Beginning of Change

Rockets launched from the Gaza Strip seen near the border with Gaza, in Southern Israel on July 23,. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Rockets launched from the Gaza Strip seen near the border with Gaza, in Southern Israel on July 23,. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

We nearing the end of the third week of the operation and, even at this point, it is not yet possible to say what almost everyone wants to know: When will this war end? When will a cease-fire be declared? And what will this cease-fire look like? Will it be a clearly defined agreement, or will it just be a laying down of arms in the framework of what is called a “humanitarian cease-fire?”

And when we don’t yet know how the cease-fire will look, it is certainly impossible to know on what note the war will end. All those who talk about the cease-fire that is on the way don’t realize that the chances of such a cease-fire holding are less than 50 percent. The remaining 50 percent is something most people don’t talk about: the possibility that the operation will still expand to even farther-reaching objectives. It’s all open.

As of now, there is no tangible proposal for a cease-fire similar to those we have seen in previous conflicts. There is a proposal for a humanitarian cease-fire. This means that both sides are ready, at a given moment, to stop the forces wherever they are, not to fire further, and concurrently to sit down and to begin to speak about all the clauses that the future cease-fire will include.

Hamas is the one that is interested in doing that right away, because it knows that its fighters are collapsing and are seeking a minute to take a breath of air. They want to contact their families, and perhaps even flee to another hiding place. They want this kind of cease-fire because it will enable them to prepare for the next stage in the battle, which is sure to come. They will be able to detect the location of Israeli forces during the quiet, and then can prepare to attack them once the quiet collapses and the fighting resumes.

It is for all these reasons that Israel does not want a suspension of fighting. There is no doubt that Hamas will take advantage of the stop in action to refresh itself and recover from its blows.

On the other hand, Hamas does not want a full cease-fire, except on its terms — terms that they have no chance in the world of getting. And therefore, the battle continues full speed ahead, until a serious international power will stop it. Who can do it? The Security Council, for example, which is what stopped the Second Lebanon War with a resolution in which it dictated the terms and presented the two sides with finished facts.

When this can happen is not quite clear. How much time do we have until such a decision? No one knows. But there is talk of a cease-fire in the air and, as such, the government is ordering the military to run ahead and do what it can before the stop-fire order comes.

The IDF is primarily busy with tunnels. It is exposing and exploding them. It is trying to strike as many terrorists as it can in its underground operations, is searching out launching sites, both over and under the ground, and is also reaching factories where Hamas manufactured its weapons, mainly in the Saajaiya neighborhood. The results are apparent on two fronts: a decline in the rocket fire to Israel and the large scale destruction of all the infrastructure that Hamas has built upon to carry out their activities.

This stage is not yet over, and the moment has not yet come when someone with enough power has dictated to the sides what to do; there is no doubt that the army will be instructed to move to the next phase of the operation. Then, too, it will not yet mean a total capture of the Strip and destruction of Hamas. There are still stages in between what is being done now and that far-off point of completely overtaking the entire Gaza Strip and going from house to house to flush out all Hamas operatives and their weapons.

Questions such as: Is the army using all its force? Can it not exert more force and aggression to allow it to achieve more in less time? These are questions that many will address after the battles die down, not now.

Hamas had a good opening, from its point of view. Already, very early on, it fired a relatively large number of missiles, including to very distant locations such as Haifa and northwards, the Dan Region, Yerushalayim, Dimona and further south. It sent a drone into the air, tried to dispatch a naval commando unit, and attempted to use tunnels to infiltrate into Israel.

It did all this with the assumption that Israel would be too reluctant to launch a ground offensive. Hamas was afraid of such an offensive, even though they were more prepared than during Cast Lead or Pillar of Defense. Israel took it by surprise and did launch the ground offensive.

Here, too, Hamas did not read the picture correctly. It assumed that even if Israel would enter on the ground, it would want to penetrate deep into the Strip, and prepared itself there to ambush soldiers and vehicles in alleys between buildings in densely populated neighborhood.

Israel did not do that. It chose to exercise its force in the zone between the border and the outskirts of the outlying neighborhoods in Gaza. The exception to this is Saajaiya, which has been mentioned extensively. Hamas fought there very well during the first days of the ground invasion. But when the IDF became more familiar with the region, and brought tanks and other equipment, assisted by intelligence information and powerful air strikes, Hamas took another blow. It lost 250 of its fighters and, some say, the real number is closer to 400. It sent its most elite forces to Saajaiya, an entire brigade of fighters, one of six key Hamas brigades.

But in just a few days, there are hardly any people left in this brigade. Hundreds of its people have been killed or wounded and, in other words, it has been put out of commission. Slowly, the Hamas operatives moved to guerrilla-style attacks from the last generation, firing from afar, which is answered by effective tank fire, followed by the arrival of an aircraft that immediately strikes the target from where they fired at the IDF.

The price that the IDF paid in the first few days of the ground offensive was steep. But senior army officials say it was expected. They estimated that these would be the number of fallen, and mention to all those who have forgotten that on the first day of the Six Day War, the war considered to be Israel’s most successful, 25 soldiers fell in battle.

For the first time, yesterday, Hamas showed signs of slowing down. It is conducting less rocket fire (although there will likely still be days of heavy fire ahead and people should not grow complacent). It is carrying out fewer attacks through tunnels and by sea. There are no more drones, even though the IDF knows that they still have drone capability. Hamas dreamed of closing Israel’s airspace, and was happy when it happened, but was disappointed that it lasted such a short time.

Hamas also had hopes that this war it caused would garner admiration in the Arab world and support in the streets. It wanted to recoup what it has lost in recent years. But it hasn’t happened. Even in Yehudah and Shomron, its allies did not hasten to help out.

At this point, there is talk of a cease-fire. Hamas is asking itself, “What did we accomplish that we can accept a cease-fire now?” But Israel is asking itself a similar question: “Have we achieved enough that we can go to a cease-fire?” And the answer is no. Not yet. We have to continue for as long as possible.

The cease-fire agreement is not here yet but it can come quickly, in hours or a day, if Hamas decides it is better for it. And it is nearing that point. Israel will continue to advance. Meanwhile, it is in the initial stages plus. The IDF has already become accustomed to the Gaza environment and feels that it can reach more goals now, and the government is allowing it to do so. It can advance, but not gallop ahead. They are not yet deep in populated territory. They can expand the airstrikes, and increase artillery fire.

The moment is nearing when Hamas will begin to blink first. Then the question of what the Israeli government wants will arise. It is not sure they want to expand the operation. But something needs to be said: they didn’t want the ground offensive either, and did it. Ultimately, this war has seen so many miracles and there is Someone managing it from Above. We will not be surprised if we will be led to deeper phases. Let us daven that the price we pay should be as low as possible.