Conventional, boring maturity — the accurate way to describe the conclusion of Operation Pillar of Defense — won out in the end. It wasn't just Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who peddled the operation's results to the public on Wednesday, who felt this way. The achievements are indeed great, but conditional.
A similar sentiment was detected in televised remarks by Labor Chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich and former Kadima leader Tzipi Livni that same day.
Both women refrained from criticizing the government for calling up thousands of reservists and sending them home without a Gaza ground invasion. Livni justifiably criticized the government for failing to advance the diplomatic process with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and Yachimovich adopted that same boring maturity when she issued the familiar "time will tell" adage.
In contrast, Yesh Atid (There is a Future) leader Yair Lapid issued a nonsensical response, mixing up his past and future tenses, and Kadima head Shaul Mofaz embarrassed himself by seeking continued fighting in Gaza without calling for a ground incursion.
We could remind Netanyahu of his own words after Operation Cast Lead in 2008, when he was opposition leader, when he criticized the government for failing to take action to topple Hamas. During election season it is permissible to criticize political opponents, but this time there are two major differences: Operation Pillar of Defense was waged with the Muslim Brotherhood in the leadership position in Egypt, and without the posturing and arrogance that characterized the diplomacy of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Lebanon and in Gaza.
One could logically claim that Netanyahu and Barak set out to achieve mere tactical objectives, and not strategic ones, and were satisfied with a harsh blow to Hamas rather than a total annihilation of the Hamas regime in Gaza. But those who failed to make that claim when the operation began should not complain now. After all, the military objectives were fully achieved.
Even though only 7 percent of Israelis said, in a Channel 2 poll Wednesday, that they believed Operation Pillar of Defense would produce a lasting cease-fire, 58% of them said the operation did contribute to Israel's power of deterrence.
Achieving such extensive destruction in Gaza while still avoiding international criticism is a dramatic diplomatic accomplishment for Israel. It may have been possible only thanks to Barak's opening declaration — at the behest of Netanyahu — which lowered expectations to a realistic level.
Barak (and Likud minister Dan Meridor) have a way of looking at the situation through disillusioned eyes. This came into play in 2006, on the second day of the Second Lebanon War, when Barak and Meridor pressed then Prime Minister Olmert to become more realistic. To a certain degree, this view falls into line with the stance voiced by Vice Prime Minister Moshe (Bogie) Ya'alon, who thinks that in the near future, there can be no resolution to the conflict with the Palestinians, only ongoing crisis management.
In fact, Livni, who served as foreign minister under Olmert, could also share this view. After all, she tried to extricate Olmert twice, pushing him to get out of Lebanon and subsequently Gaza in time, but to no avail. That is why she did not oppose the conclusion of the current operation, which was orchestrated by Lieberman with surprising generosity toward Egypt.
Operation Pillar of Defense was crowned a sour success. The public wanted more than the government had promised. Reservists, unlike any others in the world, were more eager to make sacrifices than the government was eager to put them in harm's way. There is a chance for quiet, there are no delusions, and as Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom confirmed Wednesday, the real test will be Israel's response to the first Hamas rocket that violates the cease-fire.