The decision has been made.
The political and military echelons in Yerushalayim have reached the conclusion that in the current round of fighting, Operation Protective Edge, Israel will not attempt to liquidate Hamas, nor even try to bring it to its knees.
For now, Israel will accept the fact that Hamas will remain the ruling entity in Gaza, but it hopes that, at least for now, its wings will be clipped.
Aside from the great risks and uncertainties such an effort would bring, there are many in Israel who believe that Hamas, bruised and battered like it is now, will be better for Israel than whatever alternative regime would have taken its place had Israel decided to try to break Hamas totally by pursuing operatives down into the tunnels.
There is just a five percent chance remaining that, ultimately, Israel will launch a ground operation in Gaza, while it’s 95 percent certain that it will not.
The political echelons have adopted the army viewpoint that the blow dealt to Hamas this time around was severe enough that the organization will want to maintain the ceasefire for now.
But if Hamas will continue firing in the next day or so, and will not display signs of agreeing to a ceasefire, Israel will do what it did not want to do and will order a risky ground operation. That is why the 50,000 reserves who were called up are remaining at the ready. But it is clear that they will not be kept there for too much longer. The decision will be made in the next few hours, and at the latest in the coming day.
The IDF believes that Hamas is beginning to realize the extent of the damage it has sustained. In the last 48 hours, the Palestinian street has changed face and begun to fume — and express that fury at every available opportunity — thus putting senior Hamas leaders under pressure to prevent an Israeli ground operation at all costs.
With this scenario unfolding, compounded by the isolation that Hamas was in even beforehand, and having sustained severe blows and losing extensive assets, Hamas has been battered. It absorbed 1,600 air strikes on selected targets; one and a quarter million tons of bombs were rained upon it. One thousand homes of Hamas operatives and fifty percent of its munitions factories have been destroyed.
While it continues to send rockets deep into Israel, causing Israeli casualties and property damage, between one third and 45 percent of its weapons have been rendered useless. As such, Hamas is eager for a ceasefire, even though it is not saying so in public. But it is making the message clear to those who need to hear it. Hamas operatives in their bunkers are yearning for the moment they can emerge and breathe a bit of fresh air.
Until yesterday, there also weren’t any good mediators who could bring about a ceasefire. Now they are accumulating. Even the Egyptians have gotten deeper into the picture, as has John Kerry. Representatives of the Quartet are active, and the German mediators, with their extensive experience, are already in Yerushalayim.
That being the case, reaching a ceasefire will not be difficult.
Already there are those who are harshly criticizing the government for “not going to the end” and saying again it didn’t “bring Hamas to its knees” or “go in to clean out the stables.” Some will say that in the ensuing situation, sooner or later, another round will have to be played.
But in Israel they have apparently decided otherwise.