ANALYSIS / Hurry up and shoot before the cease-fire

The Israel Defense Forces avoided accepting any form of responsibility for the death of Miyasar Abu Muatak and her four young children in a shanty neighborhood of Beit Hanun Monday. According to the army’s version, the mother and children were not killed by two missiles fired from an aircraft, as the Palestinians maintain, but as a result of “secondary explosions.” The missiles were aimed at two Islamic Jihad militants that had been identified carrying large bags, which are believed to have included explosive devices. As a result of the blast, the shed which was the family’s home was destroyed. Defense Minister Ehud Barak did not bother with the details. As far as he was concerned, he said Monday, only Hamas – whose gunmen operate among civilians – are responsible for the death of “uninvolved civilians.”

The Israeli version relies on descriptions by Givati Brigade officers, who called in the aircraft, and on photos of the damage. Also important is the type of munitions that Israel has deployed in recent years in the Gaza Strip. They are lethal, but more precise, so their collateral damage is relatively limited. The damage evident at the site of the killing is much more like that caused by the detonation of a large explosive device.

It is hard to imagine that the army, after seven and a half years of the second intifada, does not appreciate the need to immediately respond in the media. Most likely is that photos, if it has them, do not provide unequivocal evidence to boost the IDF’s claims.

It is also doubtful whether the release of photographs will make a difference. The Hamas media warned Monday of an Israeli “campaign to exterminate the Palestinian people.” The scenes from Beit Hanun offered perfect proof as far as the radical Islamic group is concerned. The foreign media, who only emerge from their slumber after scenes like this, are also certain who is responsible for the killing of women and children: Israel.

Even if the Palestinian version is debatable, there have been plenty of precedents in the Strip: from the killing of the seven members of the Ghalia family on the Gaza beach in June 2006 (responsibility for which Israel denied), to the artillery barrage that killed 19 civilians in Beit Hanun in November that year.

Nonetheless, it is not at all certain that Monday’s killing will affect the cease-fire negotiations. The Hamas political leadership is very keen to achieve a hudna, a cease-fire, even though the group’s military wing has reservations. It is possible that Hamas will make do with the Qassam barrages it fired Monday as the appropriate Palestinian response to the incident. Its real test will be its ability to impose its will on the smaller factions, and Tuesday will be critical in signaling which way the situation may go. Representatives of Hamas and the smaller Palestinian factions are scheduled to meet in Cairo with representatives of Egyptian intelligence.

For the time being the IDF is behaving as if there is no hudna on the horizon. The attacks inside the Strip continue as usual, based on the argument that a cease-fire is not effective and the “ticking bombs” – imminent terrorist attacks – are still ticking. Intelligence seems to back this position. But from a diplomatic point of view, it is difficult to comprehend Israel’s stance: Even if a cease-fire collapses, as the senior officers argue, why not allow the Palestinians to be the ones who break it?

Israel was drawn into a hudna after Egyptian pressure and the government’s concerns that a major ground operation in Gaza would result in heavy IDF casualties. But the government is not pleased with the idea of a cease-fire: It seems there is a zero-sum game mentality dominating the political leadership. After all, they argue, if Hamas is so desperate for a cease-fire, it can’t be a good thing for Israel. Khaled Meshal, the head of the Hamas politburo in Damascus, did nothing to assuage Israel’s concerns on Sunday, when he declared that any cease-fire will be a temporary hiatus in the fighting, which will allow Hamas to strengthen its ranks for the next confrontation. It is therefore no wonder that the IDF is pushing to carry out as many strikes as possible before a cease-fire

Ref: Haartez

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