The Terror Journal

A Journal on Terrorism and Genocide

Israel’s multi-faceted Gaza cease-fire

Israeli troops in gazaThe political goals of Operation Cast Lead were not formulated until a few days after the fighting in Gaza began. Heading the list was a “stable cease-fire,” centering around an effort to prevent arms smuggling into the Strip. The logic was that the Israel Defense Forces operation would damage Hamas’ military capabilities, and that putting an end to the arms buildup would prevent renewed rocket fire into Israel. Senior policy-makers, whose decisions were instrumental in shaping the war in Gaza, say Israel succeeded in placing the smuggling issue on the international agenda after years in which it has been shunted to the sidelines. Now Israel has secured a commitment from the United States, Europe and Egypt to act against an arms buildup in Gaza.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak sought an “arrangement” via Egyptian mediation, which would be more stable than the previous tahadiyeh (cease-fire) agreement with Hamas. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni opposed a deal that would legitimize Hamas and proposed ending the operation with an act of “deterrence”: a unilateral cease-fire that would allow Israel to resort to force again if hostilities from Gaza were renewed. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was against a settlement with Hamas – even one achieved by indirect means – but strove to reach an understanding with the international community.

The final result incorporated all these approaches: Israel ended the operation with a unilateral cease-fire, but declared it, last Saturday, only after reaching separate understandings with Egypt and the United States on how to deal with the smuggling.

Operation Cast Lead began with the aerial bombing of Gaza on Saturday, December 27. International diplomatic activity kicked off two or three days later. Former U.S. secretary of state Condoleezza Rice initiated a move, together with the Arab League, intended to strengthen the moderates in the region, particularly Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Rice suggested that the Arab League formulate the conditions for a cease-fire, condemn Hamas and address the need to prevent smuggling. Concurrently, Israel’s Foreign Ministry initiated an arrangement to block smuggling into Gaza – to be based on two separate and parallel agreements, which Israel would sign with the United States and Egypt. The idea was to deal with the entire chain of smuggling activity, via the sea, from Iran to Sudan and Egypt, and from Sinai on to Gaza. In a conversation with Rice on January 1, Livni told the secretary of state that American involvement in thwarting the smuggling activity was important to the Israeli public and that Egypt, too, would find it easier to deal with the phenomenon if it made a commitment to the Americans.

From the moment the operation was launched, an interministerial team was busy coordinating diplomatic activity. Heading the team was Shalom Turgeman, the prime minister’s diplomatic adviser. The others were the Foreign Ministry’s director general, Aaron Abramovich; senior Defense Ministry officials Amos Gilad and Mike Herzog; National Security Council head Danny Arditi; representatives from the intelligence community; the prime minister’s military secretary, Maj. Gen. Meir Kalifi; and Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel, head of the IDF’s Planning and Policy Directorate. They formulated a coordinated Israeli position.

Olmert underscored these moves with countless phone calls to world leaders, including European heads of state, with whom he spoke on a daily basis, and with leaders of friendly countries, such as Canada and Australia. To all of them he repeated the same message: The war will end once a satisfactory arrangement to stop the smuggling activity is worked out.

With the political echelon’s approval, Turgeman’s team began working with the U.S. administration on memoranda of understanding. The Americans promised to send a draft and to work in parallel with the Egyptians. But Cairo signaled Washington that there was nothing to talk about, that Egypt would not sign a document that recognized its responsibility for the smuggling, and would not allow international troops to deploy on its soil, as Israel had suggested. And then, unexpectedly, another country entered the fray.

Bonjour, Monsieur Sarkozy

France has a long record of insinuating itself into Middle East crises, whereas the United States tends to operate more slowly. This was apparent both in the Second Lebanon War and again in the Gaza operation. From the very first days of Operation Cast Lead, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner proposed a 48-hour “humanitarian cease-fire.” Barak was enthusiastic, believing that such an initiative would afford Israel an exit strategy and that if Hamas continued the launchings, an Israeli ground operation would gain legitimacy.

Olmert was inclined to support Barak and accept the humanitarian cease-fire idea, but during a “kitchen cabinet” meeting, Livni managed to persuade the prime minister that this would be a mistake, because Israel had not yet achieved deterrence and needed to deepen the impact of the bombing with a ground offensive. Livni paid a lightning visit to Paris to present the Israeli position to President Nicolas Sarkozy. Upon hearing the “no,” he announced that he would visit the region himself.

In the meantime, Jerusalem gleaned the impression that the demand for ending the smuggling was beginning to take root in the international community. Hamas’ Grad rockets have a range of 30-40 kilometers, able to hit Be’er Sheva and Ashdod. The international community realized that these were not some homemade rockets, built by desperate occupied Palestinians, but standard military munitions, which had been supplied by Iran via the Rafah tunnels. Sarkozy visited Jerusalem on January 5, and at a dinner hosted by Olmert, suggested that he would talk to Mubarak about the smuggling and in the meantime would also delay the UN Security Council debate. Olmert agreed, and the following day Sarkozy met with Mubarak in Sharm el-Sheikh after visiting Syria and Lebanon.

