Israel's last surge before a Gaza cease-fire?
The UN headquarters in Gaza was struck by Israeli fire. Fissures are emerging among Israeli civilian and military leaders over how and when to end the campaign.
Jerusalem and Tel Aviv
The Israeli military on Thursday shelled the main United Nations aid compound in Gaza, struck a building that houses foreign news organizations, and caused a fire at a hospital. The attacks sparked global condemnation even as efforts to reach a cease-fire continued.Skip to next paragraph
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The Israeli strikes on what political officials said were unintended targets in the Gaza campaign underscore what some analysts see as a furious drive by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) to achieve as many last-minute blows to Hamas as possible before a cease-fire is reached. And at this stage of the war, fissures are emerging within the Israeli civilian and military leadership.
"It's the final push to make Hamas understand, either they make a decision for a cease-fire, or it will be difficult to survive," says Shmuel Rosner, a leading opinion maker and journalist. "They need to show seriousness so Hamas doesn't interpret Israel's waiting of the last few days as reluctance to continue the operation."
While Ehud Barak, Israel's defense minister, apologized to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon for Israel's strike on their Gaza headquarters, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert took a different approach. He said the building had been used by Palestinian militants to strike Israeli forces.
Mr. Olmert, quoting a senior IDF officer, said Israel's troops opened fire on militants inside the compound shot antitank weapons and machine guns. "It is absolutely true that we were attacked from that place," he said.
Those two points provide a window into the differences that have developed at the top of the Israel political structure, run by an unlikely troika of Olmert, Mr. Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni – none of whom are allied.
With an election set for Feb. 10, the political rivals have become even more assertive in claiming their share of the credit for the war.
Ms. Livni, who is running to succeed Olmert, reportedly favors a unilateral pullback even without a cease-fire, according to media reports. A swift pullback would minimize risks to Israeli soldiers as well as the chances of a giving Hamas an opportunity to score any parting blows. A quick withdrawal would also improve Israel's position with its Western allies, which is progressively eroding as damage and death tolls mount.
"She is afraid of a mess up," says Gideon Doron, a political science professor at Tel Aviv University. "The longer you stay there, the higher the likelihood of a soldier getting hurt. That's bad for the ruling party."
Barak, who has got a boost from the polls for leading the war effort, reportedly supports a swift "humanitarian" cease-fire and the Egyptian efforts to reach a truce with Hamas. He would also like to wrap up the fighting and show a willingness to pursue peace to bolster his position among in his pro-peace Labor Party.
Olmert, who reportedly supports continuing the operation, is a lame duck prime minister and is free of his colleagues' political calculations. Mr. Doron says he's concerned about his legacy and would like to be remembered as the leader who squashed Hamas.
But meanwhile in Gaza, the war moved into one of its most deadly days amid some of the heaviest Israeli shelling on Thursday. Israel's military chief of staff told a parliamentary committee Tuesday that although Hamas has been dealt a serious blow, "we still have work to do."