Day two of Operation Protective Edge has so far seen more and deeper Hamas rocket attacks on Israel, and a call from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the IDF to intensify its attacks on Hamas and other terror targets in Gaza. Here are 10 points worth bearing in mind as the conflict develops.
1. Israel has no need to send in ground forces
Unless Israel wants to reconquer Gaza and reassert control over 1.6 million Palestinians who hate it, its interest does not lie in bringing down Hamas. To quote ToI’s resident wry humorist Benji Lovitt, “That would be like divorcing your crazy wife, then taking her back after seeing her get fired and develop a crack addiction.” Its interest most emphatically does lie in creating the new reality sought in Operation Protective Edge — “zero shots fired or attacks launched from the Gaza Strip,” to quote Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon.
In the past, that might have necessitated a major ground incursion. In 2008-9’s Operation Cast Lead, Israel sent ground forces into Gaza to try to thwart the rocket fire because, as the IDF’s Southern Commander at the time, Yoav Galant, noted this week, it didn’t have a missile defense system. Today it does, and Iron Dome’s performance as of this writing is proving extremely effective. So long as Israeli casualties are prevented by the rocket shield, there is no domestic time pressure on the Israel Air Force as it goes after Hamas and other terror groups — their leaders, command centers, training facilities, weapons stores and rocket launchers.
In the skies above Gaza, Israel enjoys near complete supremacy. Not so on the ground, where troops would be entering territory with which Hamas is intimately familiar, and where it has prepared all manner of fatal surprises. Fatalities and injuries would be inevitable, creating the opposite dynamic to the one sought by Israel: Israeli public pressure for an end to the conflict would grow, as would Hamas’s determination to keep fighting and firing.
2. Having said all of which…
If Hamas attacks — whether rocket fire, infiltrations, or other acts of terror — start to take Israeli civilian casualties, the likelihood of a ground offensive will grow.
3. Israel can do more to encourage Gazans’ pressure on Hamas to end the conflict
How about turning off the electricity in areas where rockets are manufactured and from which rockets are being fired.
4. Finding needles in mid-air
Iron Dome’s success rate in the 2012 Operation Pillar of Defense was said to be some 82%, making it what one analyst called the most effective, most tested missile shield the world has ever seen. If anything, its performance appears to be still more impressive this time.
5. About that world-berated security blockade
Hamas has managed to smuggle in and home produce thousands of rockets, including hundreds that can reach the center of Israel and beyond. This, despite Israel’s internationally lambasted efforts to maintain a security blockade on the Gaza Strip. One shudders to think about what would be fired at Israel right now were it not for that security envelope. More accurate missiles, carrying heavier warheads. And doubtless too, we would be facing more sophisticated missile systems, capable of multiple launches and decoy fire, to challenge even the most effective, most tested missile shield the world has ever seen.
An international community ostensibly committed to keeping people alive might want to reflect on that. Even those in the international community who seem to care rather more about some lives than others. Without the blockade, Hamas would have killed many Israelis, and Israel would likely have resorted to still more desperate measures to try to keep its people safe, likely spelling more loss of life in Gaza.
6. Are you sure you have our backs?
The United States has been trying to pressure Israel into withdrawing from the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley, as part of its failed efforts to broker a peace deal with Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority. The current flareup should have the Obama administration asking itself a few questions in this context. Here are two: Can it really be confident that its best security arrangements would effectively protect Israel in this unpredictable region, particularly given the failure of many of its policies in places like Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan? And, should it really still be countenancing a Palestinian unity government that rests on the support of Hamas?
7. And yet…
Given that most Israelis regard Abbas as a rather better alternative to Hamas, and would rather like Gazans to internalize that they’d be better off with him too, the Israeli government should be doing what it can to encourage Abbas to end the appalling Fatah-Hamas “reconciliation” process, and should be seeking to resume constructive Israeli-Palestinian contacts.
8. The Tel Aviv bubble effect
For Channel 2’s main evening news Tuesday night, anchorwoman Yonit Levi braved the outbreak of hostilities and traveled down south to present. But her heart was still in Tel Aviv.
She asked Yair Lapid for his take on the unfolding operation. We’re mighty Israel and they’re a collapsing terrorist organization, the finance minister replied, fairly casually.
A surprised Levi wondered how he could be so lackadaisical, when Tel Aviv had just come under fire. Tel Aviv?! What do you have to say to the residents of central Israel? she asked.
Lapid was thoroughly unmoved.
The residents of the south, he responded, had been suffering like this for years.
9. Be on guard for nasty surprