Saturday, January 17, 2009

Cease fire?

At this moment, Israeli PM Ehud Olmert is addressing in Hebrew the Israeli people with word of an unilateral cease fire, based on 2 agreements: one signed yesterday between Israeli Foregin Minister Tzipi Livni and American Secretary of State Condaleeza Rice; and a second between the government of Israel and the government of Egypt. The cease fire will be applied Sunday morning local time at 2 am, or 7 pm Saturday evening East Coast time. Hamas for its part has defiantly announced that it is not a party to any cease fire agreement. Your guess is as good as mine as to whether the cease fire will take hold, and whether Israeli forces will begin to withdraw from Gaza. For the moment, the bitter pill of Israeli forces remaining in Gaza will be a source of ongoing Hamas consternation, which might place this unilateral cease fire in doubt.

Now the truly "snap" election begins in Israel, with a campaign that will last barely more than three weeks. Olmert for his part is declaring victory, and if the Israeli electorate accepts that judgment, it is likely that the electoral standing of first Ehud Barak, and second Livni, will have improved, at the expense of Likud party leader Binyamin Netanyahu. There is much in this somewhat murky conclusion to Operation Cast Lead for Likud to criticize. If indeed a regime has been created which will truly prevent the smuggling of armaments into Gaza from Egypt, a truly decisive change has been introduced into the Hamas-Israel struggle. But even so, there might well be many Israeli voters unhappy to see Hamas still entrenched in Gaza.

If this is indeed the end of the Gaza War, it ends in a way quite different than the 2006 Second Lebanon War. It ends with few Israeli casualties, and with serious damage done to its intended adversary -- Hamas. The Israeli electorate never soured on Operation Cast Lead. As it began, so it ends -- with widespread support and increased confidence in the Israeli army and its military leaders. Israel will certainly have to answer for some of the more controversial incidents of this war on the international stage of public opinion, but honestly this matters little in the calculations of Israeli voters. We'll have to wait for some new polling data to see just exactly how the Israeli public digests the outcome of these past three weeks of warfare.

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