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After eight days of fighting, Operation Pillar of Defense came to a close, and now all that can be done is wait for the results.
During the night following the Israel-Hamas cease-fire announcement, there was sporadic rocket fire for several hours after the 9 p.m. deadline went into effect, but none after midnight. In all, 12 rockets were fired into Israeli territory after the deadline. The Israel Air Force has ceased all activity in the Gaza Strip. If the calm holds, reserve soldiers called up to prepare for a potential ground invasion will begin to be sent home in coming days.
On Thursday morning, residents of southern communities heard warning sirens indicating incoming rockets, but no rockets were found. Officials believe that several rockets may have exploded inside Palestinian territory.
As far as the cease-fire agreement goes, Israel will seek to end the smuggling of weapons and ammunition from Sinai into the Gaza Strip. Hamas will seek a removal of the naval blockade on Gaza and the opening of all border crossings.
The man behind the agreement was Mossad head Tamir Pardo, who traveled to Cairo, presented the Israeli position and returned to Jerusalem with a list of understandings to be presented to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. The three convened the Forum of Nine senior ministers and formulated an outline for the cease-fire agreement.
The Forum of Nine was scheduled to meet at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, but the bombing of a Tel Aviv bus disrupted that plan. Netanyahu and the ministers were furious, and the mediators immediately called UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. For a moment it seemed that the cease-fire agreement was doomed, and that Netanyahu would launch an Israeli ground invasion in Gaza. But then Clinton exerted pressure, and U.S. President Barack Obama also called Netanyahu and asked him to give the truce a chance. You have to give your citizens a normal life, Obama reportedly said to Netanyahu, and it worked.
It was decided that the announcement regarding the cease-fire would come out of Egypt, in order to give the Egyptian leadership the credit and to cement Egypt’s involvement. Egyptian Foreign Minister Kamel Amr said at a joint press conference with Clinton on Wednesday that “Egypt succeeded, after much effort, to achieve understandings that will make a cease-fire possible.”
“This is a critical moment for the region,” Clinton said as she welcomed the agreement. “Egypt’s new government is assuming the responsibility and leadership that has long made this country a cornerstone for regional stability and peace.”
The Forum of Nine was not in full agreement. Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz and Interior Minister Eli Yishai argued that a truce would be a mistake. Sources at the Prime Minister’s Office said that throughout the discussions there was never a vote on whether or not to launch a ground invasion.
The political echelon in Israel explained that this was a calculated move. For Israel, this operation shifted the command over Hamas from Iran to Egypt. Israel is not entirely pleased with Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, for failing to stop the trafficking of mid-range Fajr rockets from Sinai into Gaza. But still, there is hope that Egypt, too, will abide by the new rules that have been set.
Lieberman said Wednesday that the operation had been waged on three fronts: military, diplomatic, and public opinion. On the military front, it emerged that the Israel Security Agency has very good intelligence capabilities. The assassination of Hamas military commander Ahmed Jabari was a baptism by fire for ISA Director Yoram Cohen, and he came through with flying colors. IDF Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz also passed a test, and it was clear that he shared the views of Netanyahu and Barak. The army proved itself once again with a speedy reserves call-up and effective intelligence work, and effective consultations with close legal advisers.
In Israel it was agreed that there were no surprises on the diplomatic front. The European Union did not support any Israeli operation that was anything but surgical, but provided a general moral backing. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon represented the UN’s position that Israel’s actions should be examined closely, and that it did not matter what the target was, it only mattered what, or who, ultimately was hit. Ban arrived in Israel and confronted Netanyahu while drawing comparisons between Gaza civilian casualties and Hamas rockets.
As far as the prime minister is concerned, he oversaw the diplomatic front as well as the military front and the homefront. His approval for every step was constant, and daily. He held 20 conversations with world leaders, four conversations with Obama, and ultimately made a decision that ran contrary to the public's sentiments.
The Palestinians, as expected, declared a “massive victory” on Wednesday. The head of the Hamas political bureau, Khaled Mashaal, said in Cairo: “Israel was defeated, and has yielded to our demands. The enemy leaders’ adventure is one of the worst and most unusual failures in the history of the Zionist entity. We are committed to the agreement as long as Israel is committed to it.”