By Larry Gordon
It looked ominous: Israel, the world’s smallest but most potent superpower, choosing to absorb so much punishment from the rockets and missiles fired by Hamas from Gaza. So why has Prime Minister Netanyahu reined in the Israel Defense Forces, even making the Air Force extraordinarily selective about targets in Gaza?
No, I don’t think Bibi has gone soft or is trying to fight Hamas to a draw, though that is what it looks like. Despite the incessant fire targeting Israel’s civilians, over these last six weeks Israel has until now chosen to be reactive rather than active.
Rest assured that without the Iron Dome, Israel would have unleashed its full muscle and pulverized Gaza and its terror merchants to a greater extent than it already has. And Israel may still have to do that. This will be determined more definitively over the next few days.
It was reported earlier last week that the prime minister expressed anger and frustration with several members of the security cabinet for second-guessing his strategy on Gaza. In particular, both Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Economics Minister Naftali Bennett have been extremely critical of the Netanyahu approach to Hamas to date.
At a news conference following just such a meeting last week, Netanyahu said that some cabinet ministers do not or simply cannot grasp the totality of all the considerations involved in his decision-making process.
So here are some of the options that the prime minister may be considering. First, let it be stated that there is no army in the world more motivated and driven than the Israeli army. At the same time, our tradition tells us that every precious soul, and the person who carries that holy soul, is representative of an entire world. Our soldiers have always displayed extraordinary selflessness along with unusual courage.
Perhaps it was during the ground invasion of a few weeks ago that Israel’s brain trust rethought the approach to fighting the terrorist scoundrels of Hamas. Someone might have come forward and asked, Why we are throwing so many young lives into the effort to defeat this unconventional human force? Israel’s air power is unmatched by anything Hamas possesses and, as we have seen, the F-16’s are having their way in Gaza. Sure, it might take a little longer to defeat them from the sky, but eventually it will get done.
There is a sense that the strategy that has been adopted at this point is to pulverize Hamas and their minions in Gaza, seek out and kill as many of their leaders as possible, choke off, with the assistance of Egypt, their conduit for more armaments, and then sit back and allow them to exhaust their arsenal.
Israeli intelligence has estimated that 70% of the Hamas arsenal has been either spent or destroyed. At the outset it was estimated that Hamas possessed about 10,000 missiles and crude rockets. Their stockpile is being depleted and their inventory reduced. At the rate of about 100 projectiles a day being fired at Israel, that gives them about a month’s worth of firepower remaining.
If only the calculations were that simple. There is, however, much more being considered. Amongst other things is that a complete thrashing and defeat of today’s Islamic terrorists is, in this upside-down world, a victory for their leadership. Their people, who have borne the brunt of this confrontation, were losers before the first shot was fired. Now with a cease-fire once again tenuously being implemented, the next step will be the infusion of billions of dollars in aid from all directions, much of which will be hijacked by Hamas strongman Khalid Mashaal, who lives in opulent surroundings in Qatar.
Additionally, as has been written here before, the Israelis do not want possession of or responsibility for the wasteland that is Gaza. They want missiles to stop flying over the civilian population of the South and, for that matter, the rest of the country. Hamas has essentially shown themselves to be tenacious but nevertheless inept. They may have accomplished some artificial internal victory, but much of Gaza has been flattened, with tens of thousands without homes to return to.
Another reason Bibi has been holding back is that the political dynamic in the area has changed dramatically since the last time Israel went to war with Hamas, just a few years ago. Now Bibi, it has been reported, is in constant communication with Egyptian President El-Sisi, speaking with him several times a day, strategizing on how to quell the rise of Islamic radicalism and terror.
If there is a gift from G‑d in all this today, it is the schism among the various Muslim factions. This is by no means a conventional war over a territorial dispute that can be compromised upon and adjudicated by negotiators. In days gone by, the leaders of countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, Egypt, and Jordan always talked about Israel as the enemy in the context of “jihad” or “holy war.” They apparently did not think that the poor downtrodden, starving masses earning the equivalent of $2 per week were paying any attention to their declarations. Well, it now looks like some were indeed listening quite closely.
And those people are the ones who formed Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, Fatah, the Muslim Brotherhood, and now ISIS. Mahmoud Abbas can talk about deadlines for Israel to withdraw to the 1967 lines, but other than gaining him billions of dollars in foreign aid from the U.S. and Europe, in terms of the current conflict it will accomplish about zero.
And this is also where Barack Obama and his foreign-policy team’s lack of experience begins to play a prominent role. Withdrawals and territorial compromises are the equivalent of placing a band-aid on your forehead because you have a headache.
So while folks like Avigdor Lieberman and Naftali Bennett want to see Hamas vanquished, Netanyahu and his defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, apparently have a greater understanding of what is at stake here. Winning and retaking Gaza may only rearrange the details of the problem; it still will not be solved and will not go away. And Israel does not have to be responsible for the day-to-day well-being of a million Palestinian Arabs living in Gaza, an obligation that will be viewed through the clouded lenses of a UN microscope.
As you can see, the decision has obviously been made for now not to win this battle according to the usual or conventional definition of victory. The people out there as well as here in our communities in the U.S. wanted a military victory. We still may get it, though at this point it is not the best thing for Israel.
On Monday, Eran Lerman, an Israeli government adviser, was the guest on a conference call from Israel arranged by American Friends of Likud. Amongst the topics discussed was this very matter, the issue of the decision not to score a military victory as the best way to handle Hamas for now.
“The objective now in Gaza is to restore deterrence,” Dr. Lerman said. He added, “The Hamas rocket effort has been a miserable failure, thanks to the Iron Dome.” The Israeli effort now is to restore quiet to the southern communities that bore the brunt of the around-the-clock sirens and missile attacks while applying intense pressure on Hamas and their supporters in Qatar and Turkey to rein in the terrorists.
This, he says, is preferable to another penetrating ground assault that will take a large toll in blood and treasure. He added that it is quite startling that Qatar, otherwise enjoying good relations with the U.S., is such a leading supporter of terror and that Turkey, a member of NATO, is aligned with Qatar in support of terror entities like Hamas and others.
This is a nuanced position that takes an element of foresight and deeper understanding to grasp. Suffice it to say that the man in the street—or the man with rockets landing in his community daily—may not be able to relate to it. This could explain why Prime Minister Netanyahu’s approval numbers have plummeted this week. The people know that Israel is a military powerhouse, and they do not understand this business of holding back.
Likud MK Danny Danon is amongst the many Knesset members from across the political spectrum who are not happy with the latest cease-fire. “The mission is not completed,” he said by phone Tuesday night, “and Hamas dictated the timetable.” Asked what he would have liked to see happen over the 50 days of Operation Protective Edge, Danon said that the two main objectives should have been the demilitarization of Gaza and the elimination of Hamas leadership. He said that Israel certainly could have accomplished that over the last 50 days.
As for the weeks ahead, Danon added that right now the Knesset is on summer break until after the holidays in mid-October, so that was probably part of the calculus for Netanyahu to do what he needs and agree to a cease-fire.
You can be assured that Hamas would have liked nothing more than to draw IDF soldiers into Gaza. Each military vehicle disabled or soldier killed or injured is a notch for them in their demented approach to warfare. Had this been about territory, the only thing to do would have been to fight them to the finish. But it is not. It is about an extreme, corrupted religious zealotry combined with the most voracious brand of Jew-hatred.
It may sound odd, but for now the only way to beat them is not to win. They are doing a fairly good job of self-destructing and for now need to be allowed to continue doing so. v
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