After its severe strike on Gaza, Israel would do well to stop, turn to Hamas’ leaders and say:
Until Saturday Israel held its fire in the face of thousands of Qassams from the Gaza Strip. Now you know how harsh its response can be. So as not to add to the death and destruction we will now hold our fire unilaterally and completely for the next 48 hours. Even if you fire at Israel, we will not respond with renewed fighting. We will grit our teeth, as we did all through the recent period, and we will not be dragged into replying with force.
Moreover, we invite interested countries, neighbors near and far, to mediate between us and you to bring back the cease-fire. If you hold your fire, we will not renew ours. If you continue firing while we are practicing restraint, we will respond at the end of this 48 hours, but even then we will keep the door open to negotiations to renew the cease-fire, and even on a general and expanded agreement.
That is what Israel should do now. Is it possible, or are we too imprisoned in the familiar ceremony of war?
Until Saturday, Israel under Ehud Barak’s military leadership showed remarkable cool. It should not lose its cool in the heat of battle. We should not forget even for a moment that the people of the Gaza Strip will remain our close neighbors and that sooner or later we will want to achieve good neighborly relations with them.
We should in no way strike them so violently, even if Hamas, for years, has made life intolerably miserable for the people of southern Israel, and even if their leaders have refused every Israeli and Egyptian attempt to reach a compromise to prevent this lastest flare-up.
The line of self-control and the awareness of the obligation to protect the lives of the innocent in Gaza must be toed even now, precisely because Israel’s strength is almost limitless. Israel must constantly check to see when its force has crossed the line of legitimate and effective response, whose goal is deterrence and a restoration of the cease-fire, and from what point it is once again trapped in the usual spiral of violence.
Israel’s leaders know well that given the situation in the Gaza Strip, it will be very hard to reach a total and unequivocal military solution. The lack of a solution might result in an ongoing ambiguous situation where we have already been: Israel will strike Hamas, it will strike and be struck, strike and be struck, and will become unwillingly enmeshed in every trap a situation like this entails, and will not attain its true and essential goals. It might very quickly discover that it is swept up – a strong military power, but helpless to get itself out of the entanglement – into a maelstrom of violence and destruction.
Therefore, stop. Hold your fire. Try for once to act against the usual response, in contrast to the lethal logic of belligerence. There will always be a chance to start firing again. War, as Barak said about two weeks ago, will not run away. International support for Israel will not be damaged, and will even grow, if we show calculated restraint and invite the international and Arab community to intervene and mediate.
It is true that Hamas will thus receive a respite with which to reorganize, but it has had long years to do so, and two more days will not really make a difference. And such a calculated lull might change the way Hamas responds to the situation. The response could even give it an honorable way out of the trap it has set for itself.
And one more, unavoidable thought: Had we adopted this attitude in July 2006, after Hezbollah abducted the soldiers, had we had stopped then, after our first response, and declared we were holding our fire for a day or two to mediate and calm things down, the reality today might be entirely different.
This is also a lesson the government should learn from that war. In fact, it might be the most important lesson.