Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Gaza: The Hedgehog, The Fox...And The Jackal (Update)

Bret Stephens quotes Archilochus, who said: "The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing"--and it is Hamas, according to Stephens, who knows that one big thing.

But it wasn't always that way:
Once upon a time -- say, from modern Israel's first stages in the early 20th century until the 1973 Yom Kippur War -- it was the Jews who played the role of the hedgehog. Zionism, for all of its factions and facets, revolved around the straightforward idea of getting and keeping a state. Doing so required land, people and arms, the more of each the better. Only secondarily was it about legitimacy, peace, economic growth, cost-benefit ratios or any other, more delicate, ingredients in the overall makeup of modern statecraft.
That was when Jews, Zionists, were focused and that concentration that the Zionist idea gave them enabled Jews to achieve great things. But times have changed.
Today, however, it is Israel that has assumed the role of the fox. It defeated the second intifada in 2005 and then promptly withdrew its settlements and soldiers from Gaza. It bombarded Lebanon for 34 days in 2006 not for the bald sake of victory (a word that appears to have been banished from the Western military lexicon), but for a much more ambiguous goal of "quiet." Israel pursues an identical aim in its current conflict against Hamas, where it previously attempted to walk the fine line between squeezing Gaza economically without quite prompting a humanitarian crisis.
Just as Israelis have changed from being hedgehogs to being foxes, Hamas has developed into being something of a hedgehog. Hamas has demonstrated its complete incompetence in governing--the job that it was supposedly elected to do--
But Hamas knows one big thing, which it labels "resistance" or, for Western audiences, "ending the occupation." Just what that means was made clear by Palestinian cleric Muhsen Abu 'Ita in a televised interview. "The annihilation of the Jews here in Palestine," he said, "is one of the most splendid blessings for Palestine."

...Hamas believes, in short, that while Israel will do many things, and do them well, it will not do the main thing. And that, in turn, means that as Israel exhausts its target list, as eventually it will, the storm will pass. Then the green flag of the movement will fly defiantly over the tallest building left standing, its prestige hugely boosted -- and Israel's commensurately diminished -- throughout the Muslim world.
Stephens does not refer to the fox and hedgehog allegory as an argument against the idea of Israel's current operation in Gaza. Instead, he offers the comparison as a warning and a reminder that war allows for only two possible outcomes: victory or defeat--and Israel had better be very aware of this fact, because Hamas more assuredly does.

Which brings us to the jackal--not referred to by either Archilochus or Bret Stephens. It is my own contribution, based on a post I read by Jeffrey Goldberg:
I've been talking to friends of mine, former Palestinian Authority intelligence officials (ejected from power by the Hamas coup), and they tell me that not only are they rooting for the Israelis to decimate Hamas, but that Fatah has actually been assisting the Israelis with targeting information. One of my friends -- if you want to know why they're my friends, read this book -- told me that one of his comrades was thrown off a high-rise building in Gaza City last year by Hamas, and so he sheds no tears for the Hamas dead. "Let the Israelis kill them," he said. "They've brought only trouble for my people."
Goldberg himself most certainly does not see nor describe Fatah as jackals, but one does get the impression that Fatah--who humbled when Hamas threw them out of Gaza--is more than happy to have Israel do the dirty work for them of getting rid of their tormentors so that they can just come right in a collect the spoils.

Khaled Abu Toameh of The Jerusalem Post writes:
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah loyalists are dying to return to the Gaza Strip after being kicked out by Hamas in the summer of 2007.

On Sunday, senior Fatah officials in the West Bank relayed a message to Israel to the effect that they would like to see the IDF "finish off the job" in the Gaza Strip by removing Hamas from power.

The officials made it clear that they were ready to assume control over the Gaza Strip as soon as the IDF eliminated the Hamas regime. Abbas, who held talks with the Egyptians, Saudis and Jordanians over the past 48 hours, is also reported to have expressed his readiness and desire to return to Gaza.
For all of their eagerness, Fatah is unlikely to get their wish--not merely because the Palestinians of Gaza are not eager to have them return. Israel itself is not not focused on toppling Hamas from power per se.

The goal instead is apparently a ceasefire that brings about totally new rules, though down the road Israel is interested in seeing Hamas phased out of power. There will be no sudden vacuum for the Palestinian Authority to just come in and fill. If the PA is to be slowly phased in, it will have to demonstrate a level of competence along the way.

And such is not the way of the jackal.

UPDATE: Not in so many words, but Max Boot also doubts if Israel is the hedgehog here:

As I watch the war in Gaza from afar, I have been reading, for completely unrelated purposes, Jonathan Spence’s “memoir” of Chinese Emperor K’ang-hsi (r. 1661-1722). K’ang-hsi was not much impressed by the Seven Military Classics of ancient China, the most famous of which is Sun-tzu’s The Art of War. Those books lay out elaborate stratagems designed to defeat the enemy, sometimes without firing a shot. “I told my officials once that if you followed these books, you’d never win a battle . . . ” the emperor wrote. “All one needs is an inflexible will and careful planning.”

That struck me as spot on. Inflexible will and careful planning are indeed the sine qua non for military success. Does Israel have what it takes? I hope so, but I have my doubts.
Crossposted on Soccer Dad

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