bombardment on the eastern outskirts of Rafah was aimed at pinning the terrorists in place and preventing the possibility of them leaving the area with Goldin.
At the same time, efforts are being made to locate the missing soldier and the force that might have taken him. It is quite clear that the coming days are critical. After that, the intelligence dwindles and the ability to locate and free the abducted soldier diminishes. These hours are the golden hours and the IDF and Shin Bet will do their best to obtain the “golden knowledge” in order to make sure Israel doesn’t have another Gilad Shalit on its hands, or to verify that the suspected kidnap victim is no longer alive – which makes it easier, no matter how painful that might be.
Israel fears that the terrorists who kidnapped Goldin are probably already in hiding. It is also very possible that the kidnappers have not yet made contact with their commanders, due to the intensive activity of the IDF ground troops, and it is perhaps for this reason that Hamas has not yet announced that it has him in its hands. And perhaps, and this is faint hope, the soldier is not in their hands, but was lost in the massive explosion that preceded the kidnapping attempt and led to the tragic consequences of Friday. The sole testimony from Hamas is from the deputy head of the organization’s political wing, sitting in Egypt and claiming that Hamas seized an Israeli soldier in clashes before the ceasefire.
This is a blatant lie. It was at around 9:30 am that we first heard about an incident involving Givati troops in a nearby area. As is established, the ceasefire began at 8 am. Palestinian civilians began to close in on areas where IDF troops were located, in order to take advantage of the humanitarian ceasefire to gather possessions, or see what happened to their homes. At this point, as the civilians began to approach the soldiers, there was an attack on a Givati force that resulted in the officer’s disappearance.
The civilians of Rafah, hit in the bombardment, are truly the victims of Hamas. They trusted the group’s declaration of a ceasefire, took to the streets, and got caught up in the fighting which was started by Hamas, without anyone warning them or preparing them in advance.
There are two serious aspects to this incident. Firstly, the pre-planned, intentional violation of the ceasefire, most likely to finally grant Hamas its long-sought “image of victory”. The group apparently agreed to a ceasefire so that it could carry out the kidnapping attempt. It is also possible to draw this conclusion from the fact that Hamas, despite its announcement to the contrary, had not on Friday morning sent its negotiators to talks in Egypt. The Hamas leadership apparently knew in advance that the ceasefire would be violated, because it would be responsible for the violation, and therefore did not bother to dispatch anyone to Cairo.
The other serious fact is that actual the violation of the ceasefire and the abduction incident indicates that Hamas has every intention of continuing to fight. It would be fair to assume that Hamas would now be satisfied with a bargaining chip, and thus try to return to the process of a political settlement, or perhaps even seek the release of the prisoners freed as part of the 2011 Shalit deal and rearrested after the abduction of the Israeli teens in June. Their re-incarceration was a bitter blow for Hamas.
But Hamas is willing to fight, and Israel cannot allow it to negotiate from a position of power while probably holding a captive. The conclusion is that the IDF will have to expand the fighting, at least in the area where Goldin had last been, with the objective of rescuing him, and with the objective of placing equal pressure on Hamas and its leadership – initially to provide information and then to get the officer, if possible.
The options that lay before the Cabinet have changed abruptly. The option of a unilateral end to the fighting without a ceasefire agreement is off the table. Completing the destruction of the tunnels and exiting unilaterally while Hamas has a captive is a retreat under pressure – in other words, a strategic military victory for Hamas, even though the tunnels would have been destroyed.
Another option is to continue with forces in same areas of the Gaza Strip, with ongoing aerial and artillery assaults, until Hamas delivers information about the soldier. This option is also not recommended, as it leaves troops in the heart of built-up Palestinian areas, and therefore vulnerable to more kidnapping attempts.
A third option is movement and rapid fire from ground forces at specific targets that would put strong pressure on Hamas and the Gazan population. Perhaps a combination of crushing aerial and artillery attacks and rapid movement by Armored Corps combat teams may push Hamas off balance.The Cabinet will also have to decide whether to send the Israeli envoys to continue negotiations in Egypt, or announce that until Hamas does provides information about the missing soldier or says definitively that it does not have him, Israel is not willing to enter any negotiations.