Tel Aviv Diary: Israelis Ponder How the War in Gaza Will End

Palestinians gather near a burning building that police said was destroyed by an Israeli air strike in Gaza City July 31, 2014. Finbarr O'Reilly/Reuters

I just came back from my nightly bicycle ride and heard the distant sounds of a rocket intercept. I thought to myself – this is kind of late. When I got upstairs, there in my inbox was the State Department announcement that a 72-hour ceasefire had been agreed to by all parties.

The ceasefire announcement included the sentence, "During this time the forces on the ground will remain in place," thus allowing Israel to continue to blow up the tunnels. The statement also referred to the fact that Israel and Hamas will begin negotiations under Egyptian auspices during the ceasefire.

Of course, the ceasefire is supposed to begin tomorrow at 8 am and the sounds I heard in the distance were the interception of Hamas-fired missiles aimed at the Tel Aviv suburbs. Israelis are hoping that this ceasefire turns out different from the previous ones.

If this is, indeed the ceasefire that truly ends the war, many dissertations will be written to try to explain why this war went on so long. The proposal is identical to the proposal presented by the Egyptians over two weeks ago, before Israeli ground troops enter Gaza and before so many deaths occurred on both side.

Why so many people had to die for no apparent reason is indeed a question worth pondering, and why Hamas accepted this proposal today when they rejected a much better proposal (from their perspective) from US Secretary of State John Kerry last week is also mystery worthy of investigation.

I began the morning by giving a hug to the young man I had picked up at the airport yesterday on his return from New York. Now in uniform, he was headed out towards Gaza. Not an easy thing to do.

After he departed I read an interesting article in Haaretz newspaper. It examined all 2,825 rockets that have been fired on Israel in the war and concluded that most missiles were fired on the hour, with the two most popular times for rocket fire being 11:00 am and and 6:00 pm.

Tonight at 6 pm, the sirens in Tel Aviv went off and the first time in a number of days we received a rude reminder that we are still at war. Not that we really needed this reminder. Not when all of the regular shows on the main TV channels have been superseded by continuous war coverage. And, not when we watch funerals of young soldiers on TV every night.

For a part of the day, there was a sense of optimism in the air. The army reported that no soldiers had been killed or seriously wounded in the last 24 hours. And, although the cabinet authorized an additional draft of 18,000 reservists, most Israelis realized that this was merely a technical move to allow the replacement of some of the reservists who were first drafted.

The army announced that 80 percent of the tunnels had been destroyed and while the south was continuing to be attacked with missiles, they did not seem to be reaching the center of the country. This evening that changed.

First, a missile managed to get through the Iron Dome and injured two people in Kiryat Gat (a city in the Northern Negev), with one seriously so. Then, there were rockets on Tel Aviv, followed by a mortar attack on troops in Israel on the Gaza border. Eight were wounded and, as in all cases like this, the concern is that in a few hours the army might announce that there were fatalities.

Today, there was full cabinet meeting in Tel Aviv. The meeting began with Prime Minister Netanyahu publicly criticizing the members of the cabinet who have been publicly criticizing him. He reminded them that we are at war and thus, this is not the right time for public debates. The public debates have taken place between Netanyahu and members of his coalition who believe that he is not acting strong enough against Hamas.

Many Israeli politicians believe that the goal should be to undermine the ruler of Hamas, or at least hurt them beyond the tunnels. Netanyahu has held to his view that Israel's goals must be limited, that Hamas is the enemy that we know, and if they were unseated, Israel might find itself facing the ISIS or some other group instead of Hamas.

The second reason remains the fact that any further moves into Gaza mean more civilian casualties. And, as much as the world thinks we do not care, we do. As I wrote yesterday, when our kids are in danger we will do what we need to do. But we do not do it with pleasure, we do it reluctantly, and Netanyahu knows this. He knows what the cost of deeper penetration into Gaza would be. He also knows that with 1,400 plus Palestinians dead (a substantial number of them civilians), the world's patience for this war is running out.

So, how will it end? There are now two possibilities. Some in Israel are talking about pulling out unilaterally when we finish destroying the tunnels, something that is expected to happen early next week. At that point, we will pull our forces out of Gaza. And, if Hamas continues to fire missiles, we will leave the response to the air force and the navy. Many people doubt that this scenario can actually work, though, since it is not clear what would cause Hamas to stop the fire.

There is talk this evening that Hamas is finally feeling the pressure and may ready for a ceasefire. Rumors were circulating earlier that Hamas is actually ready to accept a humanitarian ceasefire for 72 hours. That has turned out to be true. After the 72 hours, a long-term agreement can be negotiated under the mediation of the Egyptians. I doubt that too many Israelis believe this will happen. Even the news anchors interrupt the correspondents when they report the possibility, effectively saying, "You're kidding."

Maybe this time it's real. But we have been here before. We are in the 25th day of the war, in the second week of the ground war. At some point, this clearly will end. I must admit, though, that I never believed this war would go on for so long.

Political historian Marc Schulman is the editor of An archive of his recent daily reports from Tel-Aviv can be found here. He is also a columnist for the Times of Israel.