Friday, February 8, 2008

Israel and Hamas: Half a loaf may be poisonous.

By Ami Isseroff

08.02. 2008
Ever since the Hamas triumphed in Gaza, Israel and the quartet have been trying to combat it by a series of limited actions: closing the Rafah crossing, an aid embargo, aid to the rival Fatah, curtailing fuel deliveries, targeted killings, shutting down electricity and the like.

None of these measures has been effective, and none is likely to be. Shlomo Brom explains why:

It might have been hoped that pressure would bear fruit if Hamas were simultaneously offered an acceptable alternative. In this instance, Hamas was offered two options. The first was to disappear and give up control in Gaza in favor of the government of Mahmoud Abbas. The second was to stop being Hamas, that is, to change completely its worldview and accept the three conditions of the Quartet. There was no chance that Hamas would agree to either of these choices, and it was therefore predictable that it would try to break the logjam either by escalating the violence or adopting some other dramatic action, such as breaking down the wall. If Israel intends to offer the Hamas government a more acceptable option, then Hamas has for come time suggested a deal based on a ceasefire, in order to stabilize the situation.

As long as it exists, Hamas is not going to give up its goal of destroying Israel. It is not going to recognize Israel, and it is not going to change its charter, which calls for elimination of Israel and hints strongly that genocide of all the Jews is a religious duty needed to bring on the end of days. Therefore, the alternative option that Brom offers Israel, seems to be nonsensical:

The government of Israel needs to decide whether persisting with the pressure – in the unfounded hope that that will lead to the collapse of Hamas in Gaza – is more promising than a limited deal with Hamas.

This option is nonsensical. It is not an option unless Israel wants to commit national suicide. Hamas would become very much stronger just by virtue of having been legitimized by Israel and would almost certainly take control of the Palestinian Authority. And any deal with Hamas would make it impossible for Israel to stop smuggling of arms. Any such "limited agreement" is a peace now, die later plan.

Today Israel has begun cutting down electricity supply to Gaza. This policy is already bearing the same sort of "fruit" as previous tactics: As of now, at least 22 Qassam rockets have fallen in the Western Negev today, and the day is not over. The pattern that such actions follow has become well established. Any pressure on a terrorist group turns them into heroes. The Second Lebanon War forced Lebanese and others, regardless of their real feelings, to side with the Hezbollah against the "Zionist enemy," as soon as it became apparent that Israel wasn't going to vanquish the Hezbollah. Today, both Fatah and "peace camp" people believe they have no choice other than to join the Hamas demands to "end the siege of Gaza." Of course, Hamas made it absolutely clear that it would only accept an end to the siege that put Hamas in power, and that it rejects international supervision or PNA involvement. Hamas spokesman Abu Zuhri stated that :

"...any international force will be dealt with as an occupation force."

Everyone understands how Hamas treats "occupation" forces: They blow them up. Therefore, there is no chance that any country would commit its troops to such a force. Hamas is not interested in alleviating any humanitarian problems. Hamas even confiscated a shipment of humanitarian aid intended for the Palestinian Red Crescent. They don't have to work. They make a living from what they steal from blind men's cups.

Beyond the rhetoric, there is always a political goal. For the Hezbollah, the goal was control of Lebanon. For Hamas, it is international recognition and control of the Palestinian Authority. Hamas has managed to draft "peace" activists and Fatah into agitating for imposition of a reactionary Islamist regime on the Palestinians, under the banner of "end the siege."

Israeli half-measure actions against extremist groups force domestic opponents of those groups to side with their political enemies. This is true even though, for example, it is obvious that Fatah are committing political and possible physical suicide by calling for an end to the siege of Gaza, which would empower Hamas. It would be even more unhealthy for Fatah to fail to support the Hamas at this point.

Pressure on civilian population is certainly not going to help either. Civilians are either powerless or support the Hamas moves. Hamas' popularity increased significantly when they succeeded in opening the border to Egypt for a brief time.

Amir Oren andRobert Baer both note that the Hamas success in breaching the Rafah barrier makes a large scale Israeli attack in Gaza much more likely. But the options again, are not appetizing. Israel can take over the Rafah crossing, but IDF presence anywhere in Gaza in the long run is going to be an attractant to suicide bombers as well as an issue that is ideal for gathering support for the Hamas war against the Israeli "occupation." Hamas may break out into Israel if IDF controls Rafah. Israel can invade northern Gaza in an attempt to stop the rockets, but of course they will return as soon as Israel leaves. Israel can target Hamas leaders, as it has killed Sheikh Yassin and Achmed Rantissi in the past, but that didn't seem to set the Hamas back very much either.

Hamas is a threat at many levels, not just to Israel, but to the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, the American sponsored peace process and Arab world moderates. Hamas is a strategic threat to Israel. For any such threat, one has to decide whether to contain it and last it out, as the US did with the USSR, or to confront it decisively and eliminate it, as was done with Nazi Germany. If the latter decision is made, the only acceptable "agreement" is unconditional surrender, and the only open option is total war. Hamas will not listen to "persuasion" and half-measures will only make it stronger. Before the decision to go to war is made, every option for solving the problem of Hamas with international support must be explored. Even if no support is forthcoming, as happened with diplomatic efforts that preceded the Six Day War, a serious diplomatic effort will help to explain the Israeli position to the world and garner at least passive support for any military action.

Those who attack government inaction and incompetence in dealing with Hamas are correct. Israel doesn't have either a strategic or a tactical plan. It didn't have a plan to deal with the Hamas breakout or with the consequences of the fuel cut, and it doesn't have a plan to deal with the Hamas PR campaign and international pressure that will result from the electricity cuts. If Gazans overrun the border with Israel, it will be evident that the IDF and the government have no plan to deal with that either.

But those who advocate immediate military action are blowing smoke, because anything short of total Israeli victory in this case will mean defeat, and victory is not possible if Israel acts now. If five Hamas members are left alive and free in Gaza, they will proclaim "victory" as Hezbollah did in Lebanon. In Lebanon, Hezbollah managed to paralyze the government on the basis of its "victory" and the IDF failure. Hamas would certainly take over the West Bank and become undisputed rulers of the Palestinian areas if the Gaza operation is a repeat of the Second Lebanon war for the IDF.

A Gaza operation would exact a huge toll of casualties on both sides. It is impossible to soften up populated areas of Gaza with artillery or aerial bombardment, because the number of civilian casualties would be unacceptable. Hamas may also purposely put civilians in the path of a ground attack, to achieve the PR triumph of showing unarmed Arab women and children facing Israeli tanks.

In order to carry out such an operation, IDF needs time. It cannot be interrupted by UN imposed cease fires that leave the other side in a position to recover. It must not be forced to leave Gaza before the Hamas movement is eradicated in the same way that the National Socialist Workers Party was destroyed in Germany after World War II. That is why the international position must be well prepared before any action is taken. Israel must also have a clear picture of what it is going to do with Gaza after Hamas is liquidated. It won't do to return to the former situation of occupation. In addition to taking its case to the world, Israel should be doing everything in its power to ensure that whatever deterrent measures are taken, are aimed only at Hamas and not at Palestinian civilians, because Hamas uses the "humanitarian" issue to score large propaganda victories. That means that rather than cutting electricity or supplies, Israel should be looking for ways to ensure the welfare of the population despite Hamas.

But there is also a limited window for such an operation. We should not exaggerate the prowess of the Hamas at present. They have small arms, some anti-tank weapons and mines. They don't have artillery and air power. But they have already managed to dig in their rocket emplacements in the same way as the Hezbollah did in Lebanon, and they are probably constructing Hezbollah type bunkers all the time. It will be harder and harder to eliminate them without paying a heavy price. Additionally, if Hezbollah in the meanwhile also succeeds in taking over the government of Lebanon, an attack on Gaza would probably mean a renewal of the Hezbollah rocket attacks, which could be carried out using long range rockets, launched from well behind the lines of UNIFIL.

The price Israel will pay for any action in Gaza will not be measured in lives only. Most of those who advocate immediate action in Gaza are right wing politicians like Benjamin Netanyahu and his supporters. They should take into account that an inevitable consequence of a successful Israeli operation in Gaza will inevitably bolster the peace process and almost certainly lead to a quartet-enforced peace agreement in which Israel will ultimately cede Gaza and most of the West Bank to a Palestinian state. Eradicating Hamas is not only a prerequisite for peace, it will also be an inevitable catalyst for ending the occupation. The United States and other countries could not justify support for an Israeli operation in Gaza to the Arab world unless it had a "happy end" for the Palestinian people and the Arab side.

On the other hand, those "peace activists" who are yelling for an "end to the siege of Gaza" must understand that unless the siege is ended by an Israeli victory over Hamas or international action, if they get their wish, there will be no peace ever. Ending the siege under the terms offered by Hamas will enslave the Palestinians and guarantee the continuation of the conflict.

Ami Isseroff

Original content is Copyright by the author 2008.


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