Operation Pillar of Defence – Some observations

A Channel 2 snap poll showed that 70% of Israelis opposed signing a ceasefire agreement with Hamas. Soldiers on reserve duty lay down on the ground, forming the words “Bibi is a loser” with their bodies, to express their discontent at the Prime Minister’s decision to bring Operation Pillar of Defence to an end.

But there were others who said that Bibi had acted as a statesman and had put political considerations aside. He had rehabilitated relations with President Obama. (The two had conducted no less than four lengthy conversations during the course of the Operation.) Israel would get more F-35 fighter jets than was originally planned and the US would fund additional Iron Dome missile batteries.

However, according to Kadima politician Haim Ramon, both Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman had failed to carry out their pledge following Operation Cast Lead just four years ago that they would topple Hamas when they came to power.

Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, took advantage of the current Operation to take a further swipe at Israel, accusing her of “ethnic cleansing” – a strange allegation coming from a country responsible for the massacre of over a million Armenians and for its denial of rights to its Kurdish minority.

However, it was Egyptian president, Mohammed Morsi, whose stature as a key regional player was most enhanced by his role in negotiating a ceasefire that ended Operation Pillar of Defence. It should be recalled that Hamas was itself an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood party that Morsi now heads. Who would have thought that a man who has refused to speak to Israeli officials or even use the name of the country in his public utterances, would end up being the central figure in bringing about a truce?

No less surprising is the fact that an Israel, which has repeatedly declared its unwillingness to speak to Hamas, which it describes as a terrorist organization, has nevertheless negotiated no less than two separate agreements with it over the past year (remember Shalit?) with Egypt acting as the go-between.

Operation Pillar of Defence has enabled Hamas to sideline Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority as the effective representative of the Palestinian people and thereby strengthened Iran’s standing in the region. It also served to eclipse the relentless civil war in Syria and deflect attention from Iran’s ongoing nuclear programme.

The big surprise of this past week has been the crucial role played by the Iron Dome missile system. Not only did it show that Israel has the ability to defend itself from rocket attacks, but it also enabled us to avoid a ground assault on Gaza that would otherwise inevitably have resulted from public pressure following large scale civilian casualties.

Not only was that a first, but it was also the first time that Palestinian rockets had reached Israel’s densely populated heartland. During Operation Cast Lead all of the Quassam rocket attacks had been directed at Sederot, Ashkelon and the south with only the occasional Grad reaching Ashdod. This time, however, Fadjr 5 rockets developed by Iran had landed in the outskirts of Tel Aviv. That in itself is indicative of the increasing military sophistication of our enemies, who are financed, equipped and trained by Iran.

The current ceasefire is no more than that. There is no resolution of the conflict in sight and Israel lacks a political strategy – if there were one – that would bring the Palestinians to the peace table.

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