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The Sarkozy-Mubarak meeting engendered the “Franco-Egyptian initiative.” Israel was anything but thrilled by it, because, in addition to dealing with the arms smuggling, it included a demand to open the crossings into Gaza and also referred to the need for Fatah-Hamas reconciliation. Jerusalem claimed that Sarkozy had overstepped his agreement with Olmert, but welcomed the commitment the French leader had obtained from Egypt to guard the border and deal with the smuggling. This constituted an opening for direct dialogue between Israel and Egypt, which was subsequently conducted by Amos Gilad and the Egyptian intelligence head, Omar Suleiman. Gilad visited Cairo on January 7.

The UN intervenes

Israel expanded the operation in its second week by sending ground forces into Gaza. This move put paid to the efforts to formulate a moderate stance in the Arab League in the face of the extremists. The Arab foreign ministers went to New York to promote a cease-fire resolution by the Security Council.

Livni already warned Barak on that Saturday that it would be impossible to drag out the Security Council deliberations forever, and that it would meet on Wednesday or Thursday and would call for a cease-fire. The ground operation progressed as planned. Livni suggested that it might be best to go back to pressing for an agreement with the Americans, even without a separate American-Egyptian agreement.

On Thursday, January 8, Livni asked for Olmert’s authorization to visit Washington. He refused, but allowed her to keep working on the agreement with members of the U.S. administration. The following day, that mission was entrusted to Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Sallai Meridor, his deputy, Jeremy Issacharoff, and Livni’s policy adviser, Tal Becker. Their partners were White House and State Department officials. The UN Security Council deliberations proceeded slowly, on the basis of a Libyan draft resolution, which was hostile to Israel. The Americans and the Europeans worked on a milder version, while Israel urged them to delay the vote. Olmert and Livni spoke with Rice; Olmert also spoke to Sarkozy and to British Premier Gordon Brown. The Israeli officials made it clear that Israel was opposed to a UN resolution and asked for the Franco-Egyptian plan to be given a chance.

It was British Foreign Secretary David Miliband who pushed for a speedy Security Council resolution. On that same Thursday, the Americans and the French assured Israel that no resolution would be voted on that evening. And then the wind started blowing the other way: Turgeman spoke with the White House’s national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, and with Jean-David Levitte, Sarkozy’s policy adviser. Both of them told him that they were having a hard time withstanding the pressure for a quick resolution, particularly after Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit announced Cairo’s support for it. At 3:30 A.M. Israel-time, an hour before the Security Council vote, Olmert called president George W. Bush and told him that the resolution was a mistake. The Americans explained that it would be hard for them to veto a resolution they themselves had helped draft. Bush said the U.S. would abstain. Olmert felt he had bested Rice and boasted about this achievement a few days later. Rice denied that she had intended to vote in favor of the resolution.

Hot times in cabinet

The Security Council called for a cease-fire, but did not dictate a timetable. Livni and Barak worked out an approach together, calling for an immediate cease-fire, for fear of getting bogged down in Gaza. Olmert wanted to continue applying military pressure on Hamas.

On Sunday, January 11, Israel conveyed to the U.S. the main points of a memorandum of understanding. Israel wanted an American commitment to deal with the smuggling and a promise of intelligence and operational cooperation. The following day, a new draft arrived from Washington. Livni thought it was sufficient and again requested authorization from Olmert to go to Washington to sign the agreement. The prime minister understood that by signing it, a cease-fire would be effected immediately, and again refused. In a meeting of the kitchen cabinet that evening, Olmert told Barak and Livni that he had not yet had time to read the draft. The next day, Olmert did not convene the cabinet and did not return calls to the ministers.

Barak pressed for progress on the Egyptian channel, too, which he had supported from the get-go, and on Wednesday, January 14, Olmert again convened the kitchen cabinet to prepare another visit to Cairo by Amos Gilad. Gilad flew to the Egyptian capital the next morning and returned to report in the evening. Olmert asked for more detailed clarifications from the Egyptians, but was persuaded that the operation had reached its end. He authorized a triple move: Livni would go to Washington to sign the agreement with Rice; Gilad and Turgeman would go to Cairo to tie up the loose ends there; and Olmert would call European leaders and obtain from them a parallel commitment to deal with the smuggling.

Livni met with Rice on Friday, January 16, just hours before her term of office ended. Livni did not explicitly commit to a cease-fire, saying only that the agreement would be part of Israel’s considerations about whether to stop the fighting. She also spoke by phone with U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who continues to hold that post under President Barack Obama. Gates promised to help.

Gilad and Turgeman were given a more detailed commitment from Suleiman with regard to the smuggling. They agreed to formulate a working plan and to set up an Israeli-Egyptian monitoring committee.

Olmert got Sarkozy, Brown, Germany’s Angela Merkel and Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi to sign a joint memorandum on Saturday, in which they promised to assist in anti-smuggling activity. Olmert was pleased: In his perception, this diplomatic move complemented the military achievement in Gaza. With the three-way understanding that was reached – between the United States, Egypt and Europe – he was able to convene the security cabinet on Saturday evening and announce the end of the operation.

Source: Haaretz

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