Analysis: Olmert's dilemma

If Israel responds to the Hamas provocation, which it will, it will be walking into a Hamas trap.

olmert fed up 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
olmert fed up 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
One of the most frustrating aspects of the recent barrage of Kassam rockets on Sderot for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is that although he knows exactly what is behind it, that knowledge doesn't help determine how to respond. It is clear to most that these attacks are an outgrowth of the Hamas-Fatah fighting in Gaza over the last few days. They are an attempt to provoke a massive Israeli response that would both unite the Palestinians against a common enemy, and divert international attention from the chaos in Gaza. But knowing this doesn't make the policy choices available to the government any easier. Hamas declared a unilateral cease-fire with Fatah to go into effect at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, but at the same time announced that the Kassam attacks would continue. The transparency of that move is painfully obvious. The Palestinians will stop killing each other, and will provoke an Israeli response that will inevitably lead to more Palestinian casualties. The television camera lens will then shift from showing Palestinian victims of Palestinian violence to showing Palestinian victims of Israeli violence. The whole narrative will change, and the world media will go from dealing with Gaza's fast descent into anarchy to Israel's "disproportionate" response to the firing of primitive "projectiles." Little will be said of the fear and trembling in Sderot, because that will pale in comparison to the death of dozens of Palestinians over the last few days. If Israel responds to the Hamas provocation, which it will, it will be walking into a Hamas trap. It will be following the Hamas-written script exactly, doing precisely what Khaled Mashaal wants it to do. Olmert knows that, his eyes are wide open. Yet, he has no real choice, and therein lies the crux of his dilemma. Olmert cannot fail to respond. He cannot allow a situation to continue where one of the country's cities is under a barrage of rockets without the IDF responding forcefully. His domestic audience won't tolerate it. Olmert knows full well that in the current climate, Israelis want to feel that the government is taking steps to protect its citizens. So Israel will take military action, and in so doing will paradoxically also be doing Hamas's bidding. Israel will deliver a punishing blow to Hamas, there will inevitably be collateral damage, and Hamas's goals will have been achieved. But there is little else that Olmert can do. Knowledge of the problem, at least in this case, doesn't make solving it any easier.