Kerry arrives in Israel for cease-fire talks

This latest junket is notable because Israel hadn’t exactly rolled out the welcome mat for the Secretary of State after he got caught on an open mic scoffing at “pinpoint” targeting by the IDF. Kerry touched down in Tel Aviv earlier today to sit down for separate talks with Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas about the war in Gaza, hoping to bring a temporary truce to the ground operations and missile shots. Kerry arrived a day behind Ban Ki-moon, whose talks also went nowhere:

Secretary of State John Kerry landed in Tel Aviv Wednesday for talks with leaders in a bid to halt the deadly fighting in Gaza. He will travel to Jerusalem and the West Bank and is expected to meet UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, Palestinian Authority President Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.

U.S. officials have downplayed expectations for an immediate truce between Israel and the Hamas militant group that controls Gaza, but Kerry said Tuesday that he wanted to discuss options for a long-lasting settlement as well as a humanitarian cease-fire. Kerry flew into the city’s Ben-Gurion airport on an Air Force jet one day after the FAA instructed U.S. commerical airlines not to fly there. The 24-hour restriction was imposed after a Hamas rocket landed close to the airport on Tuesday.

The FAA issue is a non-sequitur. The agency has authority over commercial flights, not military or State Department travel. Michael Bloomberg’s flight into Tel Aviv on El Al is a real protest against the FAA decision, which my friend Jeff Dunetz believes to be a form of economic sanction against Israel. That’s possible, but a 24-hour pause isn’t much of a sanction, and don’t forget that the US air carriers actually made the decision to ground the flights before the FAA announced its decision. The airlines clearly had their own concerns over flying in and out of Tel Aviv, whether rational or not.

Earlier, Kerry claimed some success in pushing a cease-fire, but the obstacle is what it has been all along — a refusal from Hamas to engage in any cease-fire at all:

The UN complained bitterly about IDF shelling near their schools, and accused Israel of committing war crimes:

Israel may have committed war crimes by killing civilians and shelling houses and hospitals during its two-week-old offensive in the Gaza Strip, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said on Wednesday. Pillay, opening an emergency debate at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, also condemned the indiscriminate firing of rockets and mortars by Palestinian militants into Israel.

Citing cases Israeli air strikes and shelling hitting houses and hospitals in the coastal enclave, she said: “These are just a few examples where there seems to be a strong possibility that international humanitarian law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes. Every one of these incidents must be properly and independently investigated.” Israel, which accuses the Council of bias, boycotted the Geneva forum for 20 months, resuming cooperation in October. Its main ally the United States, a member state, has also said Israel is unfairly singled out.

However, this morning another UN school found a cache of Hamas rockets on their grounds:

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for said it was “pursuing all possible measures for the removal of the objects in order to preserve the safety and security of the school.”

As the Israeli offensive in Gaza rages on, around 100,000 people have sought shelter in UNRWA’s schools. Officials stressed the importance of maintaining the “neutrality of all its premises.”

That has been the problem with Hamas all along. They hide among the civilian population to store and fire their weapons, and then dig tunnels with entry points in houses. Hamas started this war, firing hundreds of rockets indiscriminately on Israeli civilian populations. Israel has a right to defend itself against the Hamas-run Gaza once acts of war and especially attacks on civilians take place, as happened despite repeated warning for days prior to the start of IDF’s offensive operations. The IDF has to take care to distinguish its targets and errors happen in all wars, but they are not required to stand down while Hamas uses civilians as shields while launching attacks on Israel.

That applies to the tunnels as well. The Hamas system of tunnels is highly sophisticated, with entry points in residences and access well across the Gaza border. The New York Times explains just how big of a problem the tunnels have become for Israel, and why Israel wants enough time to cripple the system:

Israeli officials, who revealed that they had been planning for a year to destroy the tunnels, began their ground assault on Thursday, after 10 days of bombardment, when 13 Hamas gunmen emerged from one underground passage near a kibbutz in southern Israel. …

The Israeli military has described tunnels from Gaza to Israel as “complex and advanced,” with many offshoots in different directions. Destroying them, the military said, is a technological and operational challenge.

The tunnels can be up to 90 feet underground and reinforced with concrete, a scarce commodity in Gaza, where most imports of construction material are banned by Israel except for internationally supervised projects. The material — the military estimates 600,000 tons — may have come through different smuggling tunnels from Egypt or have been diverted from its intended purpose.

The lack of concrete for building has left many Gazans unable to rebuild their homes and hampered construction projects that provide Gazans with jobs.

In March, the Israeli military uncovered what it called “the most advanced tunnel,” which stretched hundreds of yards into its territory from the Gaza Strip and could have been used to attack or capture Israelis. Though the tunnel did not reach an Israeli town or village, Colonel Lerner said, “it wasn’t that far — a quick sprint and you could attack a community.”

The options for a cease fire now for Israel are limited. They need time to destroy the tunnels and their access points, and hopefully track down some of Hamas’ leadership. If Hamas was smart, they’d sign onto a cease fire now and force Israel to pause. At least so far, though, Hamas’ strategy has been singularly idiotic or flat-out insane. All indications are that they will let Israel off the hook again for the cease-fire at least for the near term, which will give the IDF plenty of time to accomplish their mission in destroying their tunnel system.