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Right Turn
Posted at 04:55 PM ET, 11/21/2012

A cease-fire — but for how long?

The Post reports: “The Egyptian government announced Wednesday night that Israel and Palestinian leaders in the Gaza strip have agreed to halt hostilities after eight days of Israeli bombardment of the enclave and hundreds of rocket strikes inside Israel. Standing alongside Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who engaged in intensive shuttle diplomacy aimed at ending the conflict, Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Amr told a news conference that the cease-fire would begin at 9 p.m. local time (2 p.m. in Washington).”

However, Hamas is undeterred. (“Despite the agreement, rockets continued to be fired from Gaza into southern Israel after the truce formally began, news services reported.”)

An old Middle East hand told me that this is “much better than a ground war, which as we know from 2008/9 would not have solved the problem either but would have left many dead Israelis and undermined the decent support for Israel, e.g., in Europe. The key in my view now is whether Egypt polices that border between Sinai and Gaza.” Egypt is capable of doing this, he says. “It has always been a matter of will power. In the last six months they [the Egyptians] have closed many tunnels, since some Egyptian police were killed. I assume the Israelis bombed more of them, so there are fewer.”

Josh Block, executive director of the Israel Project, concurs. He e-mails me: “It seems quite clear that Israel delivered a significant blow to the terrorists in Gaza, destroying Hamas and Islamic Jihad’s weapons stores, command and control, and decimating their top leadership, and doing so while safeguarding civilians and enjoying remarkably broad international support. It is true that Iran and Erdogan were outspoken in condemning Israel, but that’s nothing new.” He contends that “Hamas gains nothing. The world clearly blamed them for the violence and these events only reinforce the need to maintain and enhance the measures in place to prevent smuggling of weapons into Gaza.”

This does not mean everyone is sanguine. One Israeli observer points out to me that the agreement has not stopped Hamas from firing more missiles. Moreover, she stresses that the agreement prohibits targeting terrorists and eases border restrictions. “And the worst of all: if either side breaches the agreement, the other side may not respond; it has to appeal to Egypt to intervene.” It is to be expected that Hamas will not abide by these terms and Israel will draw condemnation if it veers (or appears to veer or even if it abides) by the terms of the agreement.

That said, Israel has accomplished some significant military objectives. Israel successfully targeted and killed Hamas’s chief of staff Ahmed Jabari and other prominent Hamas military leaders. It carried out 1,400 airstrikes, eliminated much of Hamas’s Farj 5 missile stash and demonstrated the effectiveness of the Iron Dome.

The “truce” may be one in name only, and Israel will always reserve the right to do what is necessary to prevent Hamas from upping the ante. But Israel plainly does not want to undergo the loss of life, PR disaster and inevitably incomplete results associated with a land invasion. It has seen how this played out once before.

We can only hope that a bit of reality has sunk into the Obama administration that will be instructive.

First, Turkey is a destabilizing and unhelpful player in the region. President Obama will only encourage more of its recent conduct by making a visit. (Trips get “postponed” all the time.)

Second, Egypt is not Egypt of Hosni Mubarak but, kicking and screaming, it was employed to play a constructive role. Obama should follow up with serious discussions about the sticks and carrots that can be wielded depending on future conduct.

Third, far from being impulsive or trigger happy, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu showed exceptional caution when the chips were down. Perhaps he understands that close cooperation with the United States on this is a mild dress rehearsal for the coming standoff with Iran.

Andy McCarthy writes, “With all that is stacked against them, with the perverse way the supposedly civilized world averts its eyes from the unabashed savagery of Israel’s enemies, it is a marvel that Israelis remain so strong and so decent.” He is right, of course, and one can only hope that this has been another eye opener for the president that the “Israeli-Palestinian” conflict is a misnomer. This is an ongoing war between radical jihadists and the civilized world. There are no truces, just preparations for the inevitable battles to come.

By  |  04:55 PM ET, 11/21/2012

 
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