idf tanks gaza 298.
(photo credit: IDF)
After a successful start to Operation Cast Lead, the question now is: What should the next stage be?
That depends on the goal. What do we want to achieve?
If we are to be satisfied with attaining a stable, long-term quiet, a solution regarding Gilad Schalit and the possibility of resolving the smuggling from Egypt to Gaza, then, in my opinion, this can be achieved without a wide-ranging ground operation and within a relatively short time.
For this to happen, the following must be done:
â€¢ We must correctly define the enemy. The enemy is not "the Hamas terror organization" as many mistakenly say. It is, rather, "the State of Gaza." If we speak about "the Hamas terror organization," then we will be answered internationally: "OK, then fight against that organization, but why do the residents of Gaza have to suffer?"
â€¢ We must continue massive attacks from the air and not be put off by the growing numbers of Palestinian civilians who will be hurt or by international pressure. The greater the international pressure, the quicker a cease-fire will be reached. The more that the various players, including Arab states, want to achieve a cease-fire, the more such a cease-fire will obligate Hamas and the longer it will hold.
â€¢ We have to insist that a cease-fire is the maximum that Israel is prepared to agree to - in return for a similar obligation from the other side. After a cease-fire is reached, two issues will remain to be resolved: a prisoner exchange and the opening of the border crossings.
If we agree to open the crossings as part of the cease-fire agreement, we will lose a vital bargaining chip towards an acceptable solution for Gilad Schalit. Israel's readiness even now to partially open the border crossings out of "humanitarian concerns" is a mistake. If the humanitarian situation in Gaza is so grave, there's a way to solve that: First, to reach and honor a cease-fire and then to simultaneously discuss all humanitarian issues - shortages in Gaza on the one hand, and the prisoner problem on the other.
â€¢ We need to open discussions with Egypt right away on the necessary border arrangements in the Philadelphi Corridor. Israel needs to say that its readiness to agree to the supply of essential materials is conditioned on more effective security arrangements on the Egyptian side of the Gaza-Egypt border.
Attaining a stable cease-fire, and making arrangements for bringing in supplies at the crossing points and an exchange of prisoners, would amount to a modest but sufficient achievement, especially as it can be attained in a relatively short time and at a relatively low cost.
But if we do not consider this to be satisfactory, and want to destroy Hamas's entire military capability, and even to bring down its rule - as several ministers have suggested - then a wide-ranging ground operation that essentially conquers all or most of Gaza is necessary.
This is certainly possible from a military point of view, but involves a higher price and greater risk. The price is mainly in terms of casualties. The risk is increased uncertainty as regards the possibility of attaining the goal without running into further complications, including the escalation of fighting to additional fronts.
The political echelon has the right to conceal from the public, and from the enemy, the true aims of this operation, but it must not avoid discussing them in the appropriate forums and reaching a clear decision. We often highlight the importance of "sticking to your mission," but this is only a partial concept. The complete professional expression is "sticking to your mission to achieve your goals." In other words, it's difficult to succeed in a mission if it's not clear which goals it is intended to serve.
One of the most obvious problems of the Second Lebanon War was the confused definition of its goals, which were exaggerated at the start, changed frequently and were understood differently by various echelons.
It seems as though many of the lessons of the Second Lebanon War are now being successfully implemented. It is highly important that this central lesson, too - clear definition of the goal - is not neglected.
Maj.-Gen. (res.) Giora Eiland is the former national security adviser to the Prime Minister's Office, and the former head of the IDF's Planning and Operation Branches.