Words of the Living God

Shin Bet chief's diagnosis and the recommendation derived from it might become a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom.

Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin is considered an honest man who speaks his mind. That is cause for great concern.

In speaking last week to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee - and through it, the greater public - he put forth a position that indicates a serious flaw in strategy and logic. Diskin said that as long as Hamas rules Gaza, an effective diplomatic process does not stand a chance.

What does the Shin Bet head propose? "I suggested to government officials at the time to overthrow Hamas in Gaza in order to give Israel more diplomatic options," he said. Almost in the same breath, Diskin said "Hamas can be overthrown, but it cannot be uprooted from the hearts of the people."

Assuming that the director of the Shin Bet, who is responsible for appraising the situation in the territories, was not seeking to serve his new master in the Prime Minister's Bureau, his diagnosis and the recommendation derived from it might become a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom.

Even if the government does not adopt Diskin's position, his message pours oil on the fire of the right-wing government's campaign against the two-state solution advocated by U.S. President Barack Obama and the Arab peace initiative. Statements by "senior security officials" have always been considered the closest possible thing to the words of the living God. But a few years later, or sometimes just a few months later, it turns out that the title "Shin Bet director" is no guarantee of common sense.

The only way for Israel to follow Diskin's suggestion of overthrowing Hamas is by means of a second, even more intense version of Operation Cast Lead. But even if Diskin thinks massive military action in Gaza won't uproot Hamas from people's hearts, how will he "give Israel more diplomatic opportunities"? Lacking a serious option of solving the conflict diplomatically, the military option presents the Palestinians with one choice: coming to terms with the Israeli occupation or supporting Hamas.

Even Hamas' sworn adversaries among the Palestinians know that no group is more skilled at managing the crisis by means of a war of attrition against Israel. Hamas will not only strengthen its control over Gaza; it will strengthen its control over the West Bank at the expense of the Palestinian Authority. What will happen then to "security coordination" in the West Bank? Can the Dayton initiative in Jenin - the transfer of security control to the Palestinian police - survive the shock? Moreover, a sweeping military campaign that is not accompanied by diplomacy will not receive international legitimacy, will uproot Israel from the hearts of its best friends worldwide and will be fatal to ties with Egypt and Jordan. And what will happen to Gilad Shalit when Hamas gets backed into a corner?

Dr. Mati Steinberg, who for some years served as a Palestinian affairs advisor to Shin Bet directors, shudders at the approach of his former colleague. He warns that Diskin's formula will lead not to the overthrow of Hamas rule in Gaza but to the overthrow of Mahmoud Abbas-led PA rule in the West Bank.

Steinberg says that if Diskin believes there is no option but to take action against Hamas in Gaza, he should have recommended that Israel spare no effort in laying the diplomatic groundwork to this end. Israeli willingness to become part of a diplomatic plan accepted by the entire world, including the moderate Arab establishment, would allow Israel to operate militarily if necessary. Then Hamas would be revealed as the ones bringing down the process. Not only would the international community come out against Hamas, but so would most of the Arab countries; it would lose the sympathy of most of the Palestinians, first and foremost the inhabitants of Gaza.

Steinberg is convinced that the only way to stop Hamas is to make clear to the Palestinian public the advantage of a diplomatic solution as opposed to "blood, sweat and tears." He therefore suggests turning the Diskin appraisal on its head. Instead of demanding that the diplomatic process be conditioned on overthrowing Hamas rule in Gaza, Steinberg recommends adopting the approach that Hamas will continue to rule in Gaza for as long as there is no effective diplomatic process underway.