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.

Daniel Luban

Daniel Luban is a postdoctoral associate at Yale University. He holds a PhD in politics from the University of Chicago and was formerly a correspondent in the Washington bureau of Inter Press Service.



  1. Not to split hairs, but the memo indicates that Israel would probably have to take action because Hamas was using the truce to increase its strength. To say that Israel wanted to strike simply because Hamas was maintaining the truce, which is what you do say here, looks like an attempt to blacken Israel by any means. It’s a subtle point, I know, but I think a fair one to make.

    That said, obviously Cast Lead was an operation hard to justify in inception and absolutely criminal in execution. I add this in the hope that other commenters will perhaps restrain their invective towards me. (Not that I mind same, but if I can save some time by “explaining” myself in advance, well, that’s a bit of time saved.)

  2. I invite Jon to read this well-researched article.

    Israel’s attack on Gaza was planned considerably in advance. In any case, it seems to me that Cast Lead vindicated Hamas’ position that it needed to defend itself. But perhaps you are saying that the Palestinians should remain unarmed against any Israeli (whether IDF or settler) who wants to attack them?

    “Let us not ignore the truth among ourselves .. politically we are the aggressors and they defend themselves… The country is theirs, because they
    inhabit it, whereas we want to come here and settle down, and in their view we want to take away from them their country. … Behind the terrorism [by the Arabs] is a movement, which though primitive is not devoid of idealism and self sacrifice.” (David Ben-Gurion, 1938)

  3. I understand Undaunted’s viewpoint, and I certainly don’t want to argue with him. (I had a considerable back-and-forth on this subject with a couple of other commenters a year or two ago.) I merely objected to what I think is a slight slanting of the facts (emphasis on “slight”) in Luban’s piece.

    Regarding Undaunted’s second paragraph, I couldn’t agree more. That was indeed the situation on the ground back then (and now). The creation of Israel was a mistake, an injustice: it amounted to colonialism, pure and simple.

    The only solution is a democratic Palestine in which Arabs, Jews, and others live on a basis of equality. A Jewish state is ipso facto an apartheid state; an injustice. To respond to the Holocaust by expropriating the Palestinians — how can that be justified? Expropriation of the Germans and the setting up a Jewish state in Austria or Bavaria — that would have been fair and just.

  4. Very nice phrase, ” it would appear that the Israelis were, from relatively early on, contemplating breaking the ceasefire in order to cut Hamas off at the knees,” because it pretends there was a cease fire at all.

    Here’s a site:

    which counts the rockets launched from Gaza into Israel. There was actually a two-month rocket lull during September and October, but even then, the count was not 0.

    It’s really a cease fire when both sides do not attack eachother. You site just tells me you’re just another anti-Semitic writer; no wonder Sullivan likes you so much.

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