Monday, March 3, 2008
The March to Folly in Gaza
Israel lost the war in Lebanon before it started; it has now lost the war in Gaza before it started. There is no way that Israel can stop the Kassam and Grad Katyusha rockets from being fired because they are highly portable. It can, of course, do damage to missile-factories and to launchers, but unless it were to sit in Gaza for months, perhaps, years, it could not end the missiles. It can reduce the level of fighting to a relatively low-level conflict, which is in its interest. As long as Kassams are being lobbed at Sderot on a relatively infrequent basis, Olmert has no pressure to include Hamas or Gaza in peace negotiations. Of course, he will be voted out of office, but that is inevitable anyway; Sharon is the only prime minister in recent memory who was not voted out of office. It seems that the military strategy is to kill a lot of civilians, but not too many, and then to lie about it. That makes the Palestinians hurt (deterrence) while keeping the world off Israel's back. Thus Gabi Ashkenazi said that 90% of the Palestinian casualties were militants. B'Tselem has said that it is close to 50%. In cases like these, the IDF lies for the sake of Israel's image. If Israel wants to stop the Kassams -- and I sincerely doubt it -- then they will have to pay a diplomatic price to Hamas, just as they had to pay a diplomatic price to Hizbollah. The price will be lower, and the talk will be quiet, but it will be there. Tzipi Livni can go around saying that there will be no compromise with Hamas -- fine and dandy -- but there will be in the future, just as there has been in the past. Israel must enter into agreements with Hamas just as they have entered into agreements with Hizbollah. Call them "understandings"; call them what you will, but as long as Hamas has the power and support that it does, then it is a player. What we are seeing in Gaza is what we have seen in Iraq. Although the Iraqis were upset with Saddam Hussein, and very upset with the anarchy of the occupation, they blame the foreign occupiers in addition to blaming rival sectarian groups. Israel is in a no-win situation, the same no-win situation she has been in since the failure of Oslo (and before.) Both sides may take a pause from the fighting and lick their wounds. But as long as the Kassams are being fired, and as long as Israel fails to stop them militarily, the Israeli public will not accept Olmert's excuses. Killing Palestinians makes most Israelis I know feel good -- revenge is a natural emotion -- but not stopping the Kassams make them feel worse. Being shelled by little pishers like the Palestinians (or the Hizbollah) drives them crazy, the same way that being stung by mosquitoes drive elephants crazy. And killing Palestinians, though it helps to ease the pain, just doesn't heal the wounds of national pride. That is why the Israeli public believes that Israel lost the second Lebanon war, despite Israel's rampant destruction of Lebanon. True, the two situations are not the same, and Israel had less understanding from the world about Lebanon than it does about Gaza. But that understanding will evaporate quickly. When it comes to Israel, the line about "disproportionate use of force" is now hardwired into every diplomat's brain.