Israel's aims in the Gaza incursion

The objective of Israel is to isolate Hamas and make it completely defenceless. This goal is shared by the US and many western European countries as well as Egypt and Saudi Arabia among Arab countries. The truce is being arranged without any direct talks with Hamas. The main parties are Egypt the US and Israel with Abbas also playing a role. Hamas is not going to agree to disarm as the demand of Israel and others demands. The US will help ensure that more tunnels are not dug to smuggle goods and some mechanism will be adopted to control the flow of goods from Egypt. Their will be an increased flow of humanitarian aid but Gaza will remain a prison and left with a huge rebuilding task that will take years. The National (Dubai) January 07. 2009 Objectives bigger than commonly assumed Jonathan Cook, reporting from Nazareth Nazareth, Israel -- There are two persistent myths about the aim of Israel's onslaught on Gaza: the first that it is an entirely defensive move, a way to end the rocket fire of Hamas; and the second that it is designed to restore the army's credibility after its failure to cow Hizbollah in 2006. No doubt the Israeli army has been itching to repair its battered image, and for sure the rocket attacks from Gaza create domestic pressures that are only too clear to an Israeli government about to face an election. But it is a gross misunderstanding of what is unfolding in Gaza to believe Israel's motives are capricious. The politicians and generals have been preparing for this attack for many months, possibly years - a fact alone that suggests they have bigger objectives than commonly assumed. Israel seized this particular moment - with western politicians dozing through the holidays and a change over of administrations in Washington - because it ensured the longest period to implement its plan without diplomatic interference. The pressure on Israel to reach a political settlement will grow, however, as the inauguration of Barack Obama on Jan 20 approaches. That explains why, as the army brings ever greater force to bear on Hamas's urban heartlands, the outlines of an Israeli plan are starting to become visible. Despite talk in Israel that a chance to topple Hamas is within reach, that option does not have to be pursued. Israel's aims can be achieved whether Hamas stays or falls - as long as it is crushed politically. Certainly, a permanent re-occupation of the enclave with its 1.5 million inhabitants is not desired by Israel, which withdrew its settlers and soldiers in 2005 precisely because the demographic, economic and military costs of directly policing Gaza's refugee camps were considered too high. It therefore needs another ceasefire similar to the one that expired on Dec 19. The questions are: who will "sign" it and what will be its terms? Writing in The Jerusalem Post newspaper this week, Martin Kramer, a leading Washington neoconservative analyst on Middle East issues, suggested that Israel's goal was to forge an agreement with Mahmoud Abbas and restore his rule in Gaza. "Hamas would swallow the pill in the name of `national unity'," he argued. The idea that Mr Abbas and his Fatah party can ride into the Gaza Strip on the back of Israeli tanks may be a fantasy that makes sense to the neocons who brought us "regime change" in Iraq, but few in the Israeli government or army seem to believe it is feasible. In any case, the distinction between Fatah's "rule" over the West Bank ghettoes Israel has created and Hamas's oversight of the prison that Gaza has become is one Israel appears keen to maintain. The Israeli vision for the West Bank, in which significant parts are annexed, depends on its political severance from Gaza. Instead, Israel is again pursuing its favourite mode of diplomacy: unilateralism. According to officials quoted in the local media, it wants a deal that is approved by the United States and western governments but passes over the heads of Hamas and the Palestinians. At a recent cabinet meeting, Tzipi Livni, the foreign minister, put it this way: "There is no intention here of creating a diplomatic agreement with Hamas. We need diplomatic agreements against Hamas." According to the latest reports, the ceasefire would require, as before, that Hamas prevent all rocket fire out of the Strip, but it would also introduce what officials are vaguely terming a "mechanism" on the only border with Gaza not under Israel's control. During its lengthy blockade, Israel has been able to prevent goods, including food, medicines and fuel, from entering the Gaza Strip through crossing points on its two land borders while its navy patrols the sea coast. But Gaza also shares a short southern land border, next to the town of Rafah, with Egypt. Before the 2005 disengagement, Israel sought to control this fourth border too by bulldozing swathes of Palestinian homes to create a no-man's land between Rafah and Egypt. This area, overlooked by military