A balancing act

The discontent from both Left and Right arises from wishful thinking that has nothing to do with the justifiably limited aims of this phase of the fight.

IDF soldiers stand atop a tank near the border with Gaza. [File] (photo credit: REUTERS)
IDF soldiers stand atop a tank near the border with Gaza. [File]
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The rule of thumb in gauging any public’s mood is that the higher the expectations, the deeper the let-down.
Put differently, it may be argued that the more unrealistic the expectations, the more groundless the grumbles.
This was all too evident in the reactions of disappointment that followed the withdrawal of IDF ground forces from the Gaza Strip after the destruction of all known attack tunnels and the declaration of the Cairo-brokered cease-fire.
Nevertheless, although combat units have regrouped in staging areas on the border, all options remain open in case Hamas breaches the respite.
Hamas continued to fire at Israeli civilians to the last minute before the cease-fire, and even hit a home in the Palestinian town of Beit Sahur, east of Bethlehem. All Hamas managed was to further deplete its rocket stockpiles, which it will be hard pressed to replenish. Almost a month of Operation Protective Edge dealt grievous blows to Gaza’s warlords, even if there are no warranties that no terrorist tunnels or tunnel-branches were missed.
It would serve us to remember that the IDF went in with superior intelligence information and was not blindly rummaging for tunnels. Our men knew where to look, a fact that attests to painstaking preparation and which refutes contentions that the tunnel threat had been irresponsibly ignored.
There are no guarantees for perfect story-lines in combat zones. Where bullets fly, lives are on the line and bad things can happen to the best of soldiers. Reducing superfluous friction with the local population is therefore prudent.
The ground incursion into Gaza was never intended to conquer it and expel Hamas. It was occasioned by the tunnel threat, and that was neutralized more competently and successfully than might have been envisioned.
The discontent from both Left and Right arises from wishful thinking that has nothing to do with the justifiably limited aims of this phase of the fight.
Nowhere on our broad mainstream political spectrum are there outright advocates for Hamas, but there is a not insignificant branch on the Left that would like Hamas to be replaced with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah. The rationale is that Israel can do business with Abbas, though this has never succeeded so far. But despite the fact that it was to Abbas’s care that Israel relinquished Gaza in the 2005 disengagement and he was the one who lost it to Hamas, it would certainly be in Israel’s interest to see the PA controlling the Strip instead of Hamas.
As things stand, however, Abbas would be lucky to hang on to the PA areas of Judea and Samaria, where he depends on Israel’s support. The notion of relying on him to bring moderation to Gaza is likely a nonstarter.
Another unworkable scenario is represented by calls on the Right to retake Gaza. It is true that terrorism can only be controlled by Israeli presence or unhindered access, as experience shows in Judea and Samaria. The IDF can take possession of Gaza faster than is assumed, but it would then have to mop up, which would inflict heavy casualties on both sides.
Deployment flexibility leaves Israel with all operational options while it enjoys incomparably greater staying power than Hamas, the latter’s bluster notwithstanding.
It is tempting to demand radical solutions, but reality does not always dish these up. It is easy to demand comprehensive, once-and-for-all overhauls of chronically dangerous circumstances, but such initiatives can be tricky, if not impossible to implement.
It is a true test of leadership to keep a cool head when emotions rage all around. It is not easy and it is not popular.
Such difficulties are exacerbated by the unique Israeli psyche. We are not merely a democracy but a democracy comprised more than any other comparable society of opinionated second-guessers and vocal armchair generals.
Despite biased portrayals overseas, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s government has proved its mettle by not being gung ho or trigger happy. Despite carping protests at home, it is not weak or irresolute.
It has been adroitly performing a tricky balancing act between the desirable and the doable despite unavoidable battlefield mishaps, calumnies from implacable foes and insincere slurs from injudicious allies.
After the last month of warfare, we should take solace from the fact that Israel has consistently sought to do the right thing, even though the results have sometimes been tragic due to Hamas’s endemic use of civilians as human shields. Given the enemy’s repeated war crimes and total disregard for its own civilians, that is no mean feat.