Monday, August 22, 2011

Yoav Limor/ Israel's restraint - Focusing on the bigger picture

(Yoav limor-Israelhayom).Israel has decided to swallow its pride and refrain from a forceful response to the rocket fire from Gaza out of a desire to serve two broader interests: stability ahead of the upcoming Palestinian declaration of statehood in September and maintaining the peace with Egypt.

This decision was made possible by a successful Egyptian effort to recruit support for a cease-fire on the Palestinian side. In intense talks with Hamas, it was decided that all factions would cease firing upon Israel and adhere to the agreement, on the condition that Israel hold its fire as well. The barrages fired Sunday night [around the time that the cease-fire went into effect at 9 p.m.] were apparently an attempt by the Popular Resistance Committees to have the last word, and nothing more than that. If no dramatic change takes place, we will move toward calm.

Not everyone in Israel supported the decision to not respond harshly to the deadly rocket fire on Beersheba over the weekend. In the defense establishment and in the Forum of Eight senior ministers, some were of the opinion that a forceful response against Hamas was necessary to make it clear that they had crossed several red lines. In the end, Israel decided to go with a moderate response, with minor attacks on two abandoned positions, in order to keep further escalation at bay.

The main reason for this move is the upcoming bid for Palestinian statehood at the U.N. in September, as well as the concern that a massive clash in Gaza would increase international support for a Palestinian state, while uniting the West Bank and Gaza (and Fatah and Hamas) in a defensive effort against an Israeli attack. The declaration from the Spanish foreign minister, Trinidad Jimenez, on Sunday night that she will attempt to persuade her Western European colleagues to support the establishment of a Palestinian state was a sign of what's to come.

Another reason is Egypt. The past few days have exposed the gap between two different Cairos: the declarative and the productive. While Cairo openly protests and condemns, threatens to return its Israeli ambassador and demands an apology for the killing of its people, privately it agrees to meet with the head of the IDF Planning Directorate, mediates between Israel and the Palestinians, continues to act against al-Qaida and agrees to a joint investigation with Israel of the terrorist attacks last week in Eilat.

Israel feared that an escalation in the south would strengthen radical elements in Egypt, while constricting the more pragmatic elements who wish to continue to defend the peace treaty.

For these reasons and others, Israel decided to act with restraint, even though it meant feeling as though we did not win this round. One hopes that, despite this, Israel's deterrence remains sufficiently strong, because otherwise we will find ourselves facing a flood of events that will exploit the chaos in Egypt and the events of September in an attempt to challenge Israel. Israel, for its part, will be forced to continue using its head, and not its gut, to make wise decisions, as its regional and international leeway continue to shrink.