Deep fears remain over Gaza weapons
Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defence began a week ago with the killing of the Hamas military commander Ahmed Jabari.
Defence minister Ehud Barak set four aims for the campaign: strengthening Israel’s deterrent capability; damaging the rocket launching network; hurting Gaza militant groups; and minimising damage to the home front.
Last night, with reports that a ceasefire was close, officials in Jerusalem naturally played up Israeli achievements during the campaign.
They talked of an agreement that would ensure “at least a year or two of quiet” for residents of the south, with Israeli, American and Egyptian supervision of the truce.
However, there remained a great deal of scepticism among the public.
The fact is that Hamas militants, despite the incessant Israeli bombing, managed to fire large numbers of rockets into Israel each day, and, for the first time, targeted Israel’s largest population centres, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
The bottom line for many Israelis was that not only do many rockets remain in the hands of the militants, but it is doubtful that any peace deal will be able to prevent the smuggling of more weapons into Gaza. The fear remains that once the militants re-arm, another round of violence is just a matter of time, and the one-week military campaign would have achieved little.
Despite the apprehension, Israel has succeeded, to a large degree, in restoring its deterrence. In the first few days of the conflict, Israel took the militants by surprise, demonstrated excellent intelligence and carried out pinpoint strikes on militants, rocket storage sites and launching pads. The campaign had the backing of most Israelis and garnered surprising international support.
Mr Barak said the Israeli air force destroyed most of the militants’ long-range Fajr rockets on day one.
Israel always justified its blockade on Gaza by arguing that such measures were essential to prevent militants bringing in more weapons. Such claims gained credence when the Israeli navy intercepted a number of large ships packed with arms bound for Gaza.
During the ceasefire talks, Israeli representatives showed a certain willingness to ease the economic blockade, but insisted on mechanisms to prevent re-arming.
Israel hopes Egypt will make more robust efforts to clamp down on the hundreds of smuggling tunnels along its 14km border with Gaza.
Yesterday, Tzachi Hanegbi, a close associate of prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and former chair of the Knesset’s foreign affairs and defence committee, said Israel was seeking a ceasefire that would last for years. “We’re done with ceasefires that last one or two weeks,” he said.
These sentiments would be endorsed by not only the beleaguered residents of Israel’s south, but by the majority of the Israeli public.
Only time will tell if operation Pillar of Defence has been successful. If not, the government after January’s general election will again be faced with the Gaza conundrum.