Like in previous operations in which the Israel Defense Forces has confronted Hamas, throughout Operation Protective Edge politicians and commentators have been using numbers to describe the balance of forces.
After six days of the operation the meaning of these figures should be questioned. Does it really matter how many targets the IDF hit in the Gaza Strip? Is there any meaning to the number of missiles Hamas has fired so far? Only one piece of data has chilling significance, and that is the number killed.
Israel can note with satisfaction that thus far Hamas missiles have only inflicted damage to property, while in Gaza the number of killed has passed the 100 mark. Many of them are innocent citizens, children and women, whose death was a result of “collateral damage,” the type that reputedly is unavoidable in war.
The decision makers in Israel, and at their head, the prime minister, are still finding it difficult to define the operation’s purpose. “The attack will continue until there is quiet,” says Benjamin Netanyahu. The foreign minister, Avigdor Leiberman, has a far-reaching suggestion of his own, “to go all the way,” that is to conquer the Gaza Strip. Others are offering ideas such as conquering Gaza, then handing over its control to Mahmoud Abbas, and forming a Palestinian army along the lines of the South Lebanese Army. These solutions are imaginary and untenable.
Operation Pillar of Defense brought quiet for a year and a half. Operation Cast Lead produced a longer period of quiet. In both an attempt was made at “going all the way,” which clarified time after time that it is possible to reach understandings with Hamas. In doing so, Hamas recognizes that the missiles will not destroy the State of Israel, while in Israel the recognition exists that “wiping out the terrorist infrastructure” is a nice motto that cannot be carried out.
In the absence of a diplomatic process, Israel has to depend on partial understandings and arrangements that do not guarantee absolute solutions, but do allow periods of normalcy. This is the type of understanding Israel must reach with Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.
Israel can wait until public opinion worldwide and in the Arab countries begins to rage. It can also expect that, as in several previous operations, tragic surprises on the Israeli or Palestinian side could produce strategic changes in direction.
On the other hand, Israel could declare that the operation’s aims, especially punishing Hamas, have been achieved. This is the time to let the mediators achieve a cease-fire and leave the infrastructure alone for another long period of quiet.
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