A three-day humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza fell apart in a matter of hours on Friday, and the incident that may have doomed this current peace process was the assumed capture of an Israeli soldier less than two hours after the truce's starting time.
According to reports, a Israeli Defense Forces unit was attacked around 9:30 a.m. local time while trying to destroy an underground tunnel built by Hamas. Two soldiers were killed and a third, identified by multiple outlets as Second Lt. Hadar Goldin, disappeared and was presumed kidnapped. (Or detained, in the words of Hamas.) The attack also reportedly included a suicide bomb, the first known incident of that type in this current war.
Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement Friday calling on Hamas to "immediately and unconditionally release the missing Israeli soldier."
He said the attack was "an outrageous violation of the ceasefire."
Naturally, there is a dispute about the timing of these attacks. Hamas says it happened at 7:00 a.m., before the truce was set to begin. The hours immediately before any ceasefire are recognized as the most dangerous of any conflict, as both sides try to get in their last shots before they aren't allowed anymore.
In either case, once Goldin went missing, the ceasefire was doomed, as Israel was only going to intensify their search — and their retaliation against Hamas. For years, the IDF has made it an explicit policy to avoid letting any of their soldiers be captured alive. If they suspect that one has been, the military initiates what's known as the Hannibal Directive, which instructs forces to take all measures possible to prevent enemy forces from escaping with their captive, even if that means risking the life of the hostage. After the capture of soldier Gilad Shalit in 2006, which let to five years of captivity and an eventual prisoner swap involving more than 1,000 Palestinians, that policy was reinforced.
If Goldin is indeed a prisoner (and as rumored, a relative of Israel's defense minister), it could signal a major turning point in this current conflict. Israel will stop at nothing to find him and given the already terrifying level of violence in Gaza, a major ground invasion would only raise the level of deaths on both sides. Experts are concerned that there will not be another, Shalit-like exchange, but an increased determination within Israel to wipe out Hamas once and for all. That means a protracted war, with little regard for the opinions of the international community.
There have already been more than 30 Palestinians killed by Israeli shelling just this morning. There are no peace talks scheduled and the days of wrangling to get this single three-day truce were erased in less than two hours. For everyone who proclaimed that things would get worse before they get better, it looks like they are about to get to worse in Gaza. And may not get better for long time.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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