Analysis: Barak maneuvering between Cairo and Livni

It may be possible to severely weaken Hamas's military capability, but an ideology can't be destroyed.

Barak 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Barak 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Hamas on Monday proved what the IDF has been saying for the past three-and-a-half years since the disengagement from the Gaza Strip - that all terror attacks from Gaza are under Hamas's auspices and control. Since the cease-fire collapsed in November, several groups have been behind the rocket fire into Israel - Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees. Each group had its own interests; some just wanted to terrorize Israel and others didn't want the crossings to open and take away business from the lucrative smuggling industry along the Philadelphi Corridor. But on Monday, Hamas showed the world it was in charge. After a barrage of close to 20 projectiles on Sunday and some 30 over the weekend, by Monday night only a handful of Kassams and mortars had fallen in Israel. The lull had come at the behest of Egypt, which is playing a fascinating role in the current round between Israel and Hamas. Last week, in private talks between Israel and Egypt, Cairo told Israel that it was willing to turn a blind eye to an IDF operation in the Gaza Strip. On Sunday, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry sent a different message, publicly warning Israel against massive military action against Hamas. Also on Sunday, the Egyptian consul-general in Tel Aviv, Sameh Nabil, surprised the Defense Ministry when he asked Defense Minister Ehud Barak to grant a personal request from Suzanne Mubarak, wife of President Hosni Mubarak, and enable an Egyptian humanitarian shipment into Gaza. On Monday, Egypt warned Hamas that if it didn't stop the rocket attacks, Israel would embark on an assassination campaign against all the terror chieftains in Gaza. "Egypt is trying to play both sides of the fence in Gaza - attempting to help Israel and Hamas at the same time," one senior defense official explained Monday. "Ultimately though, what motivates Egypt is one thing - the interest of Egypt." In the midst of all of this, Barak is playing an interesting role himself. In his public appearances, Barak is trying to distinguish himself as the elder and responsible statesman among politicians all vying for the title of "most aggressive" by issuing daily calls to topple the Hamas regime by conquering the Gaza Strip. On Sunday, Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu visited Sderot and laid out his plan for what needed to be done to stop Hamas. On Monday, Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni convened a forum, called "Kadima's Security Forum," to discuss the situation in Gaza. One politician who particularly raised the ire of Barak's office was Vice Premier Haim Ramon, who called on the defense minister to "wake up from an illusion that the cease-fire is good for Israel." With elections exactly 50 days away, all of these statements need to be taken with a grain of salt. They are mostly campaign slogans. As revealed on Sunday, Barak and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert have already decided on extensive military action in Gaza. The question left undecided is the timing of the operation. One factor is the weather; thick clouds over Gaza impair the IAF's ability to strike at targets and provide air support for ground forces. Barak does not believe that it is possible to "topple the Hamas regime." It may be possible to severely weaken the group's military capability, but an ideology cannot be destroyed. Defense officials fear an Israeli operation might only help Hamas tighten its grip on Gaza. As a result, what is most likely is an operation that will return the situation in Gaza to what it was for the majority of the cease-fire, before it began to collapse following an IDF operation in Gaza in November. There is no one way to make this happen, but one thing is for certain in the IDF - Israel needs to be allowed to strike back.