Published on February 9th, 2011 | by Daniel Luban4
New Revelations on the Run-up to Cast Lead
Mitchell Plitnick notes the recent release of a Wikileaks cable that sheds new light on the run-up to Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s Gaza offensive of 2008-9. I’ve written before about the breakdown of the truce (Tahdiya) between Israel and Hamas that had all but eliminated rocket attacks against Israel in the months leading up to Cast Lead. The rockets only resumed in earnest after Israel broke the truce with a Nov. 4 raid that left six Palestinians dead; because the raid coincided with the US presidential elections, it was barely reported in the US media. The fact that the ceasefire had been working fairly well before Israel broke it invites skepticism about Israeli claims that Cast Lead represented a last-ditch option that they were forced into.
In this context, the new memo provides more insight into Israeli decision-making. Dated Aug. 29, 2008 (about two months after the beginning of the Tahdiya, and four months before the beginning of Cast Lead), it notes (emphasis added):
Regarding the Tahdiya, Hacham said Barak stressed that while it was not permanent, for the time being it was holding. There have been a number of violations of the ceasefire on the Gaza side, but Palestinian factions other than Hamas were responsible. Hacham said the Israelis assess that Hamas is making a serious effort to convince the other factions not to launch rockets or mortars. Israel remains concerned by Hamas’ ongoing efforts to use the Tahdiya to increase their strength, and at some point, military action will have to be put back on the table. The Israelis reluctantly admit that the Tahdiya has served to further consolidate Hamas’ grip on Gaza, but it has brought a large measure of peace and quiet to Israeli communities near Gaza.
Note the wording of the bolded sentence. The memo does not say that the Israelis believe “military action will have to be put back on the table” because at some point Hamas will break the ceasefire, but rather because Hamas would like to maintain the ceasefire to strengthen its position. Thus if the memo accurately reflects the Israeli government’s thinking, it would appear that the Israelis were, from relatively early on, contemplating breaking the ceasefire in order to cut Hamas off at the knees. While the memo simply confirms what many had already suspected, it provides yet another reason to be highly skeptical of the decision to initiate Cast Lead.