Israel finds itself in a better position than it has faced in the past with Hamas -- and must take advantage of it.
Originally published by the Jerusalem Post.
Israel deployed ground forces in Gaza Thursday night both because Hamas’s terror tunnels into Israel have become an unacceptable threat, and because it had to break the deadlock that had developed between it and Hamas.
Until the ground invasion, Israel and Hamas were in a holding pattern. Hamas would not accept a ceasefire deal because Egypt’s offers provided the Iranian sponsored, Muslim Brotherhood terror army with no discernible achievements. And absent such achievements, Hamas prefers to keep fighting. Israel for its part is unwilling to make any concessions to Hamas in exchange for its cessation of its criminal terror war that targets innocent civilians in Israel as a matter of course. As Hamas sees things, it has three ways of winning.
First, if Israel had agreed to ceasefire terms that left Hamas better off than it was when it started its newest round of indiscriminate missile attacks against Israeli civilian targets, then it could have declared victory.
Hamas’s terms for a ceasefire included, among other things, an open border with Egypt, egress to the sea, open access to the border zone with Israel, an airport, a sea port, and the release of terrorists from Israeli prisons. Obviously, if Israel agreed to even a few of these terms, its agreement would have constituted a strategic victory for Hamas.
The second way for Hamas to win is if it able to accuse Israel of killing a large number of Palestinians at one time In that case, Hamas can expect for the US to join with the EU and the UN in forcing Israel to accept ceasefire terms that require it to make significant concessions to the Palestinians in Gaza as well as in Judea and Samaria.
This is what happened in Hezbollah’s war with Israel in 2006. During the fighting, Hezbollah alleged that Israel killed a great number of Lebanese civilians in Kfar Kana. Those allegations caused then US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice to effectively end US support for Israel’s war effort. Rice quickly coerced Israel into accepting ceasefire terms that paved the way for Hezbollah’s takeover of the Lebanese government.
If Hamas is able to create a similar situation in Gaza, it will likely achieve the same sort of strategic victory over Israel.
Finally, if Hamas is able to produce a picture of victory that can burnish its reputation as the leader of the jihad against the Jews throughout the Islamic world, then it will be able to declare victory. Operations such as Hamas’s repeated attempts to launch mass casualty attacks in Israeli communities along the border with Gaza by infiltrating Israeli territory through its underground tunnel networks, have been geared towards achieving such an end.
Since Hamas initiated the current round of warfare against Israel, Israelis have been split in their assessments of how best to win the war. Still now, with ground forces deployed in Gaza, the dispute over the proper goal of the operation remains significant.
Although everyone supports the troops, politicians on the Left, led, most openly by Labor party leader Isaac Herzog say that Israel should limit its goals to the maximum extent and seek a ceasefire because “there is no military solution” to the conflict with Hamas.
Israel’s best bet, they say, is to do everything it can to end the Hamas missile strikes as quickly as possible through negotiations. At the same time, Herzog argues, since there is only a diplomatic solution to the Palestinian conflict with Israel, Israel needs to send negotiators to Ramallah to beg Palestinian Authority President and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas to sign a peace deal with the Jewish state.
There are several basic problems with the Left’s position.
First, Hamas and its partners in Gaza from Islamic Jihad, al Qaeda affiliated jihadist militia and Fatah have no interest whatsoever in peaceful coexistence with Israel. They exist to fight Israel. This means that the only way that Israel can get them to stop fighting is by using its military force to convince them that it is not in their interest to continue shooting.
In other words, the only “solution” to Hamas’s aggression is a military solution.
Then there is the bizarre notion that a deal with Fatah is somehow the silver bullet that will end the military threat to Israel from Hamas-controlled Gaza.
A deal between Israel and Fatah in Judea and Samaria would have no effect whatsoever on the situation on the ground in Gaza. Given Hamas’s absolute rejection of peace with Israel, and widespread support for Israel’s destruction throughout Palestinian society, a peace deal between Israel and Fatah in Judea and Samaria would in all likelihood increase Hamas’s prestige among Palestinians and throughout the Muslim world. In other words a peace deal with Fatah would enhance Hamas’s prestige and power and ultimately bring about an expansion of its military capabilities.
Beyond that, Abbas has ruled the PA for the past decade. Throughout this period, he consistently demonstrated through deed and word that he will never, ever sign a peace treaty with Israel. Abbas has twice rejected offers of peace and statehood from Israel. Just three months ago he rejected another offer from US President Barack Obama. During the same period, he has signed three peace deals with Hamas. The most recent one is now in force, on the ground.
Since Hamas initiated its newest round of criminal projectile assaults on Israel, Abbas has acted as a full partner in the war. He has represented Hamas internationally. He has negotiated on its behalf – and continues to do so in Cairo.
Abbas has slandered Israel in the most obscene terms. His Fatah group has actively participated in the missile offensive, on the ground in Gaza. It has also proclaimed its absolute unity of purpose with Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the war against Israel in daily official pronouncements.
Given all of this, the notion that Israel can pin a diplomatic strategy for ending Hamas’s war against it on Fatah is not merely ridiculous. It is inexcusably irresponsible for would-be national leaders to maintain faith with it. The only purpose such behavior serves is to reinforce the Americans and Europeans in their delusional faith that the chimerical two-state solution is a recipe for utopian peace rather than war, bloodshed and radicalization.
On the other hand, the Right, led most outspokenly by Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman insists that the role of IDF ground forces in Gaza should be to reconquer the area with the aim of destroying Hamas’s capacity to continue shooting rockets and missiles. Only such a ground-based operation, they claim will eliminate the threat of Hamas’s projectiles.
There are several problems with this position.
First, it makes assumptions about Hamas that are not necessarily correct.
It is far from clear that the only way to destroy Hamas and end its capacity to harm Israel is to reconquer Gaza.
The main reason that Hamas began the current war is because the terror group is in distress.
The Egyptians have cut off the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood’s financial and military supply lines through the Sinai. Hamas of the summer of 2014 is not Hezbollah from the summer of 2006. Hezbollah had open supply lines from Iran through Syria and Turkey. Hamas is locked in between Israel and Egypt.
Moreover, Hamas is challenged on the ground in Gaza by the same jihadist groups that now fight with it against Israel. If Hamas cannot produce a victory in this round of fighting then its friends from al Qaeda affiliates and from Islamic Jihad will renew their challenge to its authority. Add to the mix the response of a public angry at Hamas for forcing it to serve as human shields for missiles and terror masters who were unable to bring home the bacon so to speak by fighting, and there is a reasonable chance that Hamas will face a full-blown insurrection once a ceasefire with Israel goes into effect.
The only way for Hamas to avert this fate is by being able to point to significant gains from the fighting that will neutralize at least some of its opponents and rivals.
In other words, Israel doesn’t have to reconquer Gaza to destroy Hamas. We just have to humiliate Hamas and knock out capabilities like the tunnel networks that immediately threaten us. And then let the Gazans fight it out.
Finally, a full-scale ground invasion is a risky proposition. There is no assurance of success. Israel deployed ground forces in south Lebanon in 2006. But due to incompetent national and military leadership, the forces achieved little from a strategic perspective while absorbing painful losses.
Israel faces an acute operational challenge in Gaza. The nine year absence of IDF forces and Israeli civilians on the ground has wrecked Israel’s intelligence gathering capabilities and so limited the IDF’s operational effectiveness. If in 2004 Israel was able to defeat Hamas through targeted killing of its commanders, repeating that success today without good human intelligence assets on the ground is a much more difficult prospect.
This is why we are already beginning to see diminishing results from the air campaign. Without human assets on the ground, the IDF either cannot locate or cannot get to the remaining high value targets.
Unless Israel is able to change this situation fairly rapidly, it will not be able to sufficiently diminish Hamas’s capabilities to convince Hamas’s leadership that they are better off ending the current fight without achieving anything significant than maintaining it until they do.
This is why the government was finally compelled to order the ground campaign.
Ground forces are required to develop the information Israel needs to kill a large enough number of Hamas leaders and destroy the tunnel complexes and a large enough quantity of missiles and launchers to convince Hamas’s terror masters to cry, “Uncle.”
While the ground operations continue, Israeli negotiators should be avidly agreeing to every ceasefire offer that denies Hamas any achievements. The IDF must continue to exercise an abundance of caution to prevent Hamas from luring our forces into a situation where we will be accused of massacring Palestinians.
None of this is easy or simple. No result is guaranteed. But in fighting Hamas today, Israel finds itself in a better position than it has faced in past fights with Hamas. For the first time, we face an enemy with a limited shelf life. Without supply lines from Egypt, Hamas cannot fight forever. Its allies at the UN can feed its forces and protect Hamas from an insurrection from a starving population. But the UN cannot rearm Hamas. It cannot reopen the smuggling tunnels from Egypt to enable materiel, money and trainers to enter Gaza.
Hamas is desperate for anything it can call a victory. By denying it one on the one hand, while taking action to force its leaders to prefer organizational humiliation to personal destruction on the other, Israel can win a decisive victory.
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