Wednesday, December 31st, 2008 http://adamkhan.net/rambles/Stop-Yesterday
srael’s stated goal in the assault on Hamas—to provide peace and quiet for the country’s south—disturbs me because it’s a political not a military goal. How is quiet to be defined? Quiet like Israel’s north, where Hizballah has tens of thousands of little missiles pointing at the country that could be unleashed at any moment? Or quiet like Middlesex, on nobody’s radar screen? That is to say, is the goal of this assault to discourage Hamas from firing rockets, or is it to render Hamas incapable of firing rockets? These are two very different projects, yet we are hearing about both from the government, which suggests that the government isn’t quite sure.
[Update 2016 Apr 5: In retrospect I’m being foolish here: “quiet” is a nice, ambiguous term. You don’t want to telegraph to the enemy that the goal is in fact merely to degrade, not destroy. (Contrast with the US announcing to the Taliban the precise day they’ll be pulling out…)]
In the more limited scenario, that is, if the military objective is to reinstate deterrence, then Israel could have stopped after the first two shocking days, before the international community had a chance to scramble back to its usual narrative configuration (images of wide-eyed Palestinian rock-throwing schoolchildren juxtaposed with faceless Israeli tanks, etc). The punishment met out would have served as a sufficiently ample invitation to Hamas to reconsider its rocket-firing habit.
If however the objective is to remove the threat, then the only way to do so is to uproot Hamas completely, which seems infeasible. Even if the IDF were to storm Gaza, conquer it, capture and imprison the Hamas leadership and invite the Palestinian Authority back in to govern, there would still be dozens of splinter cells able and willing to fire rockets.
In short, the only feasible military objective, it seems to me, is to inflict some harsher punishment on Hamas for the rocket-firing than merely closing the border (which, to my mind, is not punishment anyway but rather an appropriate situation between hostile parties). Such punishment was achieved in the first two shocking days.
So Israel should already have stopped in order to observe and reassess. There’s no need to discuss a negotiated ceasefire nor wait as the international pressure mounts. Stop yesterday. And if the rockets nonetheless continue, resume tomorrow.
PS – The only way for the larger project to be viable, it seems to me, is if it’s in partnership with Egypt—that is to say, if Israel and Egypt have made a deal that if Israel degrades Hamas sufficiently, Egypt will step in and effectively govern Gaza.
Mubarak has alluded to this, as has been reported extensively, by saying that he’ll only open Egypt’s border with Gaza once the Palestinian Authority is back in power. Such an arrangement seems to me an appropriate long-term strategic political goal, but at this stage it seems merely a fantasy.
Update: Herb Keinon, chief diplomatic correspondent for The Jerusalem Post, argues in “The Gaza operation’s unstated goal: Anarchy” that Israel is pursuing a third way, a middle way: degrade Hamas’s ability to govern sufficiently so that it loses control of Gaza. This seems a very flimsy war aim and ultimately implausible.