The question is being raised in many quarters regarding what the goals of an operation in Gaza would be.
What is obvious to anyone who sees clearly on this issue (sees clearly = considers the past and the future and not just the current situation) is that simply getting Hamas to agree to another “lull” is not a good idea. Those “lulls” are used by Hamas to strengthen and will have serious repercussions down the road. And yet, that is what people in our government talk about: “If Hamas will agree to another period of quiet, we will go with that.” Certainly they see achievement of a “lull” as having political gain: We brought quiet to the country.
It also seems to be the case that fully retaking the Gaza Strip is not a viable option (at least under current circumstances). Too costly in terms of lives, too lengthy a process, too risky in terms of international opinion and political ramifications (see below).
The worst thing would be a wishy-washy tentative operation that makes us look incompetent and unsure of ourselves. When we move it has to be with certainty and (taking care to move with all possible concern for our soldiers and Arab civilians) a strong hand. No “proportional” response. Strong.
Of all the suggestions I’ve seen to date, what I ran yesterday seems most intelligent. Similar thoughts are being shared by other analysts, such as Aaron Lerner of IMRA:
— What must be taken and held — with surrounding area — is the Philadelphi Corridor, which marks the border between Gaza and Sinai. It is underneath this area that the smuggling tunnels run.
We never should have left that area in the first place. When we did the “disengagement,” the pulling out of Gaza, plans called for us to remain. It was Condoleezza Rice who pushed us into this because it was supposed to give more power to the PA (which was then still in charge in Gaza).
— Targeted killings.
— Destruction of terrorist infrastructure. Weapons storage and manufacturing areas, as well as buildings where records are kept and planning is done. Wipe out computers and communications systems as possible.
This accomplishes several things:
— It weakens their ability to hit us, not only now but in the future, as the venue for bringing in new weapons will have been blocked and the capacity to manufacture them will have been seriously weakened.
— It weakens Hamas politically if its leaders have been sent beyond this world and its ability to function bureaucratically has been truncated.
— Of great significance, it restores our deterrence power, so that not only Hamas but other groups will understand that attacking us is not such good idea.
— It shifts the balance psychologically, so that we are now calling the shots and not the terrorists. We here in this country need this desperately. The sense of being powerless, of sitting here and knowing terrorists are going to launch weapons at our civilians, is destructive to our sense of ourselves as a nation. It is corrosive to the national soul.
Then an agreement for quiet can be struck with Hamas, but this time from our strength. No nonsense from them about how “calm for calm” is not a good deal. They’ll grab calm without all sorts of other demands.
If we play things properly, we should not agree to such a calm until they surrender Gilad Shalit. THAT would be the final, and appropriate, price for them to pay. We’ve neglected this in our dealing with Hamas for too long. Our vaunted “leaders” have conducted two separate negotiations with Hamas, one for “calm” and another for Shalit. They should not have calm until we have Shalit.
Barak has announced that in spite of the continuing rocket fire, crossings will be opened and emergency supplies will be allowed in. This is a good move, first from a humanitarian perspective and then from a political perspective vis-a-vis the international community.
Barak has used the closing of the crossings as the means of “punishing” Hamas when rockets are fired. Two sorts of things go through these crossings essentially: humanitarian supplies such as basic foods and medicines, and commercial supplies. I don’t think most people realize this. Merchants inside of Gaza can order whatever supplies they intend to sell or use in their businesses from suppliers outside of Gaza.
Part of our concern has been preventing the entry into Gaza of commercial supplies — such as building supplies and fertilizer for farming or even large quantities of paper — which might be co-opted by Hamas for their purposes: building bunkers, manufacturing rockets, proceeding with bureaucratic process, etc. The other is to prevent the Hamas-run entity from becoming a thriving enterprise.
It has been Israeli policy to allow humanitarian supplies in whenever possible. (Sometimes crossings must be closed entirely to protect Israeli lives because shooting is done at the crossing points themselves.) Israel also allows Gazans who need medical treatment to come across to Israeli hospitals, even if the crossings are closed.
From my perspective the closing of crossing has been a failed policy. First because the international community attacks us as being inhumane and Hamas secures some public sympathy. I have documented in my writings on several occasions the difference between what is being claimed (the people are starving, etc.) and what the reality inside of Gaza is (according to knowledgeable sources and factual evidence that can be seen). UNRWA and the UN more broadly have been prime culprits in the PR war that involves exaggeration. They lie, to make us look bad.
And then because so much has been secured via the dozens of tunnels from the Sinai that commercial ventures are not being stymied quite as it was thought they would be.
This is not to say that conditions are wonderful in Gaza. Life there is no picnic. But they are not what the Arabs would have the world believe they are. Hamas is seeking full commercial traffic.
If and when we do go into Gaza, we will have to contend with the exaggerations regarding civilian damage we’ve done. We’ve seen specific instances of this in the past, with regard to Lebanon. I believe our government will make every effort to offset this by allowing in basic humanitarian goods in considerable volume so that this, at least, is not a significant issue.
Another issue to be considered in all its various ramifications is the different results that would be achieved if Hamas were weakened as versus Hamas being taken out completely. If Hamas were gone, there would be a clamor to turn the area over to the PA, and with this, the claim that there is now one negotiating partner, one address, for all Palestinians and we should move ahead in arranging that two-state solution.
We do not need to sacrifice a single one of our boys for the sake of Fatah and increased pressure on Israel to negotiate. I deplore the fact that we pulled out of Gaza at all, and in due course I hope we can move back in. But indeed now might not be the time.
It remains to be seen how parameters change after January 9th, which is when Hamas says Abbas’s term as president is up.