Calm no longer
13 -19 November 2008
Calm no longer
Israeli military operations and the siege on Gaza make an end to the Egyptian-mediate ceasefire inevitable, writes Saleh Al-Naami
Contrary to habit, last Tuesday Mazen Saada, 33, came home early bringing his four children their favourite sweet. Usually they are already asleep when he comes back. Saada, who resides in the eastern neighbourhood of Moghazy Refugee Camp in central Gaza, did not spend long with his children. As field commander with the Ezzeddin Al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas's military wing, Saada received a call informing him that tens of Israeli special units had crossed into Gaza with air cover. The units were heading towards a site where six resistance fighters serving under his command were taking position east of neighbouring Deir Al-Balah city.
Following an assessment meeting with fellow commanders in the area, it was decided that Saada together with five more fighters would go to free his soldiers from the special units. Saada headed towards the site, targeting the Israeli unit surrounding the site with mortar fire. Over an hour's exchange of fire followed between Saada and a group of resistance fighters and the Israeli special units. The trapped Qassam Brigades elements succeeded in withdrawing from the location unharmed. Saada was not so lucky. An unmanned surveillance drone bombed and killed him.
Next morning, this was not the only news that Palestinians residing in central Gaza woke up to. Five more Qassam fighters were killed when Israeli warplanes raided their site east of Khan Younis City, south of Gaza. Palestinians, in response to the Israeli incursion, launched a large number of missiles towards Israeli settlements surrounding Gaza. In return, Israel found motive to tighten the siege on Gaza, resume its ban on goods and commodities, especially basic staples and fuel.
Meanwhile, Kana Obeid, deputy head of the Gaza Power Authority, warned that the only power generating plant operating in Gaza will stop due to fuel shortages if Israel continues to ban fuel transportation into Gaza. In interview with Al-Ahram Weekly, Obeid added: "The available quantity of fuel is insufficient for the plant's operation," warning that the tight Israeli siege will bring health, educational and service facilities to a complete halt.
Prominent wheat importer in Gaza Sabri Abu Ghali underlined that wheat stock is about to vanish and that the quantities of wheat available in markets do not meet the Palestinians' needs. "A number of wheat mills working in Gaza stopped fully when they ran out of stock," Abu Ghali confirmed. He further expects that bakeries might stop operations if the occupation does not reopen Al-Mintar commercial crossing.
Regarding the Israeli armed attack, Palestinians living in Gaza were stunned. No one expected an Israeli incursion into Gaza, it being hardly four months since the tahdia (ceasefire) agreement between Israel and Palestinian resistance factions. By this agreement, armed operations were to stop between the two parties for six months in addition to ending the siege of Gaza. On its side, Israel claimed that its sudden operation was aimed at preempting potential Hamas plans to capture soldiers by using tunnels under construction. Those tunnels were supposed to end near a military base enabling Hamas elements to capture and smuggle soldiers through the tunnels into Gaza. The Israeli army further claims that Hamas is in the process of building land fortifications, tapping on lessons learnt from the second Lebanon war. Those land fortifications, where Hizbullah elements in South Lebanon took cover, empowered Hizbullah to maintain a firm standing position until the war ended.
Spokesman of Qassam Brigades Abu Obaida stated that the tahdia would not prevent Hamas from "fulfilling its sacred duty of defending its fellow people, and standing in the face of the occupation army's barbarism and arrogance". He further underlined that the Qassam Brigades "will answer back to the Israeli operations and will announce its position on the tahdia".
Abu Obaida hinted, however, that regardless of Israeli transgressions, Hamas is concerned to maintain the tahdia. Upon the end of the ceasefire, he said, his movement will link extending the tahdia to Israel's opening Gaza's border crossings and lifting the siege entirely.
"We are not intending to extend the ceasefire as long as the occupation army fails to observe its full aspects; mainly, ending the siege and opening crossings. In case the enemy will continue disregarding those issues, there is no point of talking about tahdia," Abu Obaida confirmed to the Weekly.
Abu Obaida went on to explain that, "our compliance with the ceasefire is conditioned with how far the enemy is also committed". The occupation army must realise that Hamas did not accept entering into the tahdia agreement out of weakness and surrender, he said. Rather, Hamas is quite capable of resuming the battle at any time, with greater persistence and stamina. Abu Obaida further warned: "we will retaliate against any new Israeli attacks on Gaza, launching seriously harmful bombardment deep into Israeli land, and the occupation army will incur an unexpected expensive price."
Military commentator for Yediot Aharonot, Ron Ben-Yishai, quoted senior Israeli military sources saying that Israel decided to prevent Hamas from planning any operations, even if the price was to violate the tahdia that was attained through Egyptian mediation. Nevertheless, Israeli media confirms that resuming Israeli military operations against Gaza is a controversial point in the Israeli security community, regarding the tahdia with Palestinian groups and Hamas in particular. Israel's minister of defence and chief of staff are in favour of the ceasefire while a number of security leaders oppose it. Israeli radio confirmed that Shin Bet Security Chief Yuval Diskin, Mossad's chief, Meir Dagan, and a number of army generals are demanding an end to the tahdia.
Diskin believes that Hamas is taking advantage of the tahdia to continue smuggling explosives and arms and to manufacture missiles. He explained that Hamas recently obtained long-range missiles capable of targeting farther sites from Gaza, such as Asdoud, Ashkelon, Kirayat Gat and other cities. Head of Israeli army Southern Command, General Yoav Galant, believes that the ceasefire was harmful to captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. The tahdia relieved the military pressure off Hamas. In interview with Maariv newspaper, Galant stated that it is important to resume pressure on Hamas in order to better secure Shalit's release.
Meanwhile, Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak is working on sustaining the tahdia. According to Ufar Shilla, military commentator with Israeli TV 10, Barak is convinced that the current transitional Israeli government is incapable of ending the ceasefire. The major concern is that Hamas would launch hundreds or even thousands of missiles on settlements surrounding Gaza if the tahdia ended; that more than half a million Israeli settlers would be within missile range in this case.
Thus, Barak was quick to send Deputy Defence Minister General Mattan Vilnaito to deliver statements confirming that Israel is concerned with maintaining the tahdia. The question remains, to what extend is Barak able to impose his viewpoint at the military level? Regardless, it is certain that even if Israeli military operations come to a halt, Palestinian factions will be forced to end the tahdia and open a new chapter of confrontation with the occupation as the Israeli- imposed siege again takes hold.