Tower of Babel

Israeli decision makers have few palatable options in trying to stop Hamas aggression.

hamas police 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
hamas police 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Pity the Hamas leadership as it tries to fathom how Israel will respond to the organization's repeated violations of the cease-fire. Who should they listen to? Shaul Mofaz says the IDF needs to assassinate them; Rafi Eitan refers to them as monsters who should be destroyed. Eli Yishai says that anyone who has faith in a truce with them is behaving like an ostrich. Vice Premier Haim Ramon allows that government "policy" toward Hamas is causing profound damage. The enemy must be befuddled. Should they listen to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert who said Sunday that he's "waiting" for the IDF to brief him on his options. Or to the IDF which asked Monday, "What options does the prime minister mean? He's had a menu of choices on his desk for weeks." Perhaps they should listen to Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni when she tells visiting British Foreign Minister David Miliband that "When Israel's citizens are attacked - Israel must respond." But what sort of response? Hamas must be wondering. Perhaps they should only pay attention to Defense Minister Ehud Barak. He's let it be known that the longer large-scale military action can be put off, the better. "Hotheadedness is not a replacement for policy," said Israel's chief strategist. Further confounding matters, early yesterday Barak announced that the crossing points from Israel into Gaza, which routinely funnel food and fuel, would remain closed because Hamas was still shooting. In the afternoon, despite continued fire, Israel allowed in 30 trucks laden with enough supplies to keep the UN's food distribution network in business for a week. "Those wily Jews," Hamas leaders must be saying to themselves, "never showing their true intentions - saying one thing, doing another." TROUBLE is the bluster and contradictory pronouncements emanating from Israel's top echelon haven't been made to confuse the enemy - they are sadly indicative of our disarray. When Israel agreed to the cease-fire, our leaders implicitly accepted - though they may have been in denial - that Hamas would continue to sneak-in weapons and material via the Philadelphi Corridor. The will of the Palestinians to smuggle is stronger than the will (and ability) of the Egyptians to stop them. What little leverage Israel had in its efforts to free Gilad Schalit was lost. Now, nothing is more disheartening to Israel's citizenry than to witness such disunity when the country is under attack. And it is the country that's been attacked. Sderot Mayor David Buskila reminds Israelis that Ashkelon, Sderot and the Negev are part of sovereign Israel. The violent and destabilizing consequences of Hamas's control of Gaza continue to bedevil. This newspaper has argued that Israel cannot tolerate an Islamist state dedicated to its destruction anywhere between the Mediterranean and Jordan. Naturally, before a large scale military operation can be embarked upon, the Cabinet must decide on its goals. For now, the IDF is pursuing a holding action; interdicting "ticking bomb" tunnels; preventing the enemy from laying explosives along the border, and taking out rocket-launching teams caught in the act. ISRAELI DECISION makers have few palatable options in trying to stop Hamas aggression. And yet it is they who need to choose. Israel could try using artillery against the sources of enemy fire. But government lawyers warn this might be illegal under international law since Hamas often shoots from densely populated areas. Curiously, Hamas's legal department has not cautioned its military wing against using residential neighborhoods in Gaza to attack Israeli civilians. Israel could systematically eliminate the enemy's political and military command. Though a new leadership cadre would eventually take their places, we might at least buy ourselves a respite. Re-conquering Gaza and reconstituting the civil administration is not something most Israelis favor. Another idea being bandied about is for the IDF to retake Gaza, oust Hamas and turn the Strip over to a pan-Arab peace-keeping force which would reinstall the Palestinian Authority. For now, this scenario is as unrealistic as it is unappealing. It may well be unreasonable to expect this caretaker government to solve the Gaza conundrum. It is not unreasonable to ask ministers who will not cooperate in the security cabinet to stop babbling away in public.