Tel Aviv Diary: No End in Sight for Gaza Conflict

Gaza smoke
Smoke rises after an explosion in the northern Gaza Strip as seen from the Israeli border August 2, 2014. Amir Cohen/Reuters

Hamas finally found a way to get to the average resident of Tel Aviv. A few days ago, they attacked at 2:30 in the morning. Much of Tel Aviv was still awake, so it did not bother people too much. But this morning they fired on Tel Aviv at 6:00 a.m. on a Saturday. I took a walk at 7:00 a.m. this morning, a time at which Tel Aviv is usually deserted, and the coffee houses were crowded with people whose sleep had been disturbed.

Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke tonight to the Israeli people. Most commentators were expecting him to announce the end of the mission. Instead, he said that Israel will continue until it brings quiet to the South and to the country at large. He said that almost all of the tunnels have been destroyed and the last ones will soon be destroyed. Thus, Israel will begin redeploying its troops and will not be withdrawing them.

Netanyahu’s remarks, and those of Defense Minister Ya’alon, reflect a decision made last night by the the security cabinet, which met for five hours to discuss next steps. It was decided not to change the goals of the “operation,” as the government is still calling it (instead of war), and it was also decided not to enter any negotiations with Hamas regarding additional ceasefires, since they has violated every agreement to date. Netanyahu is clearly saying to Hamas that they are not going to get anything politically, and that Israel can live with a war of attrition.  

It is still not clear what has happened to Lieutenant Goldin. There is broad agreement that, when he was taken, he was either dead or severely wounded. He was standing next to two other people who died when a suicide bomber set off his bomb. The deputy commander of the unit ignored standing orders and entered the tunnel to try to stop Hamas fighters. Hamas claims to have no knowledge of the status of Goldin, but Israeli believe Hamas is lying. Tonight, Lieutenant Goldin’s family appeared on TV and pleaded that Israel not leave Gaza without finding him. The army is executing their search house by house in Rafach.

Israelis are very divided on what the next steps should be. Seventy percent believe that Netanyahu is doing a good job; 32 percent believe Israel should go all the way and topple Hamas. Sixty percent of Israelis believe that if the war ends with the destruction of the tunnels, we will have won.

The problem facing Israel is that its two choices are very difficult. Toppling Hamas is a major effort that will cost many lives, and Israelis are very divided about whether that price is worth paying; in the last week, support for a full assault has gone down. There are those who say there is no way to beat Hamas, and that only a political solution can solve the problem. But there are others who believe that no political solution can be found as long as Hamas is in power at all. The general sense is that even when this ends, both sides will only start to prepare for the next round. More than 60 years of unwanted wars have made Israelis fatalistic. 

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