ISRAEL DECLARES CEASEFIRE, VICTORY OVER HAMAS
by Mel Frykberg
The Doctor's Dead Daughters
(IPS) RAMALLAH --
Palestinian civilian died and over a dozen rockets hit southern Israel early Sunday morning just hours after Israel implemented a unilateral ceasefire halting its three-week military incursion into Gaza.
The Israeli Air Force (AIF) carried out several bombing attacks on the northern and southern Gaza strip. Israeli soldiers exchanged gunfire with a number of Palestinian gunmen after the rockets were fired into southern Israel by Palestinian resistance groups after the ceasefire.
Israel had said the truce would comprise two components. First, Israeli troops would remain stationed in Gaza for a period of time to see if Hamas ceased with rocket fire on Israel. If the salvos of missiles stopped the IDF would withdraw from the strip. If, however, Hamas continued with hostilities, the Israeli military would resume operations and the air force would recommence sorties and bombing raids.
Hours before the resumption of violence, UN Secretary-General Bank Ki-moon expressed relief at the announcement of the ceasefire during a summit of top European leaders and the UN in the Egyptian resort of Sharm El Sheikh. Ki-Moon told reporters, "This should be the first step leading to the full withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza." He said he wanted the withdrawal as soon as possible.
The secretary-general also stated that Hamas needed to do its part in bringing an end to the violence by halting rocket attacks on southern Israel. Nevertheless, few expected the ceasefire to last long.
Late Sunday afternoon, Hamas accepted the ceasefire and gave Israel a week to withdraw its troops.
However, Gaza-based Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum warned that Israel's "aggression and the siege which are components of war" were still a provocative element."
Osama Hamadan, a representative of the group in Lebanon, added that if the Israeli military continued its presence in the Gaza Strip, this would initiate further resistance against the occupation forces.
While Hamas was trying to present a tough demeanor and attempting to get the last word in, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was endeavoring to hide his obvious satisfaction at the outcome of the Gaza campaign.
Suppressing a smile, Olmert faced the cameras at a press conference at the Israeli Defence Ministry in Tel Aviv. "We won. The IDF objectives for its operation in the Gaza Strip were obtained in full.
"Hamas was surprised and badly beaten, the government made decisions responsibly and wisely. The IDF's performance was excellent and the southern home front displayed resilience," he told journalists.
While the rupture of the ceasefire surprised few, political pundits and analysts questioned what both protagonists had achieved from the bloody incursion and what plenipotentiary both sides will use to negotiate a path forward.
More than 1,200 Palestinians, at least half of them civilian, are dead, and over 4,500 wounded. Ten Israeli soldiers and three civilians died.
This has been the first bit of political 'good news' for Olmert in a long time. He was forced to resign several months ago on the back of serious allegations of fraud.
Following the Israel-Lebanon war in 2006, Israel's Winograd Commission, which investigated the political and military failures of the war, castigated Olmert for his mismanagement of the war. The IDF suffered substantial casualties in a country highly sensitive to this issue.
In photo-ops at Saturday's press conference, Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak, the main architect of the Gaza military operation and the person behind the two-phase truce, was looking equally smug. Prior to Operation Cast Lead Barak was a political non-entity and the laughing stock of the Israeli public. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, a strong contender for the premier's position in the forthcoming general elections on Feb. 10, meanwhile, has established her 'tough guy' credentials as somebody who won't go soft when it comes to Israel's security.
In the wake of Gaza, the political fortunes of the Israeli war cabinet's troika have risen dramatically as both Livni and Barak jockey for positions of power in the next election.
Israel believes it has achieved several 'successes'. One being the re-establishment of the deterrence factor which had faded considerably at the hands of Lebanese resistance group Hizbullah during the 2006 war. In other words Israel's Arab enemies will think twice before attacking the Jewish state again.
The IDF for its part can look to the successful implementation of military training strategies carried out on the recommendations of the Winograd Commission after its military failures in Lebanon. IDF officers are also proud of the considerable damage they have inflicted on the enemy.
Israel has also successfully highlighted the problem of "illicit arms smuggling." Livni and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice signed an agreement in Washington Friday aimed at halting the smuggling of arms into Gaza from Egypt.
But while Hamas might be badly bruised and bleeding, it is far from broken. The rockets are still coming and the group remains defiant. Furthermore, it has won a modicum of international legitimacy, and a lot of sympathy.
Film clips of Israelis watching the blanket bombing of Gaza from hilltops surrounding the territory, sitting in deckchairs replete with umbrellas and refreshments didn't go down well internationally. Neither did the constant stream of dead and mangled civilians.
Massive demonstrations continue to take place in capital cities around the world. Israel's slick PR machine, known abroad as Hasbara, has switched into top gear to try and counter the damning media reports and pictures which have flooded TV screens globally.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry has dispatched six ministers to urgently address government ministers and the media in overseas capitals over what it sees as the "distorted image" of the Gaza campaign being portrayed there.
In the event of the ceasefire taking hold, Gaza's borders will have to be opened to allow desperately needed humanitarian aid in. Hamas will be able to point to this development as a political success.
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Albion Monitor January
18, 2009 (http://www.albionmonitor.com)
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