Text size

"Our main goal should be to deliver a crushing blow to Nasser," then chief of staff Yitzhak Rabin told the 11 members of the ministerial security committee on the morning of Friday, June 2, 1967, during a two-and-a-half-hour meeting between the committee and the General Staff. There was an oppressive sense of siege in the air, but life was simpler back then: The enemy was a state, Egypt, with an army subordinate to a government headed by a ruler, Gamal Abdel Nasser. The mission was to destroy the air and armored forces, but the goal was embodied in a person, Nasser - to oust him or vanquish him.

Nasser, King Hussein, Hafez Assad, even Yasser Arafat: How simple and convenient it is to handle relations with the adversary, or the partner, when everything is focused in the person of the leader. There is someone to fight against, and also to sign a peace treaty with. A blow to Nasser, a deal with Arafat, and it is done. A conspiracy with Bashir Gemayel and peace with Lebanon is in the pocket. Every bullet has an address, every give-and-take has a destination.

The trouble is that the Palestinian Authority is not a state. It does not have a supreme leader whose authority is universally accepted, whether through desire or through coercion. In the West Bank, ever since Operation Defensive Shield five years ago, control has been in the hands of an available intervention force, the Israel Defense Forces. In Gaza, in the IDF's absence, the bullets fly everywhere without a return address. The gangs, which are organized on a regional or clan basis, are fighting one another and also doing battle with the central government, which is neither government nor central. They have external assistance, supply arteries and an unlimited and constantly renewed stock of weapons. Private interests take precedence over national interests, and there is no one to restore the gangs to their natural dimensions. It is a semi-anarchic, semi-oligarchic situation, with the addition of Qassam rockets, rifles and antitank missiles.

The Nasser of Hamas is ostensibly Khaled Meshal, now in Damascus - who, if he survives, will shortly celebrate the 10th anniversary of his rebirth in the wake of the Mossad's botched assassination attempt. Meshal issues policy directives to Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and military directives to Ahmed Jabari and Mohammed Def. Haniyeh is not capable of implementing these directives, and Jabari and his people refuse to show restraint. In fact, last week they perpetrated a military coup against Haniyeh, and indirectly against Meshal, too. They do not reject the titles of Hamas' leaders and government, only their authority in practice. What took place was a reprise of the tradition of military coups in the Arab world, which date from Nasser. A softer version of a coup was perpetrated at the beginning of the decade by the Tanzim under Marwan Barghouti against Arafat.

Gaza is caught in a swirling spiral of massacres, toward which Israel must not remain indifferent, and not only for self-evident reasons of moral responsibility and to avoid a repeat of Sabra and Chatila. The fragmentation of Palestinian society into armed splinter groups promises a never-ending war, and a civil war on the Palestinian side is also a war against civilians on the Israeli side.

This double war - external and internal - will end only if the government in Gaza is taken over by a tyrannical strongman, who will suppress massacre with massacre. And that, too, will not happen before an external force isolates the most problematic sectors - particularly those of the Philadelphi Road, Rafah and Khan Yunis - blocks the constant smuggling and launches a systematic manhunt against the gang leaders.

In the absence of volunteers, either multinational and Arab (with Egypt in the role played by Syria in the Lebanese civil war, when it was invited in by the Christians to save them from the Muslims and the PLO), the candidate for this ungrateful mission is the IDF.

Intervention in Gaza will be bad for Israel. The trouble is that without it, the rocket fire will continue and there will be no point to negotiations on agreements with an imaginary partner that does not represent the real power brokers.