Almost two weeks of a shaky cease-fire between Hamas and Israel – agreed to without either side consulting the other and both claiming victory – started to unravel this week as events on the ground and rhetoric heated up.
An Israeli soldier was killed Tuesday after a remote-controlled bomb exploded near the Gaza border. Israel responded with pinpoint strikes inside Gaza, and the Israeli leadership said that the time of restraint has ended and Israel will respond to each attack. Hamas, meanwhile, said it agreed only to a lull in the fighting, not a complete cease-fire. What, exactly, that means is up for interpretation. It is likely, though, that this was the only way the Gaza-based Hamas leadership could get the Damascus-based Hamas leadership to agree to any type of cease-fire.
The recent conflict highlighted the splintered nature of Hamas leadership. While the group’s Gaza-based Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh remains in hiding for fear of assassination, and other Gaza-based leaders spoke of their willingness to accept a cease-fire as Israel pounded Hamas infrastructure, the organization’s leadership in Syria spoke of continuing the fighting to the last drop of blood – just not theirs. If Israel had continued to hammer Hamas targets in Gaza, these fractures might have grown even bigger.
Also significant, the U.S. Navy detained an Iranian ship allegedly carrying weapons bound for the Islamic Republic’s Hamas minions. Meanwhile discussions in Egypt on cementing the cease-fire were continuing as of Wednesday, and a top European Union official cast total blame for the Gaza conflict on Hamas. In addition, the new U.S. Mideast envoy, George Mitchell, has arrived in Israel for meetings with the government, the Egyptians, and the Palestinians – but Hamas still remains on the outside looking in at international recognition.
These are all positive signs that the rules of the game have indeed changed as Ehud Olmert keeps saying. While the United Nations is condemning Israel, the rest of the world is acting to cut the influence and military might of Hamas.
This is Israel’s real victory in Gaza.