In case you didn't know, the IDF's strategic doctrine is still offensive. IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz said so just this week. And it's good that he did, because up until now, the way the IDF has been annihilating the Kassam rocket strikes out of the Gaza Strip has been mainly with robust and aggressive verbal threats, occasionally punctuated by artillery rounds blasting empty sand dunes - or propaganda leaflets dropped by combat aircraft.
"The legitimacy of offensive action - and we are part of an international community of norms - is on the decline," Halutz said in a Tel Aviv conference Tuesday.
This was a week when the IDF chief basically admitted that the military was better at halting Kassam rocket attacks on strategic installations than it was at preventing them against population centers. But even this statement seemed premature, as the Palestinians continued to defy the IDF's "no-go" zone and fired at least two dozen Kassam rockets into Israel.
The IDF has been put in an awkward situation. It's hands are really tied, since it is basically operating under the instructions not to do anything that could lead to embarking on expansive military actions before both the Palestinian and the Israeli elections. Its one offensive action was Monday's targeted interception of three Islamic Jihad terrorists responsible for Kassam strikes.
The international community - and Israel's morality - would not allow the IDF to totally crush the Palestinian Kassam rocket attacks with, say, carpet-bombing. As unpleasant as it appears, particularly highlighted by the media - and as tormenting for the residents of Sderot and other communities - the Kassams are not an existential threat that require disproportionate response.
The might of the IAF has thus been relegated to the dropping of leaflets and emitting of sonic booms, while the heavy divisions are unlikely to see any battlefields.
Even Halutz admitted this week: "The chances of [a conventional war] occurring are low - in fact very low."
So, as the new year began, the IDF redeployed some of its crack forces surrounding the Gaza Strip along the Egyptian border to halt weapons-smuggling through the Negev into the West Bank.
But as this was happening, mayhem reigned in the Gaza Strip, and the Palestinians simply tore down the wall separating them from Egypt on Wednesday, making a mockery of all the negotiated security arrangements. Earlier in the week, the commander of the European monitors at the Rafah crossing told The Jerusalem Post that during the five weeks they have been operating, not once did Israel ask for any Palestinians to be prohibited from entering. In other words, Israel didn't even attempt to stop the flow of terrorists into the Gaza Strip. The efforts are to keep the coastal zone sealed up like a cage, so nothing can get out.
IN THE summer of 2003, Israel launched a large offensive against Hamas - in which key leaders were killed - which led the organization to call for its first hudna or ceasefire. Israel's security heads gloated, as if the old adage, "Palestinians only understand force," were true. But the hudna didn't last, and in 2004, Israel decapitated the organization of its heads Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Rantissi. Hamas got the message and declared a second hudna about a year ago.
This week, Hamas announced the ceasefire had expired. Only this time, the defense establishment - acutely aware of Hamas's buoyant showing in the polls - has changed its tune. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz has apparently traded the hammer for the pipe and taken the "if-you-can't-beat-'em-join-'em" approach. He said Israel would be willing to negotiate with Hamas if it ceased terror operations and revoked its charter calling for the destruction of the Jewish state.
It's an old line, one that used to be recited by Israeli governments more than a decade ago when referring to the Palestine Liberation Organization. But Mofaz's statement reflects the changing perceptions in the defense establishment of the demise of the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority.
A senior security source said that most Palestinians don't want Hamas to take over and lead negotiations with Israel, though they do want to punish Fatah for its corruption.
Ironically, then, the desire to punish the ruling PA could cause unintended regime change.