watchtowers, was referred to as the Philadelphi corridor. After the withdrawal, Israel hoped the steel wall along the Rafah border and its oversight of the crossing point into Egypt would ensure that nothing went in or out without its approval. However, a small private industry of tunnelling under the wall quickly burgeoned, becoming a lifeline for ordinary Gazans and a route for smuggling in weapons for Hamas. Egypt had little choice but to turn a blind eye, despite being profoundly uncomfortable with an Islamic party ruling next door. It faces its own domestic pressures over the humanitarian catastrophe that has been visibly created in Gaza. Israel believes the current invasion will have achieved nothing unless this time it regains absolute control of the Rafah border, undercutting Hamas's claims to be running the Strip. The "mechanism" therefore requires that technical responsibility is lifted from Egyptian shoulders. According to the Israeli plan, it will pass to the Americans, whose expertise will be called on to stop the tunnelling and prevent Hamas from rebuilding its arsenal after the invasion comes to an end. Israel may additionally seek the involvement of international forces to diffuse the censure the Arab publics are likely to direct at Egypt as a result. Once Hamas has no hope of rearming and cannot take any credit for the Gazans' welfare, Israel will presumably allow in sufficient supplies of humanitarian aid to pacify western governments concerned about the images of Gaza's cold and hungry children. Ghassan Khatib, a Palestinian analyst, believes that in this scenario Israel would probably insist that such supplies come only through the Egyptian crossing, thereby "fulfilling another strategic aim: that of making Gaza Egypt's responsibility". And once the Gazan albatross is lifted from Israel's neck, Mr Abbas and his West Bank regime will be more isolated than ever. Undoubtedly, the hope in Israel is that, with Gaza disposed of, the pressure will grow on the Palestinian Authority to concede in a "peace" deal yet more Palestinian land in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

This next is from AP.

Israel to vote on truce plan proposed by Egypt
AP – A Palestinian fire fighter tries to put out a fire at the United Nations headquarters Friday, Jan. 16, …
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Israel said it was approaching the "endgame" of its three-week offensive against Gaza's Hamas rulers and scheduled a Security Cabinet vote Saturday on a truce proposed by Egypt. Under the cease-fire plan, fighting would stop immediately for 10 days, but Israeli forces would initially remain in Gaza and the border crossings into the territory would remain closed until security arrangements are made to ensure Hamas militants do not rearm.
If Israel agrees to stop shooting, Israel radio said a truce summit would be held in Cairo Sunday with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Israeli leaders expected to attend.
Hamas' political chief rejected Israel's conditions, but negotiators for the Islamic militant group were in behind-the-scenes contact with mediators in Cairo and signaled it was time for a truce.
"If they are ready, we are ready," Osama Hamdan, a top Hamas figure, told Sky News.
Israel launched its military offensive Dec. 27 to try to halt Hamas rocket attacks on southern Israel, and top envoys were in Cairo and Washington on Friday to discuss cease-fire terms.
Palestinian medics say the fighting has killed at least 1,140 Palestinians and Israel's bombing campaign caused massive destruction in the Gaza Strip. Thirteen Israelis have been killed, four by rocket fire, according to Israel.
The Israeli vote was scheduled hours after the U.S. paved the way by agreeing to provide assurances that Hamas will not be able to rearm if Israel approves a cease-fire. It comes ahead of President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration on Tuesday, and Israeli elections next month.
A senior Israeli official said a vote approving the truce would amount to a "unilateral" cease-fire, though Israeli forces would only leave Gaza after an official declaration that the fighting was over. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.
A truce would begin a phased process in which Israel halts its military offensive and then gauges the reaction from Hamas militants, the official said. If the militants continue to fire rockets, the assault would resume.
Under the deal, Egypt would shut down weapons smuggling routes with international help, and discussions on opening Gaza's blockaded border crossings would take place at a later date.
U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas said Ban, who had weekend visits planned to Lebanon and Syria, was considering whether to attend a summit in Cairo Sunday, adding: "There's been no decision yet."
Israeli leaders were also considering whether to attend the summit, the senior Israeli official said.
