The way out of Gaza

After the politicians flex their muscles, the analysts blow smoke and the citizens of Israel have their "honor restored," a new exit from Gaza must be sought - certainly not a new entrance.

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Let's leave aside for a moment, despite the difficulty in doing so, the ethical aspect of bombing residential neighborhoods. Political accounts between the ruling and opposition parties, both of which voted for bombing Gaza, can be postponed until February 10.

Ehud Olmert, Tzipi Livni and Ehud Barak proved to the world that they are nobody's fools. Even Haim Oron showed that Meretz is not a bunch of wimps. And what now? Palestinians and Israelis must die until both sides stop shooting and sign a second cease-fire?

In an interview with Haaretz during the first week of the Second Lebanon War, Maj. Gen. (res.) Uri Saguy cautioned against illusions of being able to determine the course of fighting from the air according to the combat school of former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff Dan Halutz. Saguy predicted a fiasco like the 1996 Qana massacre in Lebanon during Operation Grapes of Wrath, which resulted in 106 dead civilians.

Saguy, formerly the head of Military Intelligence, warned in July 2006 that "in a few days the world will forget that everything began with a Hezbollah attack and the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers. What will remain in the collective consciousness is that Israel is striking at civilians of a neighboring country."

Still, the Qana disaster of 2006, which killed 56 civilians, brought international pressure on Israel and disrupted the prosecution of the war.

The tremendous population density in the Gaza Strip does not allow a "surgical operation" over an extended period that would minimize damage to civilian populations. The difficult images from the Strip will soon replace those of the damage inflicted by Qassam rockets in the western Negev.

The scale of losses, which works in "favor" of the Palestinians, will return Israel to the role of Goliath. The uncensored images broadcast by Al Jazeera to hundreds of millions of homes in the Arab world do not work to the benefit of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who was photographed several days ago speaking with Livni. A single Qana-like incident would be enough to make the masses of refugees congregate at the Rafah crossing and sabotage the unwritten agreement between Israel and Egypt against Hamas.

Passing the buck to Cairo is liable to have wide-ranging regional implications that do not serve Israel's interest.

Saguy is one of the only warrior-commentators who held out against advocating a ground invasion of Lebanon. Instead, he called for an immediate "political exit" anchored in long-term agreements, preferably with Syria. Today Saguy serves on IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi's panel of senior advisers, where he mostly keeps quiet.

In internal debates, however, Saguy encouraged the political echelon to back off from the idea of a ground invasion of the Strip, and to trash Livni's plan of "toppling the Hamas regime." If he does not succeed in curbing these plans, disaster will result.

It could be expected that lawmakers who were burned by the Second Lebanon War would understand that Israeli planes and tanks cannot replace any Arab government. The only way to kick Hamas out of Gaza is to put the enclave under IDF martial law and a civil administration. In other words, to disengage from the disengagement.

In any case, someone will have to take responsibility for the fate of a million and a half human beings. It is doubtful whether the Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas will want to rule over Gaza and be portrayed as a "collaborator" with Israel. Even if it does, it is doubtful the PA will be able to stop the rocket fire at Israel. Still, Abbas' position will improve if it is he who mediates the next cease-fire.

An Israeli occupation of Gaza without a scaling down of the occupation in the West Bank and progress in the peace process are likely to further weaken Abbas' already weak position and his efforts to compromise Hamas' standing in the West Bank.

It is no wonder King Abdullah of Jordan fears Hamas seeping across the river into his kingdom. The monarch is broadcasting SOS messages to Washington, and had already been scheduled for a meeting with Barack Obama in February.

Perhaps the secondary product of the war in the south is that the outgoing Israeli government has placed the conflict on the international agenda even before the new U.S. president moves into the White House.

After the politicians flex their muscles, the analysts blow smoke and the citizens of Israel have their "honor restored," a new exit from Gaza must be sought - certainly not a new entrance.

There is no exit from the unnecessary entanglement in the south other than an immediate renewal of the cease-fire with Hamas and adherence to all its criteria, including lifting the extended blockade of the Strip. Fear of an escalation could encourage external actors like Egypt and Turkey to contribute their part to the cease-fire's implementation.

Perhaps instead of "embracing" the family of captive soldier Gilad Shalit, Israel will pursue a new agreement toward exchanging him for Palestinian prisoners. After all, the same people here who lambasted lawmakers for bombing Gaza also want to bring Gilad home.