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By the spring, reports from Gaza indicated that grocery shelves were filled with Israeli goods from milk and flour to chocolate bars. Come summer, when Egypt’s new military government began systematically destroying the smuggling tunnels that brought goods into Gaza. Israel agreed to step up its supply. Construction material for the private market was let in for the first time in years, first gravel, then cement, iron and other basics.
The discovery in October of the terror tunnel leading from Gaza to Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha, evidently for attacks or kidnappings, resulted in a shutdown of construction material. But the suspension is expected to be temporary. As much as Israel and Hamas despise each other, it’s in both their interests to maintain stability. Hamas, for all its anarchist and fanatic tendencies, has a statelet to run. It can’t have its people’s homes and businesses repeatedly flattened by Israeli munitions, even if that means smacking down its mad bombers. As for Israel, it needs to have someone on the other side of the border who’s able and willing to keep order.
There’s one more factor in the truce’s success or failure: international legitimacy.
Here it’s instructive to compare the success of Operation Pillar of Defense with the relative weakness of its predecessor, Operation Cast Lead. Like Pillar, Cast Lead came at the tail end of a hellish year, 2008, in which Israel’s southern communities endured about 2,700 rockets and mortars. Unlike the eight-day Pillar campaign, Cast Lead lasted three weeks, escalating rapidly from aerial bombing to massive artillery bombardment and then a ground invasion.
Cast Lead’s goal was not merely to deter terror by raising the price, but to root out the infrastructure of terrorist cells. That proved to be both hugely costly and quickly reversible. The Palestinians lost somewhere between 1,100 and 1,400 souls, but they gained considerable world sympathy. Israel made the mistake of keeping up the offensive long enough for its initial sympathy to dissipate and give way to international revulsion.
The results: For Israel, international isolation, the Goldstone Report, the Gaza flotilla and growing momentum for the Israel-bashing BDS movement. For the Palestinians, a dose of international sympathy that emboldened them to return to rocketeering almost immediately. Through the rest of 2009, nearly 900 rockets were fired at southern Israel — fewer than in 2008, but still intolerable for Israel. Cast Lead was a costly failure.