The moderate wing in the Israeli security cabinet is led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon. These two territorialist hawks are operational doves: They have no desire to conquer Gaza, or to cut it up, or to enter the population centers of Gaza. They are very afraid of shedding Israeli blood and also of a sudden collapse of international legitimacy. As a result, the strategy they have adopted is to weaken Hamas and not to destroy it – to prefer a diplomatic solution over a military one, and to aspire to a long-term, stable and early as possible cease-fire.
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But facing these minimalists are the expansionists: Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett on one side, and certain senior IDF officers, too. This strange coalition is not cut from the same cloth. While the militant ministers hope to destroy Hamas, the officers are looking to penetrate deep into Hamas’ complexes to teach it a lesson it will never forget. But what the civilian hawks and the uniform-wearing hawks have in common is a desire not to stop, to advance and to derisively dismiss the notion that, in doing so, Israel is falling into a trap.
Until last weekend, the moderates held the upper hand. They felt the military achievements of Operation Protective Edge were rather good: The Iron Dome system intercepted the rocket attacks on Israel; the air force caused enormous and horrible damage in the Gaza Strip; and the ground forces destroyed 10 out of 12 offensive tunnels that threatened the Israeli communities near Gaza. At the same time, Hamas’ strategic capabilities were eroded somewhat, and the pressure on its leadership grew stronger. With proper management, the military success could have been translated to a certain extent into a significant diplomatic victory: The Egyptian initiative.
But over the weekend, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry ruined everything. Very senior officials in Jerusalem described the proposal that Kerry put on the table as a “strategic terrorist attack.” His decision to go hand in hand with Qatar and Turkey, and formulate a framework amazingly similar to the Hamas framework, was catastrophic. It put wind in the sails of Hamas’ political leader Khaled Meshal, allowed the Hamas extremists to overcome the Hamas moderates, and gave renewed life to the weakened regional alliance of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Obama administration proved once again that it is the best friend of its enemies, and the biggest enemy of its friends. The man of peace from Massachusetts intercepted with his own hands the reasonable cease-fire that was within reach, and pushed both the Palestinians and Israelis toward an escalation that most of them did not want.
So that is why everything now hangs in the balance. Hamas is exhausted, but fanning the flames time after time. Israel is showing restraint time after time. Netanyahu and Ya’alon are still managing a battle against those who may very well entangle Israel in a real war. But the way Kerry played into the hands of Turkey and Qatar, and the extremist Palestinians and Israelis, has created a situation that is still quite dangerous.
If Israel is forced to ultimately undertake an expanded ground operation in which dozens of young Israelis and hundreds of Palestinian civilians could lose their lives, it would be appropriate to name the offensive after the person who caused it: John Kerry. But if the escalation does not happen, instead we should remember that those who prevented it are three people the Obama administration loathes: Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi, Benjamin Netanyahu and Moshe Ya’alon.