Sunday, January 11, 2009

How the ceasefire collapsed

A narrative from documents. Two of these are from Israeli intelligence sources, but it's fairly easy to read past the bias, which is, indeed, part of the narrative.

As of June 19, there was a marked reduction in the extent of attacks on the western Negev population. The lull was sporadically violated by rocket and mortar shell fire, carried out by rogue terrorist organizations, in some instance in defiance of Hamas (especially by Fatah and Al-Qaeda supporters). Hamas was careful to maintain the ceasefire. The IDF refrained from undertaking counterterrorism activities in the Gaza Strip, taking only routine defensive security measures along the border fence.

During the first period Hamas was careful to maintain the ceasefire and its operatives were not involved in rocket attacks. At the same time, the movement tried to enforce the terms of the arrangement on the other terrorist organizations and to prevent them from violating it. Hamas took a number of steps against networks which violated the arrangement, but in a limited fashion and contenting itself with short-term detentions and confiscating weapons.

Israel’s expectations that the lull arrangement would speed up negotiations for the release of the abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, and Hamas’s expectations that it would lead to discussions regarding the Rafah crossing, were not realized during the six months the arrangement was in force. When it came to Gilad Shalit, Hamas obstinately refused to budge from its former demand for the massive release of Palestinian murderers from Israeli jails. As to the issue of the Rafah crossing, Egypt does not seem eager to negotiate, possibly as a way of exerting pressure on Hamas because it is disappointed with Hamas’s policies regarding a variety of internal Palestinian issues and because it fears Hamas will establish a radical Islamic emirate in the Gaza Strip.
--The Six Months of the Lull Arrangement, December 2008, Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center at the Israel Intelligence Heritage & Commemoration Center

The events which threaten the lull arrangement and cast a question mark over its validity began on November 4. Following information about Hamas's preparations to abduct IDF soldiers through a tunnel, the IDF operated near the border. The operation prevented the planned attack and killed seven Hamas terrorist operatives. Hamas reacted with massive rocket and mortar shell fire, unprecedented since the lull arrangement went into effect. After the immediate barrages, sporadic rocket and mortar shell fire continued (carried out by the smaller terrorist organizations). Israel responded by closing the Gaza Strip crossings.

Another event occurred on November 12, when the IDF killed four Hamas terrorist operatives who tried to lay an IED near the border security fence. The Palestinian terrorist organizations, led by Hamas, again fired dozens of rockets and mortar shells at western Negev population centers, including the town of Sderot and city of Ashqelon. The fire, in various quantities, continued uninterrupted for four days.

The ongoing escalation is the first of its kind during the lull. Several of its parameters are conspicuous: its scale (a total of 91 rockets and 38 mortar shells were fired between November 4 and 16); its continuity (the attacks occurred almost daily for ten days and are still ongoing); the various types of rocket used (including standard Grad 122mm rockets, fired at Ashqelon, for which Hamas claimed responsibility); the amount of time that Israel closed the Gaza Strip crossings in response (they have been closed to the delivery of merchandise since November 5). Following the lack of goods in the Gaza Strip and in response to appeals from the international community, on November 11 Israel began delivering a limited supply of diesel fuel for the Gaza Strip power plant. However, the deliveries quickly ended on November 12 because Hamas renewed its rocket fire.

Another important facet of the recent escalation is that for the first time, there is direct Hamas involvement in the rocket and mortar shell fire. Moreover, Hamas publicly claims responsibility, as do the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Fatah and the smaller organizations (until now, Hamas did not participate in the rocket and mortar attacks and the other terrorist organizations generally did not publicly claim responsibility for them.) At the same time, Hamas heads and spokesmen publicly stated that their intention was not to end the lull arrangement but to provide “an equal response” to what they call the “Israeli violations.” In addition, even after Hamas had “responded” (as the organization called its attacks) to the Israeli preventive activity, the other terrorist organizations (Fatah, the PIJ, etc.) did not stop attacking but continued sporadic rocket and mortar shell fire into Israel . For example, on the afternoon of November 14 Hamas stopped its fire, and since then the other Palestinian terrorist organizations have continued to fire rockets and mortar shells (while Hamas does not use force to keep them from attacking). --Significant erosion of the lull arrangement in the Gaza Strip, November 16, 2008, Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center at the Israel Intelligence Heritage & Commemoration Center [emphases in original]

[W]hat happened to end this striking period of peace? On November 4th, Israel killed a Palestinian, an event that was followed by a volley of mortars fired from Gaza. Immediately after that, an Israeli air strike killed six more Palestinians. Then a massive barrage of rockets was unleashed, leading to the end of the ceasefire.

Thus the latest ceasefire ended when Israel first killed Palestinians, and Palestinians then fired rockets into Israel. However, before attempting to glean lessons from this event, we need to know if this case is atypical, or if it reflects a systematic pattern.

We decided to tally the data to find out. We analyzed the entire timeline of killings of Palestinians by Israelis, and killings of Israelis by Palestinians, in the Second Intifada, based on the data from the widely-respected Israeli Human Rights group B'Tselem (including all the data from September 2000 to October 2008).

We defined "conflict pauses" as periods of one or more days when no one is killed on either side, and we asked which side kills first after conflict pauses of different durations. ...[Our] analysis shows that it is overwhelmingly Israel that kills first after a pause in the conflict: 79% of all conflict pauses were interrupted when Israel killed a Palestinian, while only 8% were interrupted by Palestinian attacks (the remaining 13% were interrupted by both sides on the same day). In addition, we found that this pattern -- in which Israel is more likely than Palestine to kill first after a conflict pause -- becomes more pronounced for longer conflict pauses. Indeed, of the 25 periods of nonviolence lasting longer than a week, Israel unilaterally interrupted 24, or 96%, and it unilaterally interrupted 100% of the 14 periods of nonviolence lasting longer than 9 days. --
Reigniting Violence: How Do Ceasefires End? Nancy Kanwisher, January 6, 2009.

It's worth reading these documents and Kanwisher's data-based article in their entirety to get a sense of the knife-edge upon which the ceasefire had been balanced. Conflicting expectations on both sides, mounting tension as they were not realized, and then a spark to the gunpowder: IDF forces, claiming prior knowledge of an alleged kidnap plot by Hamas (of a soldier or soldiers patrolling the Gaza fence) struck first, killing seven Gazans, and setting off a spiral of retaliation and counter-retaliation. And so, as Kanwisher indicates, the sorry history of broken "lull arrangements" in the Middle East repeats itself once again.


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