Israeli Voters Expected to Shift Right
The unilaterally declared Israeli ceasefire that ended Operation Cast Lead went into effect on January 18. Israel started withdrawing its forces from Gaza on January 19, and Barack Obama was inaugurated on January 20. It was no coincidence. Putting military considerations aside, the top priority of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was to make sure the new president wasn't facing a "Middle East crisis" on his first day in office.
On January 19 Hamas, too, declared a ceasefire for a week (later extended) on condition that Israel withdrew all forces in that time. Israel complied, and with a bilateral ceasefire now in place, Olmert, Barak, and Livni were able to boast of the war's success, the smashing of Hamas, and restored Israeli deterrence.
But not for long.
The first ceasefire violations came on January 20. Terrorists in Gaza fired at IDF forces in two separate incidents while also launching 11 mortar shells at IDF forces and into Israeli territory. Fluke parting shots? Not at all. Thirteen of the 16 days since January 19 have seen ceasefire violations, some of them severe. The worst incident to date came on January 27 when an IED killed an Israeli soldier at a border crossing and wounded three others, one of them critically. February 1 -- last Sunday -- was a particularly busy day for the "ceasefire" as terrorists fired three rockets and nine mortal shells at Israeli towns and villages and also shot at IDF forces, resulting in two soldiers being lightly injured by shrapnel. Then on Tuesday, in an event particularly reminiscent of the days leading up to Cast Lead, a Grad rocket hit the coastal city of Ashkelon, causing property damage. In addition, three people required treatment for shock. Israel responded as it has throughout this latest "ceasefire" period -- with tactical strikes, this time against smuggling tunnels and a Hamas training camp.
Israel's head of military intelligence, Amos Yadlin, told the cabinet on Sunday that it's not Hamas but other groups that are carrying out the attacks. Hamas, he claimed, has begun "internalizing" the blow it suffered and is deterred. The Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center describes those other groups as a motley assortment: a "network linked to global jihad"; the military wing of Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah; the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine; and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.