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Though it would be foolish to make a definitive pronouncement, it seems right now that we have seen a previous production of the Cast Lead movie, before. Some of the actors are better, and the location and plot are a bit different from the Second Lebanon War, but perhaps not essentially so.

At the tactical level, the IDF has thus far fulfilled the operational missions expected of it evidently, in a most exemplary fashion. From that point of view, the Gaza operation is not a repeat of the Second Lebanon War. But tactical success does not guarantee a strategic victory.

Israel faces enemies in the field of world public opinion that add up to powerful de facto allies of the Hamas. This vast alliance, ranging from the UN to the Arab street to the looming inauguration of Barack Obama as president of the US, to the inevitable Rabbi Michael Lerner and the J Street alliance of Hamas groupies, cannot be defeated by Shaldag commandos, bunker buster bombs or military intelligence. It was inevitable that Mahmoud Abbas, Hosni Mubarak and the other distinguished lights of Middle East diplomacy would orchestrate a caterwauling symphony of wailing about the "genocide" of the "Palestinian people" in public diplomacy and their government controlled media, while all the while urging Israel to wipe out the Hamas behind the scenes. Rafael military industries has not yet perfected an anti-J-Street device, and Golan soldiers are not equipped with anti-UN-General-Assembly missiles and anti-CNN radar chaff.

A different sort of intelligence, and different weapons were needed in planning the operations, the sort of intelligence and planning and weapons that are outside the scope of the IDF's mission and capabilities. One Michael Lerner Op-Ed about Israel's "stupidity" is worth about a hundred Grad or Qassam rockets. All of these threats were known before the start of the Gaza operation. It should have been the job of the Israel Foreign Ministry to neutralize them, but that is easier said than done. Hamas could be defeated if every responsible country understood that it needed to be defeated, and was willing to take the steps needed to isolate it. That has not happened.

Therefore, the only way to gain a decisive victory in Gaza would have been to stage a really massive operation that conquered and controlled the entire Gaza strip in a few days, before the UN could protest, before A.N.S.W.E.R. and the other "peace" groups could organize their "Nuke Israel" and "I hate Juice" "peace" demonstrations, before Rabbi Lerner and the J Street warriors could take up the cudgels on behalf of the cause of world Jihad. But a real "shock and awe" operation of this type would nonetheless entail massive civilian casualties among the Palestinians - far more than those in Cast Lead, and significant IDF casualties. Of course, it might not be completed in time to avoid international censure, and thus it would have risked being a really bloody fiasco if it didn't go off perfectly. It is not realistic to contemplate an operation with 10,000 or more Palestinian casualties, and perhaps 500 or more IDF casualties. In Bint Jbail and Jenin we lost over a dozen IDF soldiers. Gaza city is not Bint Jbail or Jenin. It is, perhaps, a thousand Bint Jbails and Jenins. The network of tunnels that Hamas built during the "lull" makes it much worse, but we have only to recall the fiasco of Suez City in 1973 to understand the cost of fighting in built up areas, even without the tunnels.

In addition to world opinion, and perhaps most important, there is Israeli public opinion or fear of it. Government planners are justifiably petrified at the possibility of another Lebanon war type fiasco, in which dozens of Israeli lives are wasted. That would almost certainly be the result of widening the ground operation in Gaza at this point. Therefore, the government has given the go-ahead for preparations for this operation, but has not OK'd the operation. If indeed, a cease fire is in the offing, it would be pointless and heartless to waste lives in a widened operation that accomplished nothing, as was done in the Lebanon war.

Israel wisely did not announce ambitious goals for Operation Cast Lead. The most frequently voiced goal for the Gaza operation was elimination of the "terror infrastructure" and reduction of the ability of terrorists to operate, as in Operation Defensive Shield in 2002, which eventually ended the worst phase of Second Intifada violence. But Operation Defensive Shield differed markedly from Cast Lead. The acute phase of Defensive Shield was over in a few days, before international protests could be turned into UN resolutions, and it resulted in far less Palestinian casualties than Cast Lead. Moreover, Defensive Shield did not achieve the goal of pacification immediately, and its effect was only relative. During the month of April 2002, there were 55 Israeli fatalities. That was terrible, but it was better than the over 100 deaths inflicted by terrorists in March, before Operation Defensive Shield. In May, there were 30 fatalities, in June, 59, in July, 30. In November of 2002 there were 41 Israeli fatalities from terror attacks. In fact, it was not until 2004 that the one could say that terror attacks were under control (see Second Intifada Timeline). If the reduction was due to operation Defensive Shield, it certainly was not immediate. To attain the same achievement, Israeli troops would presumably have to stay in Gaza for several years. Moreover, as in Defensive Shield, IDF would need to enter the cities and defeat the terrorists in their strongholds. Gaza is not the West Bank however, and Jebalya is not Jenin.

