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Jan 17, 2009 | 22:30 GMT

4 mins read

Israel, Gaza: A Cease-Fire From The Israeli Side

GALI TIBBON/AFP/Getty Images
After a Jan. 17 Cabinet meeting, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced that Israel would begin a unilateral cease-fire in Gaza at 2 a.m. local time. Olmert’s announcement essentially brings Operation Cast Lead to a close, though the prime minister added that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) will remain in the Gaza Strip until Hamas ceases launching rockets. Israel has achieved many of its military objectives during its three-week offensive against Hamas. The IDF succeeded in taking out a number of high-value targets, including Hamas Interior Minister Said Siam, Hamas commanders Abu Zakaria al-Jamal and Nizar Rayan, as well as a number of alleged Iranian agents operating in the region. A source in Hezbollah claims that Iran is now trying to extract several Iranian rocket experts in Gaza who had been dispatched to assist Hamas in assembling rockets and improving their accuracy and range. The extent of Iranian involvement in Hamas’ operations has already been exposed, but Tehran does not wish to escalate matters with Israel by having to face the danger of Iranian agents potentially being taken prisoner by the IDF. In addition to eliminating key personnel in Hamas’ military wing, the IDF destroyed much of the infrastructure that allowed Hamas to operate in the Gaza Strip. The IDF refrained from going full-force into Gaza City (where Hamas could have dragged the invading forces into a bloody war of attrition) but destroyed a sizable chunk of the group’s rocket arsenal. Though Hamas retains the ability to launch artillery rockets into Israel, its supply is now limited, as evidenced by the declining number of rocket attacks on Israel in recent days. Israel intends to prevent the group from replenishing its supply (with help from Iran and Hezbollah) by setting up security mechanisms with the United States and Europe to better secure the Rafah border crossing between the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula. Details are still being worked out, but Israel and the United States have signed a binding agreement (reviewed by U.S. President-elect Barack Obama and Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton) that will involve technological aid and international experts on combat engineering to monitor Gaza's border with Egypt for tunneling activity. Israeli security sources also have indicated that joint U.S. and Israeli special operations forces could be deployed to the Red Sea to aid in this anti-smuggling effort. Hamas has been cornered and now faces a number of obstacles in getting back on its feet in the wake of Israel's offensive. The group's main struggle will be internal, as severe rifts between the Damascus-based and Gaza-based Hamas leaderships have now resurfaced. While the Gaza-based leadership was getting hammered, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, in close coordination with Iran, dragged out the conflict by refusing to agree to a truce, resulting in a great deal of resentment among many Hamas cadres and rival leaders. With the new security measures in place, it will be difficult for Hamas to restore its tunneling networks and resupply its rocket arsenal enough to seriously threaten Israel. And with the majority of Arab regimes content to see Hamas contained, Iran testing the waters for reopening negotiations with the incoming U.S. administration, and Syria looking to revitalize peace talks with Israel, Hamas’ external support is becoming increasingly unreliable. Olmert followed his cease-fire declaration with a pledge to wrap up the operation before Obama comes into office, allowing the incoming U.S. administration a bit more leeway in tackling the scores of foreign policy challenges that lie ahead. Meanwhile, Israel can now afford to look ahead to elections, due in February. After this military operation, the ruling Kadima party, under Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, is now in a more favorable position to compete with Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right Likud party for the country’s leadership.

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