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The Ceasefire Holds But Israel’s Long War Is Far From Over

4:02 PM, Aug 6, 2014 • By LEE SMITH
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Now into its second day, the 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian factions continues to hold. With Hamas’ missile arsenal depleted by roughly 50 percent and, according to Israeli assessments, 32 attack tunnels destroyed, Israeli officials are claiming a clear victory. “The IDF won big time in Gaza,” says one commander of an elite unit. “Stop staying we lost. We won.”

Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Jerusalem’s efforts now will be focused on how to demilitarize the Gaza Strip and prevent Hamas and its allies, like Palestinian Islamic Jihad, from rearming and rebuilding its attack tunnels. Neither will be easy.

While Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has demolished many of the smuggling tunnels leading from Sinai to Gaza, the reality is that smuggling is a central component not only of Gaza’s economy, but also Sinai’s. Unless Cairo can come to an accommodation with the Sinai Bedouins with whom it has frequently been at war over the last year, then a certain amount of weapons, if only a fraction, will get through. Iran will see to it. “The Muslim world has a duty to arm the Palestinian nation by all means,” Supreme Leader Ali Khameneisaid recently, underscoring the fact that Hamas’s most tangible victory over the last three weeks is to have repaired relations with the Islamic Republic.

However, given the stunning success of Israel’s anti-missile defense system, the attack tunnels are an even more serious concern, demanding a sort of subterranean Iron Dome stopping Hamas fighters from entering Israel. To that end, Israel is developing various forms of tunnel detection technology, like one system that listens for digging. Another Israeli company proposes digging a long tunnel along the Israel-Gaza border. In effect, it’s an underground moat, according to the company’s CEO, that "will provide real-time alerts of any tunnel digging that crosses our tunnel, whether above or below it.” 

If Israel won handily, the reality is that Hamas is still in place. As Jonathan Spyer, a frequent Weekly Standard contributor, explains in his recent article Netanyahu’s ‘Long War’ Doctrine, Jerusalem had only two choices. “The first involved seeking to inflict serious damage on Hamas’s military capabilities in an operation limited in scope,” writes Spyer. “The second, more ambitious option would have been to have pushed on into the Gaza Strip, and to have destroyed the Hamas authority there.”

The problem with the second, Spyer explains, is that it would have “required Israel to re-establish the civil administration in Gaza, taking responsibility for the lives of the 1.8 million residents of the Strip. This is because it would be politically impossible for the Ramallah Palestinian Authority to receive the Gaza Strip on a silver platter, as it were, from the Golani Brigade and its sister units of the Israel Defense Forces.”

It’s hardly surprising then that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chose the former. “This caution,” Spyer writes, “does not come from a temperamental inability to manage military action. Indeed, the Israeli prime minister’s performance in recent weeks may go some way to dispelling the image which his opponents have sought to disseminate in Israel in recent years. That is, Netanyahu is a man who buckles under pressure and is easily swayed from his course.”

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