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Calls for Israeli ground operation into Gaza gather pace

Israel’s retiring President Shimon Peres and Middle East peace envoy Tony Blair praise Egyptian-proposed ceasefire initiative
Israeli President Shimon Peres (R) shakes hand with International Quartet Special Envoy Tony Blair on July 15, 2014 (MEE/Blair Cunningham)

“We need a ground operation. If we will have a ceasefire today, we will be facing our next operation in 18 months, tops. There’s something in the Hamas DNA which will never agree to a long-term ceasefire.”

Tzvika Fogel is a former Southern Command chief of staff with the Israel Defence Force. Today he’s in the reserves and now he’s added his support to a growing list of people against a ceasefire between Gaza and Israel.

Calls for a ground operation into Gaza are gathering pace despite the possible ceasefire between Israel and Gaza being brokered by Egypt today.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his security cabinet agreed to the ceasefire deal, to take effect early this morning. It would’ve seen hostilities end within 12 hours of the signing. However Hamas rejected the plan, claiming it wasn’t consulted by Cairo.

At a press conference earlier today, Israel’s retiring President Shimon Peres and Middle East peace envoy Tony Blair praised the deal.

“We all wish to end the fighting and want hope for all. There can be no compromise to terror. This ceasefire should mean one thing - no more rockets, no more terror,” President Peres told a gathering of journalists at his residence in central Jerusalem, during a highly staged press conference.

Questions from journalists were strictly forbidden, following an hour-long meeting between the two men.

“Palestinians people are not our enemies; people from Gaza are not our enemies. We share the same aim to end our terror and restore security and calm to people,” the President said.

But the ceasefire did not last long.

Following the signing of the agreement, Mr Netanyahu warned Israel would be entitled to “broaden its military operation” if the deal failed.

Later in the day, Israel blamed Hamas for rocket fire into Ashkelon and Ashdod. Officials say 47 rockets were fired from Gaza after the ceasefire deal was signed by Israel.

The Israel Defence Force has since resumed its attacks on Gaza and top cabinet ministers, including deputy defence minister Danny Danon said the cabinet was wrong to accept the truce in the first place. And the right-wing foreign minister Avigdor Liberman said any ceasefire with Hamas is merely preparation for the next round of fighting.

Ground operation next?

Mr Fogel said he isn’t against a ceasefire, provided it isn’t long-lasting. However he doubts Hamas will show the same restraint. Instead, Mr Fogel’s stepping up his calls for a ground invasion and he told Middle East Eye this is the only way to ensure fewer civilians, and more Hamas military members are targeted.

“Airstrikes will destroy one or two thousand houses, kill something like 40 or 50 Hamas people and leave something like 200 civilians dead.

“If we go into Gaza, something like two thousand Hamas people will be killed and no civilians will be hurt. When you are running after a terrorist, you need to be able to do so by seeing him. It’s impossible to do this by air.”

He is ready to accept there will be military casualties and possibly fatalities on Israel’s side, but he said that will be a minor price to pay.

Mr Fogel is visibly frustrated by the Prime Minister’s reluctance to send the troops in, and he can think of three reasons for the delay. Public image and an election in the future is seen as the primary reason for not engaging in a long-running ground offensive, even though the next parliamentary elections aren’t due for another 4 years.

He also thinks Mr Netanyahu may not fully trust the IDF to succeed in the Strip. But most likely, he hopes the Prime Minister is simply biding his time.

And that’s something that Israel appears to be quickly running out of.

Middle East Eye revisited Jerusalem-based policy analyst Aryeh Green for his take on the situation. The director of bi-partisan media organisation Media Central previously told MEE it was time to end the recurrent terror of Hamas once and for all. He advocated for a ground attack in order to do this.

Today, Mr Green’s opinions hadn’t changed.

“When I first heard about a possible ceasefire, I was very disappointed. I’m very aware of the pressures the government is under from Europe, from the US and from others. To a certain extent, you might say Israel didn’t have a choice - we find it very difficult to say no to our friends in Europe and America and even in Australia and Asia. I still feel it was the wrong decision.”

Israel’s “tremendous legitimacy”

However he told MEE that today’s rejection of the ceasefire by Hamas could work well for a ground offensive.

“The fact Hamas didn’t even agree to the deal means now we can continue on with the military campaign. We can say ‘look not only is this justified under international law because of all the rockets being fired indiscriminately on these civilians, but we carried out the ceasefire.’”

Political analyst Shlomo Brom agrees. He told MEE that while he doesn’t think agreeing to the ceasefire initially was purely a political move on Israel’s part, having it collapse now means Mr Netanyahu can show the world his country isn’t the cause of the “madness.”

“But international support won’t be the only factor in deciding Israel’s next move. 

The costs, the casualties and the benefits will all be looked at very carefully,” Mr Brom said.

Israel’s former ambassador to the United States, Dr Michael Oren also believes Israel’s acceptance of the short-lived truce now gives it more legitimacy.

“Israel can pursue its international goals with a tremendous amount of legitimacy behind it. That’s something which was lacking prior to the hostilities. Perhaps there’s even a chance to put the relationship between Netanyahu and (US secretary of state) John Kerry on better footing – those relations have been soured by the way peace talks with the Palestinian Authority ended.”

Dr Oren thinks Hamas has been backed into a corner and should re-evaluate its position before resuming the fighting.

“The cards Hamas have been dealt are very weak. Resuming fighting against Israel is not a good card to play. How could Hamas come out of this on top?

“Hamas says its stores of rockets are diminishing; there’s terrible depression in Gaza; thousands are now homeless; it has a terrible economy and no regional allies.”

He’s encouraging Hamas to allow entry to military inspectors to take away the long-range missiles and demilitarise Gaza.

Hope on the horizon

Despite today’s breakdown in the truce, Tony Blair is still confident there can be genuine hope for Gazans.

He said there must be a way to stop the misery and the tragic loss of life.

“The purpose remains to put in place a long term solution. We can’t simply end the fighting with the absence of immediate rocket attacks. We have to give genuine hope to Gazans.

“We want to again open up Gaza to the world, reunite it with the West Bank and give permanent security to the people of Israel. We don’t want to come back in a short period of time.”

Meanwhile, Tzvika Fogel said he only wants a ceasefire if it’s for the very long term “because I want to hurt Hamas, I don’t want to hurt the Palestinian people.”

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