Plus ça change, plus ç'est la même chose. After the expiration of the cease-fire between Hamas and Israel, the Kassams started up, the war drums were pounded – even the oxymoronic "Zionist left" Meretz party participated -- and now Israel has launched a major offensive, first with air strikes, and then, probably, with a ground operation into Gaza. Like the Second Iraqi war, the Afghanistan war, and the Second Lebanon war, the stronger side goes to war because it has to "do something", and loses before it fires the first shot.
If you are looking for predictions, I would say that this will be less of a disaster for Israel than the Second Lebanon war, but will be a disaster none the less. The major goal of the war is to stop the rocket fire from Gaza. That won't happen without another cease-fire agreement. For there to be a cease-fire agreement, there has to be a motivation for Hamas to sign a cease-fire agreement. Israel is not providing it with the motivation now. Israel will neither destroy nor significantly weaken Hamas; it may set it back in terms of armaments, but Israel has little room to maneuver. The siege on Gaza has strenghthened Hamas, and if they hold out against Israel – and they will – they will be strengthened even more.
There is, however, another war goal that Israel can meet in the short run. That is to wreak havoc in Gaza, to kill a lot of Arabs, to show them who's boss, to avenge national honor, to "do something" when our settlements are under attack. That will make the Israelis feel better, and that is nothing to sneeze at. The difficulty is that if the rockets keep on coming – as they did in the case of the Second Lebanese War – then Israelis will feel increasingly frustrated. And they will take it out on Kadima in the next elections and hand the government to Netanyahu and the Likud party, which has been sinking in the polls. So this is the Kadima's government second attempt to commit political suicide; the first attempt was the Second Lebanese War. I am betting that this time they will be successful.
The Israel media is talking about the surprise factor of the timing – we faked them out, didn't we? I am not sure what they mean, since the Friday papers reported that the cabinet had voted to go to war. The title of this post, as well as its contents, was composed in my head during Shabbat, when I was oblivious to the fact that the offensive had started. I certainly wasn't surprised.
So, here's the forecast:
The offensive will go on for some time. Resistance, if there is any, will melt. We will not reoccupy all of Gaza, just enough to fulfill the "do something" criterion of success. At some point we will declare that we have accomplished the major goals of the offensive, and we will negotiate, through some third party, another cease fire. Mission accomplished, with lots of casualties to their side, and the rockets continuing to fall on our side.
That's the best case scenario.
The worst case scenario for Israel is that Hamas fights better than anticipated. That will mean that Israel will get bogged down the way that powerful countries get bogged down in urban guerilla warfare. If the objectives are limited, and if the fighting is limited to parts of Gaza, then Israel's loss will be relatively minor. If things spread – and they will if civilian casualties are heavy – then we are back to the Lebanon fiasco. Hamas may be counting on it; as it is, the war serves the short-term interests of Hamas and the Israeli government.
Why can't this campaign be as successful as the Homat Magen offensive? Different enemies; different geography. Gaza's border with Egypt is very porous. Even if the IDF destroys tunnels, the only way it can put an end to them is by reoccupying Gaza with a massive troop presence. Few in Israel want this.
In fact, just like few cared about the North during the Second Lebanon War – I was in Jerusalem, where life went on as normal for most of the summer, until all the men in my family were called up – few in Israel care about the Kassam rockets in the South. And nobody will want their children endangered because of it
It is unlikely that Israel's latest gamble will work out any better than its previous ones. Its losing streak will continue. I guess that is called "defeatism." But it is hard not to be defeatist when you are continually being kicked in the butt. Remember, Israel hasn't won a war since 1967 – and that war was the biggest disaster in its history.
But it's Hannukah, and so I should end with a little light – the small light provided by the thousands of Israelis, Jews and Arabs, who have protested against the war in Tel Aviv and in other places.
Plus ça change, plus ç'est la même chose.