Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Four Days After Hamas In Gaza: Now What?

What Is The Goal?

Regardless of the successful start of Israel's operation in Gaza, comparisons with Hizbollah in 2006 are obvious. As long as Hamas is able to continue firing rockets into Israel, there will be questions--the biggest one being: what constitutes victory?

Over at Contentions:

Eric Trager writes about the surprise and strength of Israel's attack:
All of these factors should point to a quick Israeli victory. There is, however, one major complication: Israel has yet to declare the long-term goals of its Gaza operation - and, in turn, has not defined “victory.”
Rick Richman makes the same point while indicating what some of the unacceptable conclusions to this operation would be:
Although Israel has not yet made its ultimate strategic objective clear, it is hard to see, given those remarks, that an acceptable outcome would be simply a new ceasefire, or a Lebanon-type resolution where an international force protects Hamas while it rearms.
At TNR, Yossi Klein Halevi suggests that really, Israel has 3 options--3 which are really 2: a limited attack geared towards giving Israel better terms at the next round of ceasefire talks with Hamas or overthrowing Hamas and replacing it with a foreign power such as Egypt. The third option consists of starting with option 1 but being drawn reluctantly into option 2.

Yet for all of that, Halevi also concludes that no one seems to know what Israel's goals are in Gaza:
We still don't know what the government wants to achieve, and what the army believes is achievable. What constitutes victory? Will we know how to translate military success into political gain? Will the government be strong enough to resist world pressure, even in the event of a disastrous accident that results in Palestinian civilian casualties?
If the pundits don't know what Israel's final goal in Gaza is, do we dare hope that the Israeli government does?

Can Anyone Tell Us What Israel Is Doing In Gaza?

Shmuel Rosner writes that the operation is not about bringing Hamas down, but rather "about getting a better deal"--whatever that might mean. In an earlier post Rosner wrote:
One should listen carefully to the words uttered just minutes ago by Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in the wake of the military operation in Gaza. He was not talking about toppling Hamas’s rule - as both his Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu have advocated just days ago [December 21]. Olmert, burned by his painful 2006 Lebanon experience, rejected the ambitious goals that these two contenders for Prime Ministership have made parts of their campaign.

...Today, appearing in a short press conference, the Prime Minister conveyed a similarly cautious message: The operation has a very specific goal - to give the Israeli civilians living in the southern part of the country their life back. When Hamas will agree to commit itself to “understandings” - according to which rockets can’t be launched into Israel - the goal of this operation will be achieved. Until the next round.
Olmert may not have promised to topple Hamas, but according to the article Olmert did vow "to restore quiet to the lives of Israel's southern residents." Truly restoring quiet is no less difficult than actually bringing Hamas down.

Reading that first article Rosner links to, in Haaretz, Barak seems to be the one creating a situation with less wiggle room:
Barak on Saturday also said Israel "cannot really accept" a cease-fire with Hamas, rejecting calls by the United Nations and the European Union for a truce after Israel Air Force strikes killed at least 230 people in Gaza.

"For us to be asked to have a cease-fire with Hamas is like asking you to have a cease-fire with Al-Qaida," Barak said in an interview with Fox News. "It's something we cannot really accept."

Asked whether Israel would follow up the air strikes with a ground offensive, Barak said, "If boots on the ground will be needed, they will be there."

"Our intention is to totally change the rules of the game," he said.
No ceasefire...ready to send in ground troops if needed...totally changing the rules of the game--that is a lot for Israel to accomplish, presumably before Obama's inauguration on January 20th. Then again, Barak may have the most to gain in terms of his political asperations depending on how the operation turns out. Should that make me more--or less uneasy?

Gaza Without Hamas: A Goal Or Just A Slogan?

Not surprisingly both Livni and Netanyahu have been caught up in the rhetoric and have both promised to bring Hamas down--and that was already back on December 21 before the current operation even started, with both talking about how they will topple Hamas.

Khaled Abu Toameh writes that in the short term, Israel seems to have been successful to a degree:
What is certain so far is that Hamas has been dealt a severe blow with the demolition of almost all its security and civil institutions and the loss of hundreds of its supporters and police officers.

Moreover, Hamas appears to have lost some of its credibility due to the fact the Islamist movement was unprepared for the surprise offensive - a fact that contributed to the deaths of dozens of policemen who were attending a graduation ceremony in Gaza City on Saturday.

Hamas's relatively moderate response to the operation (only a few dozen rockets and mortars that have killed one Israeli citizen so far) has also harmed the movement's reputation.

Prior to the attack, Hamas operatives had threatened to fire thousands of rockets at Israel, including Beersheba and Ashdod.

Hamas's top leaders in the Gaza Strip, Ismail Haniyeh, Mahmoud Zahar and Said Siam, have all gone underground out of fear of being targeted by Israel. Just a few days ago the three had proudly announced that they were not afraid of death and would be "honored" to join the bandwagon of Palestinian "martyrs." The general feeling on the streets of the Gaza Strip on Sunday night was that the countdown to the collapse of the Hamas regime had begun. As one local journalist put it, "We don't know who's in control of the Gaza Strip. The feeling is that the Hamas regime is crumbling."
That feeling may be very fleeting should Hamas prove itself capapble of a sustained bombardment on Israel, especially if they can fire those rockets almost at will.

And even if it should happen that Israel were capable of ridding Gaza of Hamas--who would take its place. Abbas would love to return to Gaza, but it is questionable if the Palestinians of Gaza want him back or if it would seriously be in anyone's best interests. Besides, Gazans seem not to have turned against Hamas, according to Toameh, and instead have turned their anger against the Palestinians Authority and Egypt for apparently supporting and encouraging Israel in the current operation.

--Which again brings us back to the question as to what Israel's goal is.

Gillerman's Promise

Here is a short interview with former Israeli Ambassador to the UN Dan Gillerman, being asked questions about the goals and objectives of the operation:

The Bottom Line

Bottom line, while the title of the interview is "Hamas Has Everything to Lose," the fact remains that Israel is in a far riskier situation:
  • Israel has moral imperatives that still restrict what it can do
  • We know from 2006 that world pressure on Israel to stop will only increase
  • This is an operation that Israel probably does not want to continue into Obama's inauguration
  • A simple ceasefire is not enough
  • Conversely, Israel will have to have something meaningful and tangible to show for all this
  • At the minimum, success will be measured by the cessation of rockets from Gaza
  • If the rockets continue, even in reduced numbers, the logic of the operation will be questioned
When you come right down to it--Israel has everything to lose.
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