The politics of the Gaza operation

November 2, 2006 01:30
3 minute read.


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Nothing has been left to chance in this latest operation, not only on the operational-military side. The IDF took care to also secure its media wing in advance and prepared public opinion for another round of warfare which would also involve unavoidable casualties on our side. A procession of senior officers has been making its way to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee over the last few weeks, each officer bearing a new prediction, quickly revealed to the press, about the "Hizbullization" of the Gaza Strip, the latest information on tons of explosives and advanced missiles being smuggled from Sinai and a new Hamas army trained by al-Qaida. It was a crude but effective PR campaign leading up to the inevitable large-scale Gaza incursion on Tuesday night. Perhaps a bit too effective. This might be the largest operation in the Strip, with a brigade-size force, since disengagement, but no one is under the illusion that this is what will end the Kassam threat once and for all. Just as Operation "Squeezed Fruit" two weeks ago at the Philadelphi Corridor destroyed 15 tunnels, but left dozens of others still in operation, so this week's "Autumn Clouds" operation in the northern sector around Beit Hanun will make life more difficult for the Kassam gangs but will definitely not put Sderot and the adjacent kibbutzim out of firing range. So why launch the operation at all? Defense Minister Amir Peretz's explanation that Israel can't put a stop to the Kassam firings "but that doesn't mean we have to remain helpless" was a sharp anticlimax to the tough talk of his generals. The exasperation of ministers in the Security Cabinet - Eli Yishai of Shas demanded that the IDF take total and permanent control the Philadelphi Corridor, while Israel Beiteinu Avigdor Lieberman, on his first day as minister, suggested that Israel deal with Gaza as the Russians have done with Chechnya - is totally understandable but also a bit unrealistic. In an ideal world, the IDF general staff would prefer a much larger offensive, also involving reserve units, occupying wide swathes of the Strip for prolonged periods. On the other hand, ideal words don't contain Kassam rockets or unfortunate wars in Lebanon. The generals are belatedly coming to terms with their operational and political limitations. It is hard to say how different this operation would have been if the summer had been different, but the fact remains that the army, like the whole country, is only just emerging from the Lebanon trauma. On the field level, this trauma is barely evident. As one of the tank commanders who has been carrying out operations against Kassam launchers for the last couple of months said a few days ago, "Nothing has changed for us, we're soldiers and we carry on with our job." At the higher levels of generals and politicians, things are different and there are other considerations. Those with various investigatory and inquiry committees still hanging above their heads don't have much of an appetite for what might be construed as military adventurism, even if that might be needed at present. Instead we're going to see more of these piecemeal operations, aimed at short-term objectives. And it's not only Lebanon - there is another relatively fresh trauma. Those in the government and the military who were also involved in last year's disengagement are determined not to allow the IDF back into Gaza for anything more than a few days. A reoccupation would be a final public admission that the withdrawal was a colossal mistake. Another political consideration is Peretz's dire situation. After swallowing Lieberman's entry into the coalition, the Labor chairman is desperate to prove his battered left-wing credentials. That's why he's portraying himself as the only obstacle barring the military's wish for another war in Gaza. His neighbors in Sderot, who are holding protests next to his home over the continuing Kassam bombings, are actually doing him a huge favor. What better backdrop for his favorite image as Amir the resolute "man of peace." To be fair, it's not only internal political circumstances dictating the IDF's operations. The unresolved saga of captured Cpl. Gilad Shalit, still in Hamas hands, is a significant deterrent to more drastic actions that will ultimately prevent an Egyptian-brokered deal for his release. So is US pressure not to do anything that will destroy impotent Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas's credibility once and for all. He might have lost nearly all support among his people, but he still fits in to the American grand scheme for the Middle East. At least until the mid-term Congressional elections. Add all these considerations together and it becomes quite clear that the IDF won't be aiming for a comprehensive solution to the Gaza situation in the near future. That is, of course, if Hamas doesn't manage to spring another surprise. Which shouldn't surprise anyone.

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