As I watch Israel become increasingly entangled in the Gaza Strip, I find myself troubled — unable to grasp Israel’s goals, or its means to achieve them. The 19th century Prussian general, Karl Von Clausewitz, once said that, “the political object is the goal, war is the means of reaching it, and the means can never be considered in isolation from their purposes.” So what are Israel’s political objectives? And does it have a coherent strategy to accomplish them?
Ever since the disengagement and until the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit, Israel essentially tolerated a low-intensity conflict along its border with the Gaza Strip; rockets continued to fall on Sderot and nearby kibbutzim. Israel protested, and it retaliated — sometimes harshly, perhaps disproportionately, and sometimes with tragic, “collateral” results. But all this seemed part of a fragile status quo in which the two sides primarily stuck to their own side of the border.
Then came the kidnapping, and Israel invaded the southern Gaza Strip. Officially, Israel’s aim was to retrieve Shalit, or at least prevent him from being moved across the Gaza border. So far, not unreasonable. But then Israel proceeded to arrest dozens of Hamas officials on the West Bank. What was the political object of this act? Was it to secure Shalit’s release via pressuring the Hamas government? Or to round up ‘bargaining chips’ to trade for Shalit? Or just so that Olmert and Peretz could show that, even though they were never generals, they could be just as military as their predecessors, Messrs. Sharon and Mofaz? Or maybe this was part of Israel’s continuing effort to delegitimize (and perhaps destabilize) the Hamas-led PA? The jury is still out.
Then came the rocket that hit Ashkelon, which caused Israel’s Security Cabinet to expand its objective to also include, “the cessation of the firing of rockets and mortars.” And so, it has reoccupied parts of the northern Gaza Strip.
Does Israel think it will stay there for years and create a “security zone” a la southern Lebanon in the 1980s and 1990s? Does it think the rocket launchers won’t return once the IDF leaves these areas and returns to the Green Line? Does it think that its mini-occupation is what will cause the Hamas to give in and clamp down on the violence emanating from the Gaza Strip? Perhaps Israel’s leaders know they can’t stop the rockets, but need to show Israelis that they’re doing “something”; or maybe they see it as just a part of a long-range effort at conflict-management: Not to win the war or win the peace — just to keep the war bite-sized enough that Israel can live with it. Again, what Israel is really after remains obscure, which means it’s hard to know whether its actions are appropriate.
It’s hard to form an intelligent opinion when Israel’s government keeps its grand strategy opaque and ambiguous. So right now I’m left to hope that Israel’s leaders don’t believe that the Palestinians can be forced into unconditional surrender. I’m left to hope that they are guided by humanitarian considerations and by the legitimate need for self-defense — rather than by the arrogant belief that Israel can reshape another people’s political system. I’m left to hope that they are focusing on the long-term need for stability and peace, rather than on the short-term ‘crisis’ of declining popularity in Israel’s incessant public opinion polls.
And amid all this discussion of ends and means, one thing should not be forgotten: Israel’s commitment to “[avoid] — as much as possible — harming the civilian population that is not involved in terrorism” must remain more than a phrase issued for the consumption of the international community. Israel yesterday decided to restrict freedom of movement in the Gaza Strip and to hit at “institutions and infrastructures” (officially, those that serve terrorism, but — again to quote Clausewitz — “many intelligence reports in war are contradictory; even more are false, and most are uncertain”). All this is cause for grave concern, especially when many decisions end up being interpreted, in stressful circumstances, by frightened and sometimes angry young soldiers on the ground.
Leave A Comment