Prior to Operation Cast Lead, the devastating Israeli attack on Gaza in 2008-09, there had been six months of a truce which both sides claimed the other did not maintain in good faith. Still, the truce endured.
When Israel escalated the tensions on November 4, 2008, killing six Hamas men in an operation Israel said was meant to thwart a tunnel Hamas was building to abduct more Israeli soldiers, some people felt that Israel was intentionally raising the stakes because the truce was holding and Hamas was fortifying its position in Gaza.
Therefore, the thinking went, Israel struck hard at Hamas with an excuse knowing that Hamas would feel it had no choice but to retaliate.
Well, that line of thinking got quite a boost when Wikileaks released a cable earlier this week containing an American report on a meeting with Israeli Defense Minister, Ehud Barak. Here is the relevant passage:
3. (S) Regarding the Tahdiya, Hacham said Barak stressed that while it was not permanent, for the time being it was holding. There have been a number of violations of the ceasefire on the Gaza side, but Palestinian factions other than Hamas were responsible. Hacham said the Israelis assess that Hamas is making a serious effort to convince the other factions not to launch rockets or mortars. Israel remains concerned by Hamas’ ongoing efforts to use the Tahdiya to increase their strength, and at some point, military action will have to be put back on the table. The Israelis reluctantly admit that the Tahdiya has served to further consolidate Hamas’ grip on Gaza, but it has brought a large measure of peace and quiet to Israeli communities near Gaza.
Certainly, those who put forth the theory that Israel willfully provoked the Hamas escalation that precipitated the massive Israeli attack that started on December 27, 2008 and lasted until just before Barack Obama’s inauguration believe this cable proves they were right.
Well, it doesn’t quite prove it, but it is mightily suggestive. Barak is essentially telling the Americans here that the mere fact of Hamas accumulating rockets (though they could never hope to amass sufficient weaponry to be even the most remote threat to Israel and everyone in the room knows that) would mean that Israel would have to act to knock Hamas back down. Moreover, Barak was quite clear in this meeting that Hamas was holding up their end of the tahdiya. He readily acknowledges that the few rockets that had been fired had not been fired by Hamas, and that Hamas was sincerely trying to stop even the other groups.
This cable combines with the rather flimsy story about the tunnel to really cast a suspicious light here. The concern that Hamas was digging a tunnel to attack Israeli soldiers hardly seems to justify a cross-border raid, especially one that would jeopardize a reasonably healthy cease-fire.
Is it proof? Perhaps not, but it certainly paints a convincing picture.
As a postscript, this was the same cable that reported on Israel’s affection for the man who has now become Egypt’s first vice president:
We defer to Embassy Cairo for analysis of Egyptian succession scenarios, but there is no question that Israel is most comfortable with the prospect of Omar Soliman.