Was It Worth It?

Article in Issue 20, January 19, 2009 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here. By the time readers see this column, they will know more about the consequences of the war in Gaza than I knew when I wrote it. And while it seems to me that there is no need to explain why Israel embarked on this military campaign, it is important to make several comments about the exit strategy. The Israel Defense Forces managed to dupe Hamas and the opening blow was a complete surprise to them, but it is necessary to exercise caution so that we won't be surprised when the curtain falls. The reader, who - perhaps even at this moment - may already know the results of this campaign, is therefore invited to judge those results according to the following parameters: • Has "The First Gaza War" brought about a de facto Israeli recognition of the Hamas government - and, consequently, recognition on the part of the international community? • Has the war disrupted the undeclared agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia to maintain the diplomatic and economic siege over Hamas? • Has Hamas been able to incite a third intifada on the West Bank - as Khaled Mashaal implored on the first day of the war, when it appeared that his organization had been decimated? • Has the war in Gaza pushed the pendulum back towards suicide bombings, which had dramatically decreased over the past few years? • Have the numerous promises of support from Iran, Syria and the Hizballah crossed the red line that separates demonstrations and declarations from active engagement in hostilities? • Has - and this is very important - the spirit of the Israeli population in the southern districts between Beersheba and Ashdod been broken as a result of the threats of the rockets? Has abandonment of the area become a widespread phenomenon? These are the questions that I ask myself on this, the second day of the fighting. These are the questions that must be asked on the last day of the fighting. This time, the fighting is being directed by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who initially took great pains to obfuscate its goals: "To change the situation in the South" was his description. And Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who is still hanging on, and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni - whose declarations in Cairo on the eve of the war caused President Mubarak unnecessary embarrassment - have taught themselves not to commit a priori to strongly defined goals, which is what they did when they set out on the Second Lebanon War, in 2006. It is quite logical to abstain from presenting well-defined goals, but it's also dangerous: the lack of clearly defined goals can lead to confusion. For example, "changing the situation in the south" could morph into changing the status of and attitudes towards Hamas. Is that the intent? Of course not! But as I write these lines, the reader already knows better than I if these distinctions have been maintained. We must remember: Hamas has always been ready to pay a steep price for legitimization. From the organization's point of view, the rockets can be fired tomorrow or the day after; they do not have to be fired right now. Khaled Mashaal craves political gain - not military victory. Consolidation of the Hamas government - not demonstrations of courage - is their policy. And above all: for them, the true prize is the West Bank. In Hamas they've known for a long time - and rightly so! - that if Abu Mazen were tempted to hold new elections in the West Bank in 2009, he'd lose to Hamas at the polls. In its current state, Fatah could not even rig the elections properly. In Israel, Gaza is incorrectly perceived as the source of the threat - while for Hamas, Gaza is only a necessary step on the road to Nablus, Hebron and East Jerusalem. What greatly worried me as this war began - despite all the confidence I have in Barak - is the fact that those in charge of the Israeli campaign are looking at Gaza and at Gaza alone. They are choosing not to look through a broader lens, which would reveal a more diverse strategic landscape. That's what happened during the Second Lebanon War: Olmert was only able to see the Hizballah and couldn't see the implications that the war would have outside of Lebanon. That's why we missed the opportunity to strike at the Moqawamah Doctrine - the strategy of persistent Jihad - in Lebanon and now, I fear, we will miss the opportunity to strike at Hamas's ambitions and not merely at its military might. I envy the reader who has made it to this paragraph, because he or she already knows what I don't: whether Israel stopped the war in time in order to bring quiet to the southern region for a while without paying for that quiet with de facto recognition of Hamas and without opening up the gates of the West Bank for Hamas. And the West Bank, as we all know, is the gateway to all of Israel. •