The diplomatic developments coincided with an easing of violence in Gaza, where Israeli assaults killed 14 Palestinians on Friday, a lower death toll than in recent days. Palestinian medics took advantage of the relative calm, digging out 25 bodies buried under rubble in areas where Israeli forces and militants had clashed.
Palestinians heard dozens of Israeli tanks and other military vehicles roll away from the eastern and southern edges of Gaza City. An Israeli security official said the tanks would redeploy and were not withdrawing. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Israeli envoy Amos Gilad returned from Cairo and reported "substantial progress" in truce talks with Egyptian mediators, said a statement from the office of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
"I hope we are entering the endgame and that our goal of sustained and durable quiet in the south is about to be attained," Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said.
In Washington, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni signed an agreement intended to prevent Hamas from smuggling weapons into Gaza if a cease-fire is implemented.
Livni described the deal as "vital ... for a cessation of hostility" and said it was meant "to complement Egyptian actions and to end of the flow of weapons to Gaza."
Earlier, Rice said she hoped European countries would work out similar bilateral agreements with Israel.
"There are a number of conditions that need to be obtained if a cease-fire is to be durable," Rice said. "Among them is to do something about the weapons smuggling and the potential for resupply of Hamas from other places, including from Iran."
The agreement outlines a framework under which the United States commits detection and surveillance equipment, as well as logistical help and training to Israel, Egypt and other nations to be used in monitoring Gaza's land and sea borders.
Rice and State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Obama and Secretary of State-designate Hillary Rodham Clinton had been consulted on the details of the document, which was concluded after frenetic negotiations to address Israeli concerns that Hamas would use a cease-fire to stock up on weapons.
A diplomat on the U.N. Security Council in New York said he was reasonably optimistic that "we are in the last leg of the negotiations," though some issues remain unresolved.
There were long discussions on border security because the Egyptians don't want any kind of international presence on their side of the border, said the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the negotiations are being held behind closed doors.
"Everything has to be on the other side of the border, which means there's a problem of who will be there, not only on behalf of the international community, but also which Palestinians. So it's linked to a potential agreement between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority — so it's linked to other discussions," the diplomat said.
In addition, he said, discussions were under way with the U.S. on technology to help locate and destroy the tunnels Hamas has used to smuggle in weapons.
In Gaza, residents said they would welcome an end to the fighting, but expressed skepticism a cease-fire can hold.
"Everybody wants the world to return to what it was. But I think it's empty words," said Ghadir Mohammed, who was forced to flee her Gaza City home because of the fighting. "Let's assume if Hamas fires a rocket, will they be quiet about it? Israel isn't the kind to be quiet."
Hiba Dahshan from the eastern Gaza City neighborhood of Zeitoun where some of the heaviest fighting has taken place, said: "We are exhausted. We need a solution. Hopefully they'll halt fire."
A resident of the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, which has been targeted by Hamas rockets, said the army needed to free Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit — abducted by Hamas in 2006 — and be sure there would be quiet in southern Israel before stopping the fight.
"For eight years, they have been shooting at us," said Yigal Hakmon, manager of a convenience store. "We can't stop in the middle. We have to finish. We have to kill all the Hamas people."
Hamas, which has controlled the tiny Mediterranean strip since 2007, has demanded an immediate Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and the opening of blockaded border crossings.
Mohamed Nazzal, a Hamas official based in Damascus, said the Egyptians invited Hamas on Friday for more discussions.
"It is expected that we go to see what is the opinion of the Israelis on the Hamas propositions," Nazzal said.
The Syrian-based Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal took a hard line at a summit of Arab countries in the Qatari capital of Doha, asking them to cut off any ties with Israel.
"We will not accept Israel's conditions for a cease-fire," Mashaal told the summit. He said Hamas demands that "the aggression stop," Israeli troops withdraw and crossings into Gaza open immediately.
Qatar and Mauritania heeded Mashaal's call, suspending political and economic contacts with Israel to protest the fighting. Qatar does not have diplomatic relations with Israel but maintains lower-level ties; Mauritania has full relations, but Israel's embassy in Mauritania was to remain and its ambassador was not being expelled.


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