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(photo credit: AP [file])
By the time Barack Obama is sworn in today as America's 44th president, every Israeli soldier, save for Gilad Schalit, will likely be out of Gaza. And as President Obama starts his first full day at the White House tomorrow, Hamas will already be setting the stage for the next conflagration.
The new American president will no doubt have noted Ismail Haniyeh's "thanksgiving" speech, broadcast on Hamas TV, in which Gaza's prime minister declared: "Allah has granted us a great victory - not for one faction, or party, or area, but for our entire people."
Briefing journalists, Hamas military officials claimed they lost just 48 of their gunmen (and Islamic Jihad another 40) to the IDF; launched 1,000 rockets and mortars at Israel; killed 80 Israeli soldiers, captured some more and shot down a helicopter. With these achievements under its belt, the manufacture and smuggling of arms, which they described as "holy work," would now pick up where it left off.
Ordinary Gazans, much as they are wont to identify with Hamas's delusional sense of triumph, will find their gratification tempered by coming face-to-face with the price paid for Hamas's "achievements" - which, according to Palestinian sources, include 1,300 dead; over 5,000 wounded; 90,000 rendered homeless and over $1 billion in economic damages.
Hamas's claims notwithstanding, no IDF soldiers were captured. Ten soldiers were killed, several by "friendly fire." Some 50 troops remain hospitalized. Three civilians lost their lives. Hamas's bombardments - some 852 flying bombs packed with shrapnel - injured over 700 Israelis. Fourteen non-combatants remain hospitalized, including seven-year-old Orel Yelizarov, who lies gravely injured with shrapnel in the brain.
WE WILL know soon enough whether Operation Cast Lead achieved its purpose. The test is not whether there is "quiet" in the south while the terrorist organizations take a break. The true test is whether Hamas is allowed to realize its "holy" plan to rearm.
Using all its intelligence capabilities, the IDF needs to intervene the moment Gaza's workshops resume producing Kassams, the instant its laboratories renew the production of explosives, the minute tunnels under the Philadelphi Corridor are refurbished for the smuggling of weapons and arms supplies. Failure to act without delay will return Israel to the intolerable state of affairs that prevailed during the eight years prior to December 27, 2008.
We were glad to hear Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni tell Israel Radio she had reached an understanding with the Bush administration that Israel could act even in the absence of actual Hamas shooting. Israel also reserves the right, she said, to operate along the Philadelphi Corridor if the pledges made by Egypt and other countries to halt weapons smuggling go unfilled. Should Hamas resume its attacks, Livni warned, it would get another dose of what the IDF dished out over the past three weeks.
WILL anyone have reason to recollect the flash visit, first to Sharm e-Sheikh and then to Jerusalem, of six European leaders, including the voluble French President Nicolas Sarkozy? The Europeans came, expressively, to bolster the cease-fire; and our government is convinced it now has their solid support against Hamas. Each leader assured Ehud Olmert that Israel has every right to defend itself. Sadly, however, it's not self-evident that any of them genuinely meant what they said.
Be that as it may, beyond doing the obvious - making certain that those who brought devastation upon Gaza aren't given the wherewithal to do so again by rearming - Europe and the international community need to restrain themselves and not turn Hamas into the project manager and chief financial officer for the reconstruction of the Strip. EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner seems to have taken this point on board, hinting that it will be difficult to rebuild Gaza while the Islamists remain opposed to peace.
Indeed, so long as Hamas remains an unrepentant enemy of peace; so long as it is full-throttle committed to violence; so long as it refuses to recognize the right of the Jewish people to a homeland anywhere; and so long as it won't abide by the Palestinians' international commitments, Hamas can never legitimately be part of the solution in Gaza. Not even under the fig leaf of a Palestinian unity government.