The whole world is now making suggestions, indeed demands, on Israel — all ostensibly aimed at a “better” resolution of the conflict with Hamas. Richard Cohen writes:
Three years ago, Israel pulled out of the Gaza Strip. Good, the world said. Next, pull out of the West Bank, the world said. But then Hamas, which has vowed to destroy Israel, won the election in Gaza. Sderot soon became hell. The West Bank is controlled by Fatah, the moderate Palestinian organization, which once had control of Gaza, too. If Israel withdraws from the West Bank, will rockets come from there? If you lived in Tel Aviv, a spit from the West Bank, would you take the chance?
Anyone could have seen this war coming. The diplomats and demonstrators who are now so engaged in the problem and the process were nowhere to be found when rockets began raining down on southern Israel. The border between Gaza and Egypt is riddled with tunnels — some for food, some for weapons. The international monitors that are so evidently needed now were just as evidently needed then.
Conventional wisdom says that when Israel went into Lebanon in 2006, it lost that war. Hezbollah stood up to the mighty Israeli army; Israel could not muzzle Hezbollah’s rockets. That may not be the way Hezbollah sees things, however. After the war, its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, said he had miscalculated. He was not prepared for the fury of the Israeli attack. He apologized. Now, Hezbollah takes no role in the current war. It will be back, but it still has wounds to lick.
Cohen’s point is well taken: the critics of Israel’s military action hearken back to diplomatic myths (“the peace process”) or unilateral moves by Israel that have either repeatedly failed or are not remotely calculated to enhance Israel’s security. But what of his (and others’) concern: how will it end?
This is eerily reminiscent of the Iraq war. There is no “military victory,” we were told. There can only be a “political settlement.” And, of course,”There will be no end to it.” And yet sometimes, a rather definitive military victory has a way of changing the equation on the ground — or at least setting back the opposition, deflating the mystique of it and its sponsor’s invincibility. It doesn’t mean the opposition is permanently destroyed, but that things are improved and in the case of Israel, its sovereignty is reasserted. As Bret Stephens contends:
“Quiet” does not require the destruction of Hamas. But neither does it exclude it.
In other words, instead of being forced publicly to ratchet its aims downward, as it did in Lebanon, Jerusalem can now ratchet them upward, putting Hamas off-balance and perhaps tempting it to cut its losses by accepting a cease-fire on terms acceptable to Israel. Doing so would not quite amount to a defeat for Hamas. But it would be an unambiguous humiliation for a group whose greatest danger lies in its pretension of invincibility. Burst balloons aren’t easily reinflated.
It is precisely for this reason that Hamas will likely fight on, in the hopes that Israel will flinch. Critics of military action point to this damned-if-Israel-does, damned-if-it-doesn’t scenario as evidence of the folly of the war.
Yet by no means is it obvious that the Israeli army needs to walk directly into a Gaza City Götterdämmerung in order to achieve its military aims. Hamas has been able to arm itself with increasingly sophisticated rockets thanks to a vast network of tunnels running below its border with Egypt. Israel found it difficult to destroy that network prior to its withdrawal from Gaza and will not easily do so now. But by bisecting the Strip, as it has now done, it will have no trouble preventing these rockets from moving north to their usual staging ground, thereby achieving a critical war aim without giving Hamas easy opportunities to hit back.
Israel also has much to gain by avoiding a frontal assault on Gaza’s urban areas in favor of the snatch-and-grab operations that have effectively suppressed Hamas’s terrorist infrastructure in the West Bank. A long-term policy aimed squarely at killing or capturing Hamas’s leaders, destroying arms caches and rocket factories, and cutting off supply and escape routes will not by itself destroy the group. But it can drive it out of government and cripple its ability to function as a fighting force. And this, in turn, could mean the return of Fatah, the closest thing Gaza has to a “legitimate” government.
The Israel-condemnation industry’s alternatives (retreat, negotiation, etc.) haven’t any record of success with Hezbollah or, more recently, with Hamas. The military option which Israel has chosen this time isn’t easy, and the stopping point isn’t clear. But it’s the only option with any hope of tipping the balance in Israel’s favor. It is the only option that can, either in the short or long run, render Hamas impotent. And that’s why the critics oppose it so vehemently.