Israel has the habit of knowing when to start, but not when to stop. One must worry about whether this pattern will repeat itself now.
The hope, when Hamas won the Gaza elections, was that the responsibility for governing would lead to a degree of maturity on behalf of the leaders of Hamas and result in a moderation of the positions taken by the organization regarding Israel. Unfortunately, this did not happen, as Hamas continued to make known its absolutely animosity to “the occupiers”. And by occupiers, Hamas meant the occupancy of the State of Israel on Palestinean lands, not something having to do with Gaza. It became clear that Israel would always have a southern neighbor bent on its destruction.
In addition, even with a temporary truce in force, Hamas either permitted, or did not prevent, a continual barrage of rockets across the border into Israel, causing some casualties and extraordinary stress.
So, what to do?
When we were last in Israel, listening to some speakers talk about the situation in Sderot, the Israeli community closest to Gaza, the attendees had very different views as to what should happen. One man seemed to be getting increasingly frustrated. He was someone who seemed to be known to many in the room. He described himself as a member of the army reserve, who had been (or maybe still was) in charge of the southern command. He clearly looked the part.
His position was clear. We know where the weapons are, we know where the bombs are, we know where the leaders are. If the government would only give us the freedom to move, we could get rid of the threat. Completely.
Well, maybe he is getting his wishes. From the press reports, the first few days air attacks (as horrific as they are) were pretty surgically orchestrated. They hit Hamas institutions, police and security stations, weapons storehouses, tunnels to Egypt. The majority of those killed (I don’t know about the injuries) appear to be Hamas officials or agents.
Of course, because of the chaos and the death and injuries, there is an outcry, especially from the Moslem Middle East. You would expect this.
But, and I certainly cannot say that I have followed everything in detail, perhaps there are some differences here. Perhaps, the government of Egypt and the Palestinian Authority are being moderate in their comments. The PA would like to get control back in Gaza, so that progress for a two state solution can in fact be made. Egypt certainly is not happy with Hamas on its back door. So, I would not be surprised if there is a little collaboration here, with the PA tacitly approving Israel’s move as the best of bad possibilities.
If this is the case, and if it turns out that Israel is successful in fatally wounding Hamas, and if the PA can re-exert governing control in Gaza, maybe things can in fact wind up for the best. But this goes to the old question of whether Israel ever knows how to stop. If they can stop without unnecessary carnage, if they can work with the PA to reinstate PA authority in Gaza, and if they can help coordinate a reconstruction program that would deal with rebuilidng destroyed structures and roads, rebuilding infrastructure, helping Gaza to expand its port facilities and become independent of Israel for its energy and utilities……
Of course, we are a long way from winning hearts and minds, in Gaza and throughout large segments of the Middle East, but this could be a start.
And there are other obstacles. Israeli Arabs could become increasingly radical in their demonstrations against the government. Pressure could grow against the neighboring moderate governments, including Egypt and Jordan. And of course Iran is meddling in nearby waters, threatening to send ships with ‘humanitarian assistance’ to Gaza. No one would, or should, trust the Iranians not to include much more than food and medication in the cargo holds of its ships, so that any attempts to approach Gaza by sea could wind up with an Iranian/Israeli confrontation, and we know where that can go.
So, it is too early to tell how this will end. Clearly, there is a lot of pain involved. But, with the right diplomacy, the right goals and a little luck, this could wind up as an overall long term, or even mid-term, positive. But you can’t escape the fact that, much of the time, Israel does not know when to quit.