'The aim isn't to topple Hamas'

Are spokespeople mangling the official goals of the Gaza operation?

Gabriela Shalev 88 248 (photo credit: Courtesy photos, Shahar Azran)
Gabriela Shalev 88 248
(photo credit: Courtesy photos, Shahar Azran)
The relatively modest goal for Operation Cast Lead articulated Saturday by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert - to fundamentally improve the security situation in the south - has morphed in the mouths of some of the country's key spokespeople over the last three days into the destruction of Hamas, a change that has left some foreign ministry officials extremely frustrated. For instance, Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, Gabriela Shalev, said Monday the aim of the operation was to "completely destroy" Hamas, and added that Israel would continue with the action "as long as it takes to dismantle Hamas completely." Likud head Binyamin Netanyahu, who has been enlisted to help explain Israel's actions abroad, told Reuters, "The action that is required is something that removes this Hamas regime from the scene." As to whether this was the aim of the current campaign, Netanyahu replied, "Whether it can be done right now is something I don't think we should discuss here. But it should be discussed because ultimately, if we don't do it, then Hamas will rearm itself." Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit told Israel Radio that "there is no room for a cease-fire" with Hamas until the threat of rocket fire had been removed, a statement that could be interpreted as meaning that Israel would not stop its military actions until Hamas' capacity to strike Israel had been destroyed, an idea that wasn't articulated by the country's leadership. "People are starting to divert from the message," one foreign ministry official said, specifically referring to Shalev. The official said the government's line regarding Israel's objectives had been drawn up carefully and that it was important the country's spokespeople stick to it. Regarding Sheetrit, the official said that there was a tendency among Israeli politicians to want to sound tough and "macho" when speaking to the domestic audience, accompanied by insufficient sensitivity to how this sounded when broadcast abroad. Another foreign ministry official was more understanding of Netanyahu's comments, and said they had to be seen within the context of the election season. "We are not saying that the aim is to topple Hamas," he said, "And those who say that is the aim are talking nonsense."