When the current ceasefire in Gaza went into effect five weeks ago, everyone had hoped that this would bring an end to the rocket fire from Gaza into Israel and ease the suffering of the Israeli population in Sderot and the Negev. There were those who said that the ceasefire will be a good step forward on the way to an eventual cessation of hostilities and the beginning of a peace process. Some where skeptical and said that the lull will only serve the purpose of the terrorists who will rearm and prepare itself for the next round of violence.
Who was right? Well – no one and everyone at the same time.
Despite the official ceasefire, in the five weeks since it was declared more than 50 Kassam rockets have been fired into Israel from Gaza. That might seem a lot (and you are probably saying – even one is one too many), but according to Head of the Shin Bet Yuval Diskin, this is actually a drop of 75 percent from the 240 fired the previous month, a relatively impressive number.
Ever since the first Kassam landed after the ceasefire came into effect, Israel has been showing unbelievable restraint by not launching a single retaliatory or preventive strike against the Kassam launchers or any other target in Gaza. To the behest of the defense establishment, the Israel Defense Forces, and the Defense Minister, Prime Minister Olmert is not planning to change this policy anytime soon, although he has said in recent days that this policy of restraint could not last forever.
During this week’s cabinet meeting, Olmert even said that Israel has accomplished significant achievements by holding back. Although these results might be vague and unknown to the untrained eye, Israel has quietly been garnering major international support in light of the attacks, and a major meeting between Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas last Saturday could very well be the result of Israel’s restraint. Another possibility might be that a deal to return kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit is in the works and the restraint will only ensure his safe return.
On the other hand, the restraint could cost Israel in the long run. Intelligence sources are saying that Gaza has been turning into a quasi-Lebanon entity, where weapons are smuggled in by the tons and the ground is being prepared for another round of confrontations. One piece of evidence to this claim is the sudden increase in the amount of cement and concrete that has been flowing into the Strip. Experts say that this is not due to a sudden construction boom of luxury apartments and townhouses on the beautiful Gaza beach, but is rather intended for the construction of bunkers and tunnels much like the Hizballah constructed in southern Lebanon prior to the recent war.
For now, it is difficult to see where this ceasefire will take Israel, and whether the Palestinian Authority will actually take advantage of this Israeli restraint in order to assert control over the different factions and bring Gaza, as well as Sderot and the western Negev into a new period of calm. Only time will tell.