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(photo credit: AP)
On day four of Operation Cast Lead, international demands notwithstanding, it is way too premature for Jerusalem to be entertaining thoughts of a cease-fire. It is Hamas that needs an exit strategy to extricate it from a devastating situation of its own making.
Hamas leaders ordered the cross-border attack against Israel in June 2006 in which two IDF soldiers were killed and Gilad Schalit was taken hostage. They grabbed power away from Fatah the following year, transforming Gaza into a spoiling-for-a-fight Islamist stronghold. Hundreds of Palestinians have lost their lives as a result of Hamas's warmongering.
They locked themselves into the old Arab mantra of "no recognition, no negotiation and no peace." They refused to honor agreements the PLO signed with Israel. They oppose the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. And they've kept Gaza an impoverished basket-case.
Despite their vitriol and bravado, since Israeli military operations began Saturday, the Hamas government has buckled: 400 targets have been struck; most of the regime's symbols have either been pulverized or are tottering. Hamas officials have gone into hiding, providing no succor to the masses, whose distress is directly attributable to Hamas's bellicose policies.
LET US keep our eyes on the prize. The government has belatedly but rightly declared the imperative to change the security environment in the south and stop Hamas from attacking our population. No country - not Germany, Britain, France, or Russia; not Turkey, Greece, Korea or the United States - would tolerate missile attacks on its homeland. Neither can Israel.
The effort to bring long-term peace to southern Israel is in its early stages. Military analysts estimate that half of Hamas's arsenal remains intact. Most of its armed forces are safely hunkered down. Put another way, Hamas is saving itself as it leaves the people of Gaza exposed and leaderless. The longer Israel can keep Hamas from exercising authority, the more the Islamists' legitimacy is weakened.
That being the case, Hamas is keen to change the equation, to goad Israel into launching a predictable land campaign. It wants Israeli tanks mired in the mud of Gaza. Its continued launching of missiles, rockets and mortars at Ashdod, Ashkelon, Sderot and the Negev is Hamas's way of taunting Israel into playing its game, by its rules. Hamas knows that there are certain targets, for instance - munitions storage facilities situated in the heart of residential areas - that have been off-limits to Israel's air force. It also knows that airpower alone can't stop the rocket-launching crews.
Hamas must not get what it most wants. Hamas wants Israel's home front to be demoralized, to feel under siege. It wants to stampede our government into sending ground forces into Gaza's camps and alleyways, to ensnare our fighters in ambushes it has spent long months setting.
IF HAMAS can't hoodwink Israelis into self-defeating policies, it is counting on pressure from within Israel or without to produce at least a temporary halt to the operation, during which it could regroup, or better yet a cease-fire. It needs this to claim a "moral victory" over the IDF; to demonstrate that the West has no response but appeasement to violent Muslim extremism. Finally, Hamas needs a cease-fire on its terms, or it will lose face vis-a-vis Mahmoud Abbas.
Some of what Hamas wants, it is getting. It wants AP and Reuters to continue to disseminate casualty figures which obscure the fact that most of the killed and wounded are gunmen. It wants the wire services to distribute photos and TV footage depicting mostly Palestinian, not Israeli trauma.
The air force will soon have done all it can at the present time - yet, frustratingly, Hamas will still retain its capability to lash out. That's when Israel's historic capacity for military innovation - for utilizing unexpected strategies against its enemies, rather than following a battle-plan for which the enemy has prepared - should be utilized.
Sooner or later, furthermore, Hamas's political and military echelon will emerge from hiding, and the air force will have more work to do. Meanwhile, the homefront's mettle will truly be tested; we will need to demonstrate our patience and resilience.
There should be no talk of a cease-fire until the declared goal of achieving long-term normality in the South has been attained.