Reflections on the Day After

Hamas needs its wings clipped and must be brought to its knees in an imposed accord, but no agreement will be complete without provisions for the release of Gilad Shalit.

What were those militants over in Hamas thinking? That they could fire rockets at us and we would sit twiddling our thumbs until they got their hands on missiles with a 60-kilometer range they could shoot at downtown Tel Aviv? That they could churn out leaders whose fame as killers would make them heroes in the eyes of the people and impervious to Israel's long arm? That our bungling of the Second Lebanon War would stop us from hitting back twice as hard and putting an end to their aggression?

This is not to say that when Operation Cast Lead began, there were no concerns, with elections around the corner, that it might be a repeat of the Second Lebanon War. They looked a lot alike, with heavy bombing from the air, followed by the army going in with infantry and tanks, and Hezbollah surprising us in the Lebanon war with a hail of 200 rockets a day for 33 days.

But as the days go by, it is clear that Israel has learned its lesson well since that fiasco, with Gabi Ashkenazi now heading the Israel Defense Forces. This time we are not being dragged into an operation but leading it. The bombs dropped by the air force were not meant to kill and sow widespread panic but to methodically hit strategic targets as the opening maneuver of a multibranched military operation.

The ground force, mostly well-trained soldiers from elite units, stood at the ready on the outskirts of Gaza awaiting their orders, which did indeed come, and at the right time. Unlike the slapdash management of the last war, this time the cabinet discussed every possible option, with Tzipi Livni and Ehud Barak in favor of going all the way. As elections loom, this may well get them their heart's desire - Livni as numero uno, with Barak as her deputy and defense minister.

Amid all the commentary on the land incursion, Eitan Haber said it best: that this is not just a military operation but a battle for our home and the right to live a normal life. The army has a whole stockpile of objectives, and the main one is not to create a balance of forces but to ensure that Hamas will never fire another rocket into Israel - not even into an empty field. Anything less won't count.

While we would love Hamas to disappear, that is not very likely. With the entry of our ground forces, we have bisected the Gaza Strip, but no matter what we once thought, we cannot rely on military might alone. The crisis is not going to blow over without international intervention. A local agreement between Israel and the Palestinians is not going to do the trick. Same goes for the Hamas proposal to go back to a truce that isn't worth the paper it's written on.

A major confrontation will wreak far too much damage for the international community to agree to leave us alone in the ring with Hamas - an organization whose word cannot be trusted and whose fondest dream is the first commandment of the axis of evil's decalogue - Thou shalt destroy Israel.

Operation Cast Lead has a military timetable and a political timetable. We will need international involvement, whether it is observers or an international task force. We will need partners to put pressure on the Syrians and Iranians to get them to stop supporting Hamas, because what is happening in Israel threatens world peace. If the United States doesn't come to the Middle East, the Middle East comes to it. The complex repercussions of the conflict make it too dangerous to leave us alone on the battlefield.

Timing the operation for the period between Christmas and New Year's, when the leaders of the free world are on vacation and alcohol fumes pervade the air, has yielded hefty dividends. Global intervention is slated to begin at the perfect time - "after the holidays."

IDF forces entered Gaza not just to achieve a cease-fire but to create a new long-term reality in southern Israel. Barak is not against toppling Hamas, but he knows that such a goal is too big for us. It would mean occupying the Gaza Strip, a scenario that the defense establishment does not exactly relish.

The solution for the day after is not a "state of calm" that Hamas can violate whenever it sees fit, but a full cease-fire with international teeth and a mechanism for halting weapons-smuggling into Gaza. We will not go back to the way things were before.

Hamas needs its wings clipped and must be brought to its knees in an imposed accord, but no agreement will be complete without provisions for the release of Gilad Shalit.