Leaving Gaza, but Where To?

Close to three months after the country's leadership announced it was victorious in Lebanon, it also declared its goals have been achieved in the Gaza Strip. Apparently the citizens of Israel can do nothing but accept the claims.

The "Six-Day War" conducted by the Israel Defense Forces in Beit Hanun officially came to an end yesterday, leaving behind 53 Palestinians dead, hundreds injured, a dead soldier, another one seriously injured and one lightly hurt. Close to three months after the country's leadership announced it was victorious in Lebanon, it also declared its goals have been achieved in the Gaza Strip. Apparently the citizens of Israel can do nothing but accept the claims.

Ehud Olmert, Amir Peretz and Dan Halutz led Israel to the second Lebanon war. Simply put, controversy surrounds the results of the war, but what about those who initiated what are admitted failures and failed expectations? The three are still in their posts, and they are the same people who are now responsible for the military operations in the Gaza Strip and announcing their successes.

Their conduct in both cases is similar: In Lebanon during July-August, and now in the Gaza Strip in November, no clear aims were presented, against which the results of the action can be measured. In Lebanon, as in Gaza, the public is not party to the decisions, and it is being informed after the fact. In Lebanon, as in Gaza, the military steps are not part of an overall political plan.

It should not be forgotten: The leadership of the country refused to grant a public commission of inquiry the authority to examine its conduct during the war in Lebanon. The investigation into the combat operations are still not completed, and no changes have been put in place regarding the decision-making process. None of the senior persons responsible for the management of the war have been replaced (with the exception of GOC Northern Command Udi Adam). And here we are, with the same leadership in the civilian and military echelons who led the country and the IDF into the depths of Beit Hanun last week.

Were they right to do so? Did the spilling of blood bring about any military or political gains? They are in no position to toot their own horn. The crisis in confidence in leadership, a confidence lost in Lebanon, is still with us and may have even deepened.

Just like the missiles and rockets that kept on striking northern Israel right up till the cease-fire went into effect in August, the Qassams kept on falling on Sderot and its environs, even as the IDF was pulling out from Beit Hanun. Did the operation in Beit Hanun and yesterday's ongoing military operations weaken the fighting spirit of the Palestinian resistance groups? Did these operations further the chances of gaining the release of Gilad Shalit? Did they provide the residents of Sderot with a sense of security and wished-for calm? Will something now change in the character of the confrontation between us and the Palestinians?

Even if we accept the assumption that a broad military operation in the Gaza Strip is essential, as part of the routine management of the conflict, and even if we accept the argument that forceful action of this sort is occasionally necessary as a response to the Palestinian escalation, there is a gnawing doubt whether the IDF's conduct is correct. When we recollect that in Lebanon there was an enormous outlay of munitions, resulting in the depletion of essential and expensive stores, there is no confidence that the methods of operation in the Gaza Strip are not based on a similarly wasteful approach. When we know, in retrospect, about controversial operational decisions in the Lebanon war, which cost lives, there is insufficient trust in the judgment of commanders and politicians directing the army against the Palestinians.

But, above all, there is no plan. The public does not know where the government and the General Staff are leading it. Ehud Olmert complained that he does not need to present an agenda every single day, and he is taking his argument to absurd levels: After the war in Lebanon he did away with the convergence idea from his daily agenda; nearly three months later, he still has not offered an alternative. Moreover, he is expecting the public to back his decisions to embark on military operations, where lives are lost, while he is wondering inside the political vacuum he has created.

This is an outlandish expectation. Olmert created a broad government for himself, and a question remains: What is its purpose? The serious lack of confidence in him stems not only from the allegations of corruption he faces, but also from the feeling that he does not know where he is leading the country.