Netanyahu: Get ready for a long campaign in Gaza

Yesterday it appeared that the fighting in Gaza had begun to dwindle down, as Israel focused on the tunnels and Hamas’ rockets slowed down. Late in the day, though, Hamas began shooting medium- and long-range missiles that went as far as Haifa and sent another infiltration squad through the tunnels into southern Israel, and the IDF shifted into high gear:

The Israeli military said five Israeli soldiers were killed in a battle Monday evening when militants from Gaza infiltrated into southern Israel via a tunnel from Gaza. A gunfight broke out, leaving at least one militant dead. The deaths of the five soldiers brought the total number of Israeli troops killed in the three-week-old conflict to 53, the largest toll since Israel’s 2006 war with Lebanon. Hamas mortar and rocket attacks from Gaza have also killed two Israeli civilians and a Thai worker.

Multiple rocket barrages from Gaza overnight sent people scurrying to shelters in Tel Aviv, Israel’s commercial capital, in the dead of night. …

Israeli airstrikes struck a fuel tank off Gaza’s only electricity plant early Tuesday, forcing it to shut down, according to Palestinian officials. The attack threatens to cut off power to the more than 1.8 million residents of Gaza, who were getting electricity only a few hours a day.

Israeli airstrikes also struck the home of one of the top leaders of Hamas, the Islamist militant group that runs Gaza, as well as Hamas’s al-Aqsa TV broadcast center, a finance building and the homes of local mayors. Along the coast of the tiny seaside enclave, Israel struck at least four times, hitting the sea port and shaking hotels where scores of international journalists are staying.

CNN reported on the aftermath of the overnight fighting, although they mostly focused on the Israeli actions, skipping entirely what set off this latest exchange:

Benjamin Netanyahu warned Israelis to prepare themselves for a long fight against Hamas in Gaza:

Signaling an escalation of Israel’s Gaza operation, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Israelis Monday to be ready for a “prolonged” war, and the military warned Palestinians in three large neighborhoods to leave their homes and head immediately for Gaza City. …

Israel says its troops will not leave Gaza until they have demolished scores of Hamas military tunnels under the Gaza-Israel border that militants use to infiltrate Israel and smuggle weapons. Hamas says it will not cease fire until it receives international guarantees Gaza’s 7-year-old border blockade by Egypt and Israel will be lifted.

Netanyahu defended the Gaza air and ground offensive, saying in a televised speech Monday that “there is no war more just than this.”

The US and Israel traded barbs yesterday over John Kerry’s attempts to negotiate with Hamas for a truce. Israeli officials made it known that they felt Kerry had betrayed them, while the State Department accused the unnamed Israeli officials of a “misinformation campaign.”  “It’s simply not the way partners and allies treat each other,” Jen Psaki complained in a statement that either or both countries might have said. As noted in the CNN report above, by last night Kerry was backing away from that fight, acknowledging that “miscommunications” had occurred in his attempts to negotiate a cease fire.

This morning, Kerry might find himself out of the loop again. The leadership of Fatah claims to have gotten Hamas and Islamic Jihad to agree to a 72-hour cease-fire proposal, and and may enact it unilaterally:

PLO official Yasser Abd Rabbo on Tuesday said all Palestinian factions were prepared to announce on a unilateral 72-hour cease-fire in fighting between Israeli and terrorists in the Gaza Strip.

According to Rabbo, the announcement was reportedly made with the consent of Hamas.

Speaking at a press conference in Ramallah, Rabbo said the initiative for a three-day halt in fighting was based on a proposal by the UN’s special envoy to the Middle East, Robert Serry.

Earlier on Tuesday, Al-Arabia reported that a delegation comprised of various Palestinian factions reportedly arrived Tuesday in Cairo for talks on an Egyptian cease-fire initiative proposed two weeks ago to quell the fighting between Hamas and Israel.

The delegation – including representatives from the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad – was slated to meet with Egyptian officials to discuss the draft truce, which Hamas and Islamic Jihad previous rejected and Israel accepted.

That would be a big step backwards for Hamas, if true. The Egyptian proposal was a cease-fire in place with no concessions at all on Hamas’ demands, and as late as yesterday the Egyptians refused to change the terms of their proposal. The failure of the infiltration attempt might have convinced Hamas that they had nothing left in the tank, or it may be that the escalation of IDF attacks afterward surprised them. Hamas has acted as though they have been expecting international pressure to force Israel to end its responses to their attacks, but so far Israel has decided to ignore international opinion — and the world has bigger fish to fry in Syria, Iraq, and Ukraine anyway.

Will Israel abide by a unilateral cease-fire? Probably, as long as they can continue to root out the tunnels going into southern Israel. The tunnel system has proven to be a major threat to security in southern Israel, and Netanyahu won’t allow them to remain — and Israelis wouldn’t let him back away from that objective even if he was inclined to do so, which he’s not. If Hamas fights to keep its tunnels, this cease-fire proposal will be about as effective as any other truce attempt over the last few weeks. Perhaps everyone should prepare themselves for a long fight.

If anyone wonders why Netanyahu is so adamant about the tunnels, Jake Tapper provides an in-depth look at their use — and their construction. Remember when Gazans complained that Israel was blocking shipments of concrete they needed to build homes, schools, and hospitals? Take a look at the interior of these tunnels, built in part by child labor: