Some initial thoughts on “Operation Cast Lead” (maybe the name works in Hebrew, but in English, not so much):
In my view, Israel has been involved in two or three totally just wars: the Yom Kippur War, the War of Independence and, with some reservations, the Six Day War.
In October 1973, we were attacked by the Egyptians and the Syrians, and the natural and necessary response was to fight back. True, if Golda Meir had responded to Nasser and Sadat’s initiatives, we probably could have avoided the war – but she didn’t, and when the Egyptians attacked (we now know to break the impasse and force political movement), we had to respond.
In 1948, the UN backed the partition plan, and when the internal (Palestinian) Arabs and the external Arab countries didn’t accept the decision and fought it militarily, the result was a just war.
In 1967, Nasser was bluffing, but we couldn’t know that. He called on the UN to withdraw its forces from Sinai, blockaded the Straits of Tiran, and the result was the Six Day War, with its mixed bag of consequences.
When the Egyptians and Syrians attacked, my personal response on October 5th 1973 was to call my unit, and ask what we were doing. The response: “Don’t worry, you’ll know soon enough”, and the call-up came a few hours later. If I were of military age now, I would not be calling my unit to find out how we were going to respond.
In July 2006, I was opposed from day one to the invasion of southern Lebanon, believing that the response was totally out of proportion to the actions of Hezbollah, and that the stated goal of bringing the kidnapped soldiers back was totally unobtainable (we now know that it was known at the time that they were already probably dead), and that it was also impossible to “destroy” Hezbollah, which is an integral part of Lebanese society. I think that the outcome of that war justifies my initial response.
This time around is more complex.
In my view, it’s totally unacceptable for the government to claim, as it did for a long time, that “there is no way of solving the problem of the Kassam rockets.” A solution had/has to be found, and there are solutions.
In many respects, Hamas brought this military operation (war?) on itself by its declarations that the cease-fire (tahadiya) was not being renewed on December 19th, and the renewed firing of Kassam rockets, while it was maneuvering for a “better cease-fire” from its point of view – i.e. the lifting of the international blockade, etc.
It is understandable that the government felt that it was necessary to act, militarily, due to pressure from public opinion, the media and the right. After-all, we are in the middle of an election campaign. Those are also part of the rules of Middle Eastern life – you can’t show weakness when being attacked – you have to show that you are strong.
Of course, there are a number of original sins that led to this moment. One was the fact that the Sharon government insisted on carrying out a unilateral disengagement from Gaza, instead of negotiating and handing over the keys to Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority. The second was the fact that the Israeli government gave in to the Bush Administration’s insistence that the Palestinian elections be held in 2006, despite Israeli and Palestinian reservations about the timing and outcome, and the result was the Hamas victory. The third original sin was the fact that Hamas carried out a coup against the PA in Gaza and played a game of chicken with Israel with the Kassams. The sooner this action ends the better.
It should be clear that that it is impossible to “overthrow” Hamas in Gaza. The way to defeat Hamas is to offer the large majority of Palestinians a better way of life. It is also impossible to bring back Gilad Shalit via a military action. In my view, this action endangers his life. In addition, a large-scale ground action would cost many lives on both sides, and create the possibility of getting drawn into another Lebanon-like swamp.
There is also the question of proportionality. How many Israelis have been killed by all of the Kassams, and how many Palestinians were killed in one day by the Israeli air force? As commentator Shlomi Eldar said on TV tonight, one of the primary outcomes of this action (war?) will be to increase hatred of Israel and Israelis among the Palestinian people, whose cousins, brothers and children are being killed.
The Israeli government is using the twilight time between the end of the discredited Bush administration and the entrance of the Obama administration onto to the scene to act, under the assumption that the international community will find it difficult to intervene coherently.
And yet, Israel needs an exit strategy, and once again, the sooner the better. That exit strategy will require international involvement, if not intervention. There are ideas being circulated about the possibility of an international mandate over Gaza, and possibly the West Bank as well (replacing the IDF) with regional Arab and international forces. That might be the desirable outcome, but it’s not at all clear whether the international community has the will to do this.
The bottom line is that peace is the key to security, and peace is obtainable.
P.S. These things fluctuate tremendously, but according to a Channel l0 poll tonight, for the first time in a long time, the center-left – Kadima, Labor and Meretz – with the backing of the Arab parties – has a 61 vote majority in the next Knesset, which would make Tzippy Livni, and not Netanyahu, the next PM. That’s true for today, and could change tomorrow.
Yes it is complex in Gaza but there are certain worrying signs. For example, we are informed that Israel has been planning this operation for six months, at which time the ceasefire still held.
Certain quarters have described the Israeli response as disproportionate. In the second Lebanon War when people outside Israel used that term, it was heavily criticized by Israelis as unfair criticism as compared with other recent international military conflicts. Actually the one between Russia and Georgia more recently, is an excellent example because I have read that the Russians are preparing a second round.
Yet, we have also heard a comment from Ehud Barak that this is a total war against Hamas. To me that sounds not only unrealistic but also a repeat of Olmert’s fatuous remark in the Lebanon War II that Israel would crush Hetzbollah.
Yet again we are missing the vital point that you can NOT crush a popular movement (Hamas) by military force.
Israel first tried to do so against the PLO with the Lebanon War I when Arik Sharon led Menachem Begin by the nose into a dreadful “adventure” that only ended after the massacres in Sabra and Shatilla, and the subsequent outcry in Israel itself. Yasser Arafat was able to score a propaganda victory by sailing away from Lebanon with his armed men en route to Tunisia.
However, we must all sympathize with the awful terrorist onslaught faced daily by Israelis living within rocket range of Gaza. With time, and no doubt outside help, the range of these rockets has extended beyond Sderot, and people are talking now of even Beer Sheva. A stop had to be put to that, but in the final analysis Israel must agree to an early ceasefire.