On Saturday, Israel began to withdraw some of the soldiers it had previously deployed to areas of Gaza in which terror tunnels had been uncovered. Though widely interpreted as the beginning of a “unilateral ceasefire,” the move is more likely the beginning of a switch from defense to offense. Before the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) could penetrate any further into the Gaza Strip, the threat of surprise attacks in the rear had to be removed.
With that task out of the way, the IDF will begin exploring paths to the main target: the leadership of Hamas, which has camped out–as it has done in the past several wars–in the basement of the Al-Shifa hospital, using civilians as cover, believing that Israel will not dare risk international isolation by targeting such a sensitive structure.
However, that assumption is no longer valid as Israel prepares for the next stage of the conflict.
The surest sign that Israel is preparing to target the Hamas leadership came with the remarks of Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni on Sunday. Livni–who was elected on the basis of a pro-peace platform–said that Hamas needed to be removed from power, and urged international diplomatic cooperation in doing so: “I don’t want to leave a weakened Hamas if we can get rid of it altogether,” she was quoted by the Times of Israel as saying.
That statement came as other, more conservative members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition promised that the Gaza operation would continue.
Livni’s words carry special weight, however, since she is widely seen as the most left-wing member of the coalition. When even the Israeli left–skeptical of military solutions to the conflict with the Palestinians–says that it is time to remove Hamas, the game has changed.
Overnight, the international press continued to focus on civilian casualties, such as those at another UN facility. The BBC alternated between explanations of what had caused a fatal explosion there: it was a “shelling,” an “air strike,” or a “missile,” all within the space of two minutes. UN officials are waiting–wisely–for investigations to be concluded before they blame Israel, since some previous attacks have come from errant Palestinian rockets.
The press evidently expects that enough attention to the graphic scenes of destruction will bring pressure to bear on western governments, which in turn will threaten Israel (alone) with isolation if it does not stop the war.
The coverage has had the desired effect in Britain, where Conservative Party foreign minister Philip Hammond has said the British public is “deeply disturbed by what it is seeing on its television screens.”
British Labour Party leader Ed Miliband has said the entire Gaza operation is a mistake. In his bid to become the country’s first openly Jewish prime minister (19th-century leader Benjamin Disraeli converted to Christianity), Miliband has evidently decided that Israel’s security is a fair price to pay for his personal political ambitions. “[T]he prime minister is wrong not to have opposed Israel’s incursion into Gaza,” Miliband opined Saturday.
None of that matters to Israel–not anymore, after a ceasefire foisted upon the warring parties by the U.S. and UN last Friday was immediately shattered by Hamas. Israelis–across the spectrum–have concluded that the world does not care whether they live or die, and therefore they must take matters into their own hands. The days of Hamas are numbered, and the only questions are precisely how Israel will destroy it, and at what cost.