No Ceasefire? So the Gaza-Israel War Will Go On and On in Bloody Stalemate?

[The following analysis was written by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon (the updated history of Israeli security and intelligence agencies including the Mossad) for the website of the private TV news service broadcasting from Israel,]

On day 17 of the war in Gaza – the danger of a military and political stalemate is growing.

US Secretary of State John Kerry followed UN Secretary General Ban Ki Mon and left Israel after talks in Cairo and Jerusalem on an end to the fighting with Hamas brought no results. Hamas chairman Khaled Mashal is dragging his heels and rejects any ceasefire before his conditions – one can say pre-conditions – are met. Hamas’s major demand is a lifting of the eight-year siege imposed by Israel on Gaza

On the military front, both sides are exhausted and the campaign is turning into a static war, a type of war of attrition which bears more similarities to the Second Lebanon War of 2006 against Hezbollah than the two previous Israeli campaigns in Gaza in 2008-9 and 2012.

The resemblance is evident in the alarming numbers of casualties among Palestinian civilians and Israeli soldiers, but also in Hamas’s well trained combat strategies and infiltration attempts into Israel.

The war in Lebanon lasted 33 days and resulted in 1,100 Lebanese dead – 60% of them Hezbollah combatants – and 121 dead Israeli soldiers. Hezbollah fired more than 4,000 rockets, a daily average of 120 rockets.

So far, nearly 2,300 rockets and mortar shells have been launched from Gaza at Israel – a daily rate of 140, although the rate has dropped by 25% since the ground assault began a week ago. Israeli intelligence estimates that Hamas still has between 4,000 and 5,000 rockets, including a few hundred capable of reaching central and northern Israel.

Both sides are paying a heavy price. Israel has lost 32 soldiers and officers, one is missing, and three civilians. More than 700 Palestinians have been killed by the intensive Israeli air strikes and artillery barrages, among them more than 250 militants. The rest are civilians, including more than 100 children.

Israel’s air force has dropped more than 3,300 tons of explosives and the destruction in Gaza is tremendous. It will take years to rehabilitate.

Another resemblance between Israel’s current operation and its second Lebanon War is in the increasing concern that Israel may be confused about its exit strategy.

Just as the Gaza war tactics and patterns are in the Lebanese mold, so the solution can be also borrowed from the Lebanese experience. Indeed, the Lebanese ceasefire came up in talks held in recent days by Secretary Kerry, UNSG Ban, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and other foreign leaders (UK and French foreign ministers).

The 2006 war ended with UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which enforced the rule and authority of the central Lebanese government while reducing Hezbollah’s dominance and addressing Israeli security. It also brought a 15,000-strong UN peacekeeping force which was deployed with the Lebanese army along the Israeli border. The resolution also called for the disarming of all private, sectarian and political militias and unequivocally stated that only the Lebanese government has the right to bring weapons into the country.

While some elements of the resolution have been implemented and are still holding, the two most important clauses to Israel’s security have been violated. Hezbollah was not disarmed and weapons are still smuggled from Syria and Iran, making Hezbollah a strong military force with 80,000 to 100,000 rockets of all ranges. Hezbollah rockets target and cover every corner of Israel.

So what are the elements of Resolution 1701 which are applicable to the Gaza situation?

A UN Security Council resolution ending hostilities could call to reinstate the legitimate government of Gaza – the Palestinian Authority which was toppled by Hamas in a 2007 coup d’état, to demilitarize Hamas and to put in place an international monitoring system to prevent the smuggling of weapons.

In return, Israel will lift its siege of the enclave, the border crossings to Israel and Egypt will be opened, Gaza’s fishing waters extended and an Arab and international fund will be established to rebuild the Strip.

But Hamas is refusing to be demilitarized – which is Israel’s major concern. The gap between the sides looks almost unbridgeable. Unlike previous Israeli offensives, when Egypt played the role of an honest broker, this time Egypt is fully identified with Israel and hopes it will inflict a mortal blow on the hated Hamas. The lack of an honest broker acceptable to both sides is thus another contributing factor to the difficulties in reaching a compromise.

July 24, 2014

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