No such alternative is contemplated at present. Israeli planning envisioned, for some reason, that Hamas would cry "uncle" after the first set of air strikes, or perhaps after the start of the ground operation began. Nobody learned the main lesson of the Second Lebanon War. Terrorist groups trained by Iran will continue to declare victory as long as one or two terrorists are left alive, and in the eyes of much of the world, that perception may well be correct.

As IDF is justifiably reluctant to advance and Israel cannot simply walk out of Gaza with no "achievement," the war operation is continuing "full speed in neutral" at this point. Israel is hitting targets, capturing Hamas and blowing up tunnels, but it is not increasing its control of the area or of the situation in Gaza. This sort of harrying operation is not without value, if it can be maintained over a long period. If there is a truce however, the strategic value of blowing up tunnels and capturing arms and killing Hamas terrorosts can be gauged by the probably period of time Hamas will need to replace the arms, train more terrorists and rebuild the tunnels and other "infrastructure." Once there is a cease fire, it should not take them more than a few months at most.

In the perception of optimistic Israeli sources, the command and control centers of the Hamas are destroyed and they have been dealt a serious blow. Therefore, the editors of Jerusalem Post, for example, feel justified in demanding an ambitious set of goals for the diplomatic negotiations, including return of captive Gilad Shalit, guarantees against rocket fire and smuggling and a monitoring force with real power. This isn't going to happen. If IDF cannot stop Hamas from firing rockets when we are in Gaza, then no international force is going to be able to do it for Israel, and no country will risk their soldiers to defend Israel in the same way that Israel does. Some other Israeli prognoses are even less realistic. David Hexner wants to build an affinity between Gaza and Egypt. Egypt has made it clear, and rightly so, that it wants an "affinity" with Gaza like it wants a hole in the head.

A more realistic estimate, I am sorry to say, is given by Abdullah Iskandar in Al Hayat. Hamas cadres are intact, embedded in cities. Militarily, Hamas has lost little, even if there has been considerable damage to "infrastructure." Cities and countries have "infrastructure." Terrorists don't have infrastructure and don't need infrastructure. They only need bombs, explosives and rockets. As in Lebanon, Iran taught Hamas to set up virtually unbreakable local command and control systems that can function even in the worst conditions. Politically, Hamas has gained a lot. The Israeli attacks solidified Palestinian support. No doubt, this spontaneous enthusiasm was greatly encouraged when Hamas police locked up and shot up Fatah supporters. Opposing Hamas in Gaza is hazardous to your health, so we can be sure that everyone is enthusiastic about "resistance." In 1968, Yasser Arafat and Fatah rose to prominence and popularity because of a single stand against the IDF in Karameh. Hamas may have now established itself among all Palestinians as the leaders in the murder the Jews contest. As the Second Lebanon war was the Karameh of the Hezbollah, Gaza may be the Karameh of the Hamas.

Is there alchemy that will turn Cast Lead into solid gold? We can forget about magically erasing Hamas through a military operation. This was never an alternative except in the imaginations of opposition politicians. Nor is Fatah able or willing to take over from Hamas.

Realistically, Israel has two alternatives. The first is to accept an agreement along the lines of the French-Egyptian proposal, whatever that may be. The terms are not clear or defined, but it would probably include some well meaning declarations of intent to stop smuggling and an international force of some sort. We should not expect too much from international forces and guarantees. UN Security Council Resolution 1701 which ended the Second Lebanon War did not stop the Hezbollah from rearming, and it could not even prevent the firing of rockets on Israel today. It would be too much to expect any country to back an Israeli demand to implement Resolution 1701 in Lebanon before perpetrating another 1701 in Gaza.

The Gaza version of 1701, like the Lebanese version, would provide a shield for an Iranian proxy terrorist organization that allows it to consolidate its goals. We can just imagine the enthusiasm with which Muslim Turkish troops would root out tunnels and stop rocketeers and infiltrators. Nonetheless, the agreement would buy quiet of a sort, perhaps with better results than the ill-fated "lull."

Alternatively, Israel can tighten the ring around populated areas in Gaza, and then can declare a unilateral cease fire in place or discreetly scale down the level of operations. It can expand the humanitarian aid given to Gazans and ensure that it really reaches them rather than getting to the Hamas. That will take the pressure off the diplomatic negotiations, and allow establishment of a presence for many months, so that Israel can continue to apply pressure on Hamas, continue to control importation of arms and exercise some control over the civilian population. Alternatively, Israel could occupy the Philadelphi corridor and seek to cut off supplies to Hamas from Rafah. However, a prolonged stay in Gaza, in stationary positions, will make IDF troops vulnerable to attacks such as the ones Hezbollah carried out in Lebanon until the 2000 withdrawal.

