It should have been no surprise that the Israeli security cabinet, after much noise, decided against conducting a full scale operation of Gaza - "just yet." The same conditions that obtained in April, when I explained why no Gaza operation
would probably be forthcoming, even after the Israel
60th anniversary carnival is over. The "near future" of last April is now. The carnival is over. The guests went home. But there is still no "exit plan" and there was no "massive provocation" that could justify a large scale attack, and therefore there could be no attack.
A few things did change. An additional reason for not carrying out an attack has crystallized around Egyptian efforts to broker a truce and reconciliation between Hamas
and Fatah. An Israeli invasion would embarrass and anger Egypt. Another factor that has entered the equation is the inevitability of upcoming elections in Israel.
Elections always bring out the worst and silliest in political analysts. In Jerusalem Post
, Yaakov Katz "analyzed" the reasons why no operation was undertaken at this time. He listed as secondary minor matters like those I discussed, such as the fact that the operation would be pointless and waste lives and anger the Egyptians. Other than that, Katz must think it is a good idea. But, argues Katz, "first and "foremost" Ehud Barak
has put off the Gaza operation because he wants to devote himself to politics. Every poll shows that if elections were held today, the Labor
parties would be voted out of office in favor of the Likud
party of Benjamin Netanyahu
. An extended military operation in Gaza would at least quiet criticism for a while ("Silence while the guns are firing"). If it succeeds, even temporarily, Barak and Ehud Olmert
would be viewed as heroes. That possibility is advanced by Nadav Shragai in Ha'aretz
. The critics have it covered: Whatever the government does about Gaza will be done for political reasons.
Try to imagine a Gaza operation in concrete terms, and you will understand the actual dilemmas of the government and the IDF
. A "small" operation may result in a dozen dead Israeli soldiers and a hundred Arab casualties. Since Israel has had "only" four fatalities this year, the battle cry of "proportionate response" would be raised. Israel would withdraw, and the Hamas
would claim victory. No matter what "guarantees" would be given, and no matter what UN resolutions might be passed, the situation would be worse for Israel. Worst of all might be placement of a UN force in Gaza that would allow the Hamas to accumulate weapons and gather strength as the Hezbollah
is doing in Lebanon. A large operation would end in Israeli reconquest of Gaza. It might cost a hundred Israeli dead and a couple of thousand Palestinian dead. Depending on whether or not it is your son who gets killed, "only" a hundred fatalities can be a reasonable price to pay. It also depends on what you get.
Perhaps the rest of the world would not pay attention, and Israel could recolonize Gaza. Nadav Shragai thinks this would be a Good Thing. We could go back to the "good old days" of Israeli settlements in Gaza and everything would be fine. By that, Shragai seems to mean that when Israelis were living in Gaza, as he points out, the Qassam rockets were fired at settlers and soldiers inside Gaza, rather than at Israelis living within the Green Line, and this situation would presumably be re-established. The danger would be moved farther away from the center. Shragai forgets to mention that the world would not allow recolonization of Gaza, and that his plan would probably bring about international recognition of the Hamas (or the Islamic Jihad or the Takfir wa al-Hijra or whatever group Iran invents to replace Hamas) as the "legitimate representatives of the Palestinian People." The alternatives are not that "appetizing" either. We can be certain that if Israel retakes Gaza, Iran and the Arab states will work to ensure that Israel is robbed of the fruits of victory unless we have an exit plan that is worked out in advance.
The alternative negotiated settlement that the Israeli government seems to favor may be as bad or worse. The Israelis may have in mind a plan to get Egypt installed again as administrators of Gaza as in the other "good old days." Then there would presumably be permanent quiet. However, the clock cannot be moved back to 1966 or 1955. Egypt wants Gaza like it wants a hole in the head. Our neighbors to the south are not stupid. An Egyptian brokered compromise would have some uses. It would be similar in many ways to the Doha compromise that enthroned Hezbollah in Lebanon. For the Americans, it means that the problem will be quiescent until after the elections at least, while Hezbollah digests its prey. A cease-fire with Hamas, and Fatah - Hamas reconciliation would mean that Hamas could govern unimpeded in Gaza and almost certainly in the West Bank. The "great powers" could bless this agreement as they blessed the Doha accord, and Israel would enjoy a few months of quiet while Hamas and its Iranian and Syrian masters digest the Palestinian authority.
Imagine that the Gaza situation is a board game - Gaza Monopoly. There is a square labeled "International recognition of Hamas or Hamas lookalikes." Of course, the square is colored green. If you land in this square, you lose the game. The game was manufactured in Tehran, and it may be that however you throw the dice and whatever choices you make, you will end in that square sooner or later. Perhaps the best thing is to do nothing, and hope that the company that made the game will go out of business somehow eventually. It is the sort of game that won't operate after the company is out of business.
However, Israel cannot do nothing forever. The Hamas increases the range of its missiles and the audacity of its attacks a little bit each time. Today there was a "nonfatal" but massive attack on Ashkelon Beach. Tomorrow, there may be Grad or Katyusha rockets in Ashkelon again. In a few years, there will be Khaibar missiles on Ashdod and maybe on Tel Aviv. After all, as we know from experience, Khaibar missiles don't kill many people, and the world would still yell "disproportionate response" if Israel attacked Gaza and killed a large number of people (all of whom would be labeled civilians of course). Clearly, whatever the world thinks, Israeli citizens cannot be expected to go about leading their lives in a perpetual mini-blitz.
The other problem with doing nothing is that every day that Hamas continues to rule in Gaza, it is gaining legitimacy. If you do nothing in this game, then by default you find that eventually there is a timeout and you lose by forfeit - you have landed in the fatal "international recognition of Hamas" square. Ami Isseroff
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