Hamas' Refusal Of Ceasefire Eludes Israelis: Netanyahu's Greatest Blunder Underestimation Of Hamas
18 July 2014
By Meron Rapoport
One of the most famous pictures from the first Israeli
war against Lebanon in 1982 shows Ariel Sharon, then
defence minister, waving his hand as he greets an
Israeli armoured personnel carrier crossing the
border. Similar pictures and videos appeared in
Israeli and international media at the beginning and
during the second war against Lebanon, 24 years later.
The entrance of Israeli tanks and soldiers into Gaza
at 8:00pm last night, however, was not celebrated by
the Israeli media.
Only blurred pictures, taken by military
night-cameras, showed them crossing the fence, which
serves as a border between Israel and the Gaza Strip.
Israel is in no hurry to show its own people and the
world what the much awaited and feared ground
operation looks like.
Certainly, Israel poured large forces into the Gaza
Strip, especially into areas north and east of Gaza
City. Areas east of Rafah meanwhile came under heavy
bombardment and shelling from the air and ground.
The Israeli army claims that it already discovered at
least ten tunnel shafts leading from Gaza into Israel,
and that clashes took place at those points of entry
between Israeli forces and Palestinian fighters. One
Israeli soldier was killed (although it is still
possible he was hit by "friendly fire") according to
the same Israeli reports. At the same time, a dozen
Palestinian fighters were killed and another dozen
With clouds of battle hovering over Gaza, it is
difficult to have a clear view, although it is
probably fair to say that the Israeli military
operation has been quite limited so far. It hasn't yet
reached the urban areas of Gaza City, one of the most
densely populated places in the world, where
casualties are likely to be highest.
If Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was told
more than a month ago, right after the kidnapping of
the three Israeli settlers that the massive arrest
campaign against (mostly) Hamas activists in the West
Bank would lead to a ground operation in Gaza, he
would have probably chosen another way to react. But
things got out of hand. The brutal killing of the
Palestinian youngster, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, in Shuafat
led to violent demonstrations in East Jerusalem, as
well as Palestinian villages and cities inside Israel.
These eruptions augmented tensions all over the
While this likely prompted some rash decisions to be
made, Israel's greatest blunder has been its
underestimation of Hamas' reaction to Israeli actions
in the West Bank.
Israel didn't expect Hamas to start launching rockets
from Gaza. It certainly did not expect the massive
rocket attack which followed after Israel reacted, and
it surely did not expect Hamas to flatly refuse the
Egyptian offer of a ceasefire. According to the
Israeli understanding, after more than one week of
heavy bombardment, Hamas was supposed to be beaten and
deterred, begging the Israelis to stop. Instead, it
continued firing rockets into Israeli cities as far
north as Haifa, even setting its own conditions for a
ceasefire. Those conditions included an end the
Israeli (and Egyptian) blockade of Gaza, the release
of Hamas prisoners, and also allowing Gazans to pray
in al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.
Netanyahu, already pressured by his outspoken
right-wing opposition in the government - as well as
large parts of the media - was not able to accept
these "humiliating" conditions. The army - which was
also a target of internal criticism concerning its
reluctance to use its huge force against Hamas and
which was feeling frustrated by the apparent "deuce"
between Israeli air strikes and Hamas' rockets - also
feared that accepting Hamas's conditions would serve
as an icon of victory by the group.
With the aerial campaign running out of targets, and
after the killing four Palestinian children on Gaza
beach, there was concern that intensified shelling
might only further taint Israel's international image,
without giving concrete results.
The reportedly failed Hamas attempt to infiltrate
Israel through a tunnel yesterday morning, gave
Netanyahu and the army exactly what they needed, a
well-defined and limited target and the discovering
and destruction of all tunnels leading from Gaza into
Achieving this target would satisfy the majority of
the Israeli public, without raising too many fears
about a long and bloody stalemate in Gaza. Such an
operation would require Israel to enter no more than
three kilometres into Palestinian territory, without
really going into the densely populated areas. True,
in order to destroy the rocket launchers, Israel would
have to enter much further, but the risks would also
be much higher.
However, there may be another reason for the limited
scope of this military ground operation. Despite the
public mood in favour of a "thorough response" to
Hamas, it seems that Netanyahu and the army are still
waiting for an early ceasefire.
Hamas has rejected the Egyptian offer and has turned
to the Turkish-Qatar channel, which seems much less
favourable to Israel. With a limited ground operation,
openly supported by the United States and silently
supported by others, including Arab countries like
Egypt and Saudi Arabia, Israel hopes to pressure Hamas
to agree to a ceasefire on the lines of the Egyptian
offer, maybe with additional powers given to President
Abbas in the Gaza Strip, something which Netanyahu was
reluctant to do so far.
But there is always a fear that such a ceasefire will
not be achieved and this "limited" operation will
spill over. Then we will find ourselves in a totally
new game that no one – neither Israel, nor Hamas, the
Palestinian Authority and Egypt nor anyone else – will
be able predict the outcome.
- Meron Rapoportis an Israeli journalist and
writer, winner of the Napoli International Prize for
Journalism for a inquiry about the stealing of olive
trees from their Palestinian owners. He is ex-head of
the News Department in Haaertz, and now an independent