Monday morning quarterbacks will insist there were better choices. We know who will say that Israel should have entered into negotiations with Hamas, and that all the carnage was unnecessary, and we know who will say that Israel should have wiped out the Hamas. The carnage was indeed unnecessary. If Hamas had not announced that it was going to break the cease fire, and then demonstrated that it in fact was breaking it, there would have been no operation Cast Lead. Surrender to Hamas demands would have allowed totally free importation of arms to Gaza and was not an option. Continued bombardment of Israeli towns would have turned the whole Western Negev into wasteland. Wiping out the Hamas, while not physically impossible, was probably not an option either. The world would not tolerate ten thousand or more Palestinian casualties in Gaza, all of whom would no doubt be labeled "civilians." The alternative is containment and attrition: an inglorious, frustrating and politically vulnerable strategy. Attractive as they are to true believers, neither juvenile fantasies of military glory or acid-trip visions of peaceful coexistence in strawberry fields forever can substitute for patience, perseverance and grim determination.

Ami Isseroff


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Replies: 3 Comments

I think your last paragraph sums up the situation quite well. While Israelis generally understand their own predicament, some diaspora Jews and other ďwell-meaningĒ people do not seem to understand the logic and necessities of a war forced upon the Jewish state.

Zachary, Friday, January 9th


Hamas merging with Fatah will mean Hamas in both Gaza and West bank. Fatah will have no control,unless Hamas abrogates its charter, and then it is not Hamas. We don't care what it is called, as long as it makes peace.

I gave a link to a timeline that shows all the casualties - you can check there how many casualties there were. The figures are from Betselem and from Israel MFA.

A brief offensive would have meant more Israeli casualties but it would have accomplished its goal. It might have meant more Palestinian casualties, but if it broke the Hamas then it would mean less casualties for everyone in the next 5 years.

Now Israel seems to have rejected the UN resolution which looks bad, and the whole thing runs on borrowed time. We don't have more than about 10 days.

As the situation is fluid, I don't care to comment too much. Carter's article described a "defensive tunnel" that Hamas dug - it was a tunnel for kidnapping solders! Anyone who believes that propaganda will not believe anything we say. If I could get published in the NYT I suppose I would bother to reply.

Ami

Ami Isseroff, Friday, January 9th


Are you sure less Palestinians died in Defensive shield? It seemed more brutal.

Do you think if the Israeli army would have acted faster more Palestinians lives would have been spared or less? Would we have had the same amount of Israeli dead but at a shorter period of time?

Are you going to write a response to Rashid Khalidi in the NYTimes and Carter in the Washington post?

There's a video clip going around the net of a armed Palestinian grabbing a child and walking across a square with him and then dumping him. It is labeled as using a human shield, which it probably is.

We should point out that the reason few Israelis died is because Israeli civilians are in bomb shelters while the army is fighting. In Gaza the reverse is true -- the Hamas is in bomb shelters while the Hamas is outside.

We need to find a way after the war of giving economic relief to Gazans without giving it to the Hamas. Taking away the siege propaganda without actually giving everything to the Hamas. The focus should probably be on opening the Egyptian border. Maybe we should focus on the labeling. Insteead of siege we should say that we're willing to open things for civilians but that here are things we can't do because of the Hamas. Essentially it wouldn't be that different from the so called siege we had, but the labeling would be different.

The army learned well the technical lessons of Lebanon, but we could do better on propaganda and diplomacy. Still a trained army is very important.

I am concerned with the attitudes of Israelis. Barack wisely lowered expectations, but the successes caused expectations to rise.

I think we're right to want to make it difficult for the Hamas to acquire weapons, but we shouldn't make it the measure of success or failure. Under these criteria all Israeli wars were failures.

I don't think the Hamas will find it that easy to spin it as a success. Maybe in the long run their prestige will diminish. That should have been our focus.

Maybe we should agree to a ceasefire but not withdrawal. That should be what we negotiate about. I know it sounds insane to leave the army in Gaza. But if we can have a ceasefire which will mean Hamas won't attack us for a while for fear of return to the fighting + relief to civilians, and at he same time face the symbolic pressure of Israeli presence while we negotiate on the other issues, it might harm their prestige without need of more fighting. I don't know.

What people don't realize is that we are done with simple answers. Its no more about end the occupation or let the army win. It is a multidimensional chess game with multiple players oat the same time.

It is very important to get Shalit back. Symbolically it is everything. And symbolism is 50% of the game if not more. That, a long stable ceasefire, and a perception of relief to Gaza civilians should be the real objectives. Ending the smuggling is something we should demand but not expect to work.

I don't know what would be better for us, a stable Hamas that has learned its lesson in Gaza (on the short run), or a Hamas merging back with the Fatah because it is forced to recognize it cannot exist on its own (as government). I don't think the elimination of the Hamas is a realistic goal. The best we can hope for is a Hamas that seems less heroic and is more cautious about messing with us. That's what we got in every other conflict Israel was in.

Tough.

Micha, Friday, January 9th


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