These were the declared objectives of Operation Cast Lead on its first day: The Israel Defense Forces would "attack high-trajectory weapons infrastructure, strike terror operatives and infrastructure, prevent hostile terrorist activity from the Gaza Strip, prepare for an expansion of activity with firepower and maneuverability, aid the home front and prevent deterioration on other fronts, all in an effort to improve deterrence and create a better security reality over the long term."
The word "Hamas" is not explicitly stated, and the term "better security reality" is ambiguous, much like the phrase "long term." But a sober look at the operation's achievements reveals that they met the modest expectations embodied in these aims, unlike the military expansions Israel had threatened. The reasonable line taken by Tzipi Livni and Ehud Barak has won, after senior IDF officers urged them to end the operation. They prevailed over Ehud Olmert's hotheadedness, and over ministers goading him to continue fighting until Hamas' utter destruction.
The memo of understanding with Condoleezza Rice is an achievement for Livni, reflecting American and international support for the unilateral Israeli decision to make do with objectives achieved thus far, and to try to intercept rockets fired from Gaza at Israel. At the end of the conflict with Hezbollah in Lebanon, both before and after Barak appeared on the political scene, the Olmert administration, in its weakness, refrained from striking convoys bringing rockets into Gaza from Iran and Syria.
As such, Hezbollah was allowed to rearm, under former IDF chief Moshe Ya'alon's failed policy of "letting the rockets rust." In Gaza, the government that follows Olmert's will be tested on its determination to act from the air against rocket launchings, tunnel digging, suicide-bombing infrastructure and rocket smuggling, lest the army be drawn into a second Operation Cast Lead. Such an operation would be conducted not along the Philadelphi route or in Rafah, but north of there, in sandy ground where it is hard to dig tunnels. The idea would be to seize a corridor to the Sufa crossing, through the former settlement of Morag to the Mediterranean Sea.
The IDF's operation is best treated with modest praise, without excessive excitement. A smaller collection of forces under GOC Southern Command is operating than was used in Lebanon, fighting on a battlefield isolated almost completely from real-time information.
The goal to catch several hundred Hamas operatives has not been met. The detention camps remain empty - fewer than 30 "illegal fighters" are in Israel after interrogation. They will be brought to the Be'er Sheva District Court and there will be no need for a military trial.
The issue of freeing Gilad Shalit, which envoy Ofer Dekel will continue to pursue, will not delay the end of the ground operation. Without returning Shalit, the Rafah crossing will not be opened.
The captives held in Egypt between 1954 and 1968 were IDF officers the Ben-Gurion government and IDF chief of staff Moshe Dayan abandoned during the prisoner exchanges after the 1956 Sinai Campaign. If not for the efforts of then-Mossad chief Meir Amit, they also would have been abandoned in the exchanges after the 1967 Six-Day War.
Last June the government erred in accepting a cease-fire that did not include Shalit. Now, under the glare of the public eye, it will be unable to do so. Those demanding "proportionality" and criticizing the killing of 1,000 civilians (in fighting against hostile organizations that hide among the population) have accepted Hamas' demand to free 450, 1,000 and even 1,450 prisoners in exchange for Shalit as the work of fate. Is one Israeli soldier worth hundreds of Arabs? If Israel had said so, it would be accused of racism.
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