“War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothin’!” — Edwin Starr, 1970
Some wars are absolutely necessary, though, and this is one of them.
The struggle to kick the Jews out of the Middle East has been led by various entities with the help and connivance of others since the beginning of the 20th century. In the 1930’s it was the Mufti and his followers. Later Egypt and Syria (primarily) picked up the standard, both by making war directly on the Jewish state and by supporting various Palestinian terrorist factions, notably the PLO. Today it’s Iran.
Iran, which until very recently was flush with oil money, may be more dangerous than Nasser’s Egypt was. It will certainly become so the day it becomes a nuclear power. Today’s Iranian strategy is to weaken Israel through asymmetric low-level conflicts with non-state proxies such as Hamas and Hezbollah, and ultimately to destroy Israel in a regional war in which the primary weapon will be short and long-range missiles fired from Syria, lebanon, and even Gaza.
But Israel is far too strong to be defeated in such a war today. Her enemies understand that quite well despite the bombastic propaganda they broadcast. They prefer to continue applying military and diplomatic pressure to weaken Israel and strengthen its antagonists Hamas and Hezbollah, as well as to press the campaign to delegitimize Israel throughout the world and reduce her support — especially in the US.
The plan includes psychological warfare against Israel, to cause Jews to emigrate, to weaken their commitment to military service and to make them lose confidence in the very proposition that Israel can maintain herself in the Mideast. The Hamas rocket attacks, although they have killed ‘only’ about 16 Israelis since 2001, have had a great deal of effect. The fundamental purpose of a state is to protect its citizens, and it appeared that Israel was incapable of doing that.
What has happened this week is that Hamas — or whoever is calling the shots — miscalculated. Perhaps they believed their own propaganda that Israel was politically incapable of fighting, that the army was not better prepared than in 2006, that Israel was not psychologically capable of accepting the casualties that an all-out war with Hamas would entail, that Gaza was no different than Lebanon, that world opinion could be mobilized to end any conflict to their advantage, that they had built up their military strength and fortifications enough to resist anything the IDF was likely to throw at them.
As a result they expected that nothing would happen, or that Israel’s response would be ineffective. They chose a convenient pretext to resume rocket attacks, which had slowed during the ‘calm’ that had been in effect, firing over 100 rockets into Israel last week. But Israel already had contingency plans in place and they have been activated.
The official goals of the operation are to end the rocket fire, destroy the stockpiles and stop the weapons smuggling that has enabled Hamas to build up its capabilities. Unofficial goals may include crippling Hamas by killing its leadership. Even more important, I think, is to restore the ability to deter aggression from the proxies, the gradual escalation of which has been chipping away at the self-respect of the Jewish people, the very heart of Zionism.
This morning there was a news item that the IAF had destroyed 40 smuggling tunnels in 4 minutes. Like the punchline of the unpleasant lawyer joke (“What do you call 500 dead lawyers at the bottom of the ocean?”) this is only a good start. There are literally hundreds of such tunnels, and the only way to eliminate them will be on the ground. I expect that also there will be special forces operations — they may already be underway — to capture or kill Hamas leaders or even to free Gilad Schalit. And of course many of the rocket launchers and their operators will have to be taken out on the ground.
Israel has said that civilian casualties are light, but we can expect that Hamas and friends will be screaming ‘massacre’ as they did in 2003 when they invented the ‘Jenin Massacre’. There are already demonstrations all around the world and among Arab citizens of Israel in opposition to the attack. I am waiting for Peace Fresno to mobilize in opposition to the ‘holocaust’.
It seems that this time Israel has done its diplomatic homework. Non-hostile governments so far have of course called for an end to the fighting, but also indicate understanding of Israel’s position. Hamas is also not everyone’s favorite social club; for example, the Mubarak regime’s most dangerous internal enemy is the Muslim Brotherhood which gave birth to Hamas. Many developed countries have had enough of Islamic terrorism.
I’m convinced that the team of Ehud Barak and Gabi Ashkenazi can achieve their military objectives given the appropriate amount of time. As always, it will come down to a race between the progress of the IDF and media-fueled diplomatic pressure to back off before a conclusive victory is obtained.