(photo credit: AP [file])
The IDF's successful operations against Islamic Jihad's top terrorists in Gaza have sparked calls from Hamas for negotiations and speculation over whether a massive ground operation against Hamas can be avoided after all. We've been through this movie, as Israelis say, so it is worth recalling some lessons learned.
The first lesson is that, contrary to what some politicians, diplomats and even generals sometimes say, it is misleading to argue that there is no military solution to terrorism. While it is true, if banal, that wars often are ended with a diplomatic agreement, it is not the agreement itself that ends the war but the defeat of one side. Either the aggressor is defeated, or the victim must sue for peace. Agreements generally serve only to ratify what has been achieved, or lost, on the ground.
In particular, in the spring of 2004, the IDF successfully targeted the "spiritual" leader of Hamas, Ahmed Yassin, and then his successor, Abdel Aziz Rantisi. Though both these men were ruthless terrorist leaders, Israel was widely vilified abroad, and many at home predicted mayhem or dismissed such tactics as ineffective. In reality, Hamas did pursue a cease-fire after these targeted killings, and terrorism against Israel was greatly reduced.
Accordingly, it would be foolish for Israel to let up the military pressure against the terrorist infrastructure in Gaza now. Despite the talk in Hamas and Islamic Jihad of "revenge," increased Israeli military pressure on the killers and their dispatchers will not lead to more terrorism, but less.
Regarding negotiations, President Shimon Peres hit the nail on the head yesterday. Calling Hamas's call a "pathetic and misleading attempt to divert international attention away from [their] crimes," Peres continued, "If Hamas and Islamic Jihad stop firing rockets at our women and children, Israel will immediately hold its fire, so there is no need for negotiations." Obviously, nothing would please Israel more than if we could stop fighting in Gaza. No one forced Hamas to start attacking Israel after our total withdrawal, including the dismantling of settlements and even Jewish cemeteries. Hamas decided to wage war against Israel, and is free to end that war at any time.
If the IDF's military successes continue, it is possible that a lasting cease-fire could ensue, even without a massive ground operation in Gaza. It should be clear, however, that whether current IDF tactics are sufficient or not, there is something else that must also happen to turn the tide toward peace in Gaza: ending the flow of weapons and terrorists across the border between Egypt and Gaza.
On Sunday, the US House and Senate agreed on a provision that would withhold $100 million of the $1.3 billion in US military assistance to Egypt unless Cairo acts against smuggling into Gaza. This approval, as The Jerusalem Post reported exclusively this week, came as Israel provided video footage showing Egyptian troops helping Hamas terrorists return to Gaza after receiving training, presumably in Iran or Lebanon.
Though the Bush administration fought for and received the right to waive this provision on national interest grounds, those interests would seem to require that this amount or more be withheld if Egypt does not dramatically change its behavior. It is Bush, after all, who has repeatedly called on the Arab states, including in his speech at Annapolis, to lead the way toward peace and normalization with Israel.
Egypt's facilitation of Hamas's massive arms buildup - including an estimated 100 tons of weaponry just since June - could not be more opposite to the goal of strengthening moderates and promoting peace. If Israel is forced to invade Gaza, it will be as a direct result of Egypt's failure to prevent Hamas's buildup, and of the failure by Israel and the US to put sufficient pressure on Egypt to do so.
If there is any glaring lesson from the Second Lebanon War, it is the folly of allowing a terrorist entity to arm itself with impunity, in the blind hope that those weapons, including thousands of missiles, will not be used. Now that lesson is being largely ignored both in Lebanon, where the international community continues to fail to enforce the UN Security Council's embargo on arms for Hizbullah, and in Gaza, where a nation formally at peace with Israel helps sow the seeds for the next war.
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