Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman sounds strong when he talks about a Gaza “military operation” and dealing Hamas “the harshest of blows.”
His words stoke the fantasy that Hamas violence, such as rockets and incendiary devices, would disappear if only the IDF would unleash its full military powers.
The Palestinian launch of two powerful rockets Wednesday morning – one that hit a home in the southern city of Beersheba and one that landed near the coast in the center of the country – almost seemed to be a way of egging Liberman on.
MK Michael Oren (Kulanu), Israel’s former ambassador to the United States, quickly noted that Hamas was exploiting Israel’s unwillingness for a full-out war, the kind that leads to victory.
Liberman has not even used the word, nor has he even made reference to a cease-fire, let alone peace.
His best assessment of an outcome from a military operation was four to five years of quiet, not even a decade. Liberman’s war-hawk talk has not included a strategy of how to end the threat from Hamas, but rather an assessment of the quagmire regarding Israel’s policy toward Hamas and the Gaza Strip in general.
It’s a quagmire fed by the perceived existential threats attached to the most basic of conditions for any form of a cease-fire. It is for this reason that the guns of the last war fell silent without any formal cease-fire agreement.
Both Israel and Hamas wanted quiet, they simply couldn’t agree on the terms for such a cessation of hostilities, settling instead of a series of minimal understandings.
The IDF is likely strong enough to defeat Hamas and if necessary reoccupy the Gaza Strip, which was under its military control from 1967 to 2005.
But Israel is not willing to pay the heavy diplomatic price such a step would cost, or the domestic price of the resulting loss of Israeli soldiers’ lives.
Nor can it risk meeting Hamas’s most basic demand – that it rescind all its border restrictions – including the naval and air blockades that were imposed in order to halt the free flow of arms into Gaza.
The military blockade pre-dates Hamas’s rule of Gaza, which began in 2007 when it ousted Fatah in a bloody coup.
Israel holds that this blockade is more vital now than ever, in order to prevent Iran from gaining the same military foothold on the southern borders that it holds near Israel’s northern border.
Hamas in turn has no desire sign its own death warrant by agreeing to Israel’s demand that it demilitarize the Gaza Strip. The terrorist group’s military wing, with its rockets and infiltration tunnels, remains the only form of an army that the Palestinians have.
Israel had hoped that the economic sanctions it has imposed on Gaza for the last 11 years would help lead to its domestic demise. Instead, those restrictions, plus Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s stricter economic measures, have led to a Hamas-led popular, low level violent uprising along Israel’s borders for the last half-year, with no end in sight.
Efforts by Egyptian General Intelligence Services chief Abbas Kamel to restore calm have intensified this week.
The security cabinet, which already met Sunday regarding Gaza, was expected to meet again on Wednesday.
Opinions there are harshly divided, between a limited military response, such as Liberman is advocating, and another round of sanctions and appeasements, such as has been done in the past.
What the ministers are unlikely to green-light is a plan – any kind of a plan – that will lead to full victory or defeat, thereby ensuring for now that the Gaza conflict will remain an endlessly repeating Groundhog Day.