The best-laid plans
After nearly two weeks of fighting in Gaza, Israel still hasn't accomplished all of its goals there. Nonetheless, time is running out before a new president takes office in Washington - and the rules change
In the summer of 2005, after the evacuation of the Gaza Strip settlements, the Philadelphi Route and what is now called the "launching areas" for rockets aimed at Israel - which were seized this week by the Israel Defense Forces - two brigadier generals sat down to plan the army's deployment along the new border. The two officers, Yossi Heiman and Aviv Kochavi, will soon have to return to the drawing board. Heiman is the head of the General Staff's strategic planning and foreign relations division. Kochavi, commander of the Gaza Division during the disengagement and the man who closed the gate behind him in the knowledge that it would eventually be reopened, is now head of the Operations Directorate. These are the sort of high-ranking positions that are required for formulators of the new policy - which will also probably be described as aggressive - for the next era.
The previous document drawn up by the two was not implemented by Ehud Olmert's government. The result was the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit and an increase in rocket attacks against Israel. The task politicians will now place on the doorstep of Heiman, Kochavi and their colleagues will be to invent a new formula that will be presented to the public as reflecting the achievements of Operation Cast Lead.
After about two weeks of aerial and ground combat, the balance of accomplishments is not unequivocal. Supporters of the six-month lull that preceded the operation, headed by Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, won foreign and domestic support for the belated start of the operation, but they also enabled Hamas to arm itself with long-range rockets that have reached as far as Be'er Sheva, Ashdod and Gedera. In the dispute between the three of them, on the one hand, and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Shin Bet security services chief Yuval Diskin and OC Southern Command Maj. Gen. Yoav Gallant, on the other - the latter were right. The primary goal of the operation, as first presented, has not been achieved in full: Hamas has suffered a blow, but has not surrendered.
Therefore, Olmert rewrote the order of priorities and put "ending the smuggling into the Strip" at the top of the list. The Philadelphi Route - the supply line that enables constant armament and reinforcement from Iran - was thus "promoted," after the fact, to a sacred position. Even if it is blocked, Hamas will still be left with a large arsenal of long-range rockets that can be saved for doomsday, without renewed delivery of war materiel and explosives. That will be more of a logistical blow than an operational one.
Meanwhile, the desire to harm Israel will not be eliminated. It keeps changing form: Sometimes it is armed infiltrators or snipers via the fence; sometimes it is suicide bombers and bombs that arrive in Ashdod in a shipping container, and sometimes it is rockets that come by air. Even if this is the end of the launchers of the high-trajectory rockets against Israel, a new means will turn up. It will be the same kind of raid, but via a different method.
The duel in Gaza, from the opening whistle of the aerial campaign that began two weeks ago, was for the most part the Israeli bomber against the Palestinian evader. Israel dropped bombs, and sent in four infantry and armored divisions. But the senior Hamas commanders dug in and evaded the IDF. There were also fighters who abandoned their posts; others refused to face the IDF and preferred to invite the army deep into a trap. And the IDF, with exaggerated politeness, refused to enter.
In any case, Israel has wasted its days of grace and is approaching the start of the Obama administration. The influence of the president-elect has been reflected in the behavior of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is trying to achieve a legacy of balance - demonstrating a clear show of compassion for Muslims - as distinct from the overall legacy of her president, George W. Bush. Rice's liaison to the next administration is her friend retired Gen. James Jones, her security envoy to the region. He rejected her attempts to have him assigned as her deputy, but has agreed to serve as Obama's national security adviser. In Bush's final two weeks, the voice being heard is that of Rice, the hands are those of Jones and the policy is already being coordinated with Obama. Time is not on Israel's side.
The IDF is presenting the upcoming end of the operation as a preface to the next one. In that sense, the precedent is not Lebanon in 2006, but the West Bank in 2002: Operation Defensive Shield eventually turned into the sequel known as Determined Path. Hamas has lost its sense of immunity from an IDF ground operation, but Operation Cast Lead has put an end to the Oslo process. To convince Hamas to desist from launching rockets at the home front, Israel in effect has given up whatever was created during Oslo, whose initial installment was called "Gaza First": the idea of the Palestine Liberation Organization as the representative of the Palestinian people. The PLO was to be the designated heir of the government in the territories, and thus in charge of the Palestinian Authority, which was to develop into a state, according to the final-status agreement. In that sense, it would have been the party responsible for preventing attacks from inside the territories.
Hamas is a rival to the PLO and an enemy to Israel. It has not abandoned its war aims: the destruction of Israel and control over the areas within the Green Line. In return for its willingness to accept the agreement that Egypt, the Americans and the Europeans are trying to formulate at present, Hamas will be rewarded with tacit acceptance of its rule in Gaza. That, after all, was the intention of the organization when it offered Israel, even in the days of the late Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, a long-term hudna (cease-fire). Yes, its military strength has been damaged, but it can be rehabilitated. All in all, therefore, not a bad deal as far as Hamas is concerned.
The weakest link in Israeli policy during the past six decades has been the cease-fires, the armistices and the peace-agreement drafts. It is possible to end the ongoing rounds of warfare with an agreement with a ruling regime (but only on condition that it is not controlled by a foreign country, as Lebanon was by Syria in 1983). But it is impossible to secure an agreement in the event of a change in policy on the Arab side that accompanies a regime change.
The accord with King Farouk of Egypt, the strongest Arab country, which the IDF did not succeed in removing from its strongholds in Palestine (namely, the Gaza Strip), was fragile from the start, but disintegrated after president Gamal Abdel Nasser's officers' coup. The truce at the end of the Sinai Campaign left the IDF in Gaza for four months, and gave rise to the UN Emergency Force and 10 years of quiet in the south, but the removal of the force at Nasser's request led to the Six-Day War, which brought Israel back to Gaza.
Moshe Dayan, the defense minister at the time, was opposed at first to the occupation of Gaza, and preferred that its residents become the responsibility of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) - the same UN agency whose school was hit this past week. Afterward, under the pressure of the bombings of the Negev settlements, Dayan changed his mind. In June 1967, two divisions were needed to occupy Gaza, one of them being an elite paratroopers unit, which is operating in Gaza now as well; it sustained about 60 casualties.
Now Israel once again wants to establish some kind of supervisory mechanism that will justify withdrawing its forces from Gaza, before Barak Obama gets angry and the polling booths for the Knesset elections are opened. The problem is that Egypt is no longer the "address" in Gaza. A verbal agreement with Hamas will not be worth anything. To a certain extent Israel was lucky that the late PA chairman Yasser Arafat made a foolish mistake at the end of the last decade and the beginning of the present one, when he did not cash in his profits and establish a Palestinian state. Had Hamas taken control of such a state - in elections or through a military coup - and adopted an aggressive policy after it was established, recognized internationally and accepted to the UN, Israel would have had even more difficulty operating against it.
The Palestinians in Gaza, who are in great distress, but are better off than populations in many countries in terms of life expectancy, have not rejected Hamas, neither in terms of its goal of all-out war against Israel, nor in terms of the means used by it to achieve this goal: attacks against Israeli civilians and deployment among Palestinian civilians. The sanctions imposed against Gaza by Israel after the Hamas military takeover failed, as do sanctions all over the world (with the exception perhaps of South Africa, thanks to the enlightened leadership of F.W. de Klerk).
The deal now being formulated - "quiet in exchange for control" - is a result of the Israeli admission of failure. Quiet for Israel in exchange for control for Hamas. That is a recipe for a lull, whether stable or volatile, which will threaten the freedom of action of Israel, even if it is promised that it will be able to continue to operate against terrorist squads in both the West Bank and Gaza.
"It's not the movie, it's only the coming attractions," said a senior IDF officer regarding the operation, with a knowing smile. He had a central role in the evacuation of Gaza three and a half years ago, and is now participating in the remake - this time without settlers.