Fighting for a Ceasefire
by Jonathan Singer, Mon Jan 05, 2009 at 05:40:37 AM EST
JERUSALEM, Israel In conversations with those working in Israeli politics, as well as reporters covering it, I have been hearing that the primary goal of the current Israeli offensive against Hamas is not regime change but rather to force a medium- to long-term ceasefire with the hostile neighbor that brings an end to the nearly continuous stream of rocket fire into the country.
While a belief that a return of Fatah power over Gaza, as was previously the case and as is the case in the West Bank, is no doubt a desire of Israelis, it does not appear to be the primary goal of the country's air strikes and subsequent ground operation into Gaza. Rhetoric from Israeli leadership aside, an understanding that regime change is not likely or even more than a remote possibility has permeated my conversations in the country thus far.
Instead, the desired outcome from the current conflict, which many seem to believe will last for a week to ten days, is a meaningful ceasefire that brings with it the type of quiet seen in Israel's north for the past two and a half years since the cessation of violence between Israel and Lebanon-based Hezbollah. Indeed, although Hezbollah has the capacity to hit Israel's largest population center, Tel Aviv, with it's missiles, the militant group has not actively targeted Israeli cities since its conflict with Israel ended in the summer of 2006. The same cannot be said of Hamas rockets fired from Gaza, which have continued to rain on Israel, both during and since the six-month ceasefire between Israel and Hamas that the Palestinian group let lapse last month despite Israeli desires for the agreement to be continued.
Ceasefires between Israel and its Arab neighbors have a long history. Israel's ceasefires with Egypt and Jordan eventually turned into peace treaties, and the ceasefire between Israel and Syria agreed to at the termination of the 1973 war endures today more or less intact. The devil, of course, would be in the details of a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas -- whether, and to what extent, Israel would be willing to lift its blockade of Gaza; what mechanisms would be put in place, and what monitors involved, to ensure against violations of an agreement; etc. Moreover, despite the fact that previous wars between Israel and its neighbors have yielded longer lasting ceasefires does not mean that a meaningful ceasefire is a certain outcome of the current conflict.
This leaves aside longer-term questions, but by and large long-term visions -- the kinds of those heard on both sides during the peace process of the 1990s -- have been noticeably absent from my conversations, aside from an espoused hope for the presumed panacea of regime change in Iran that most understand is not on the horizon. Rather, Israelis appear resigned to getting through today, and perhaps tomorrow, while leaving concerns about the day after for another time.