In the summer of 2006 – eight years ago this week – after two reserve soldiers were seemingly abducted and taken to Lebanon (though we learned later that they had been killed), Israel found itself on the brink of war. The commander of the Israeli army, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, had a contingency plan ready. It was called Mei Marom. The plan made sense: airlift elite troops to the Litani River, sealing off south Lebanon, and begin sending other troops north, methodically cutting off Hezbollah’s ability to fire rockets from south Lebanon into Israel.
For a variety of reasons – among them Halutz’s belief in air power and the General Staff’s faith that Hezbollah would not seek a large scale-conflict – the army did not use that plan.
Instead, it waged war from the air and advanced incrementally on the ground. The goal, as the name of the new operation revealed, was not to take and hold ground but to sear a certain understanding into the consciousness of Hezbollah.
The organization, which had once declared that the Zionist entity in the Middle East had all the staying power of a spider web, would learn, over the course of Operation Web of Steel, that it was unwise to kidnap Israeli soldiers.
Today again we are hearing talk of what Hamas must learn from this asymmetrical war. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Tuesday, after a work meeting with officers at the Gaza Brigade headquarters, that Operation Protective Edge — may there soon be a coup in the office in which these names are selected – will continue until Hamas “understands that our citizens and soldiers are not to be fired upon.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that “the operation will expand and continue until the rocket fire on our cities stops and quiet returns.”
Neither of these goals is attainable. Israel’s terror-practicing enemies, devoted to the sacrifice of suicide, will never fly a white flag, and will, as air force commander Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel said at a conference in May, always “fire the final salvo.”
Instead, Israel’s true aim is to inflict damage on Hamas and re-establish its deterrence. Cutting the head off the snake, as MK Aryeh Deri of Shas suggested on Wednesday, leaves Israel with either ISIL-like alternatives or with nearly two million Palestinians in its care.
Slowly upping the intensity of the campaign for weeks on end, as was the case during the 34-day Second Lebanon War, will both summon international indignation and may, like the frog in the boiling pot of water, fail to impress Hamas.
Ya’alon, who reportedly flew back to Israel from Washington, DC, during the summer of 2006 in order to convey a very similar message to the army’s top commander at the time, is aware of this. As is his boss. The talk of a drawn out campaign is now, as has been the case since the June 12 kidnapping-murder of three Israeli teens, a message spoken to the Israeli public, but aimed at its enemies.
Ya’alon and Netanyahu, cautious men both, may still call the infantry and armor into action. After all, this operation, unlike its predecessors in January 2009 and November 2012, started at Hamas’s initiative and was, therefore, devoid of an initial Israeli blitz. If the ground operation is authorized, then it will change both of those elements.
But it will be short and its goal will likely have nothing to do with Hamas’s lack of understanding; it will also, hopefully, be naked of any anticipation of seeing a white flag fluttering over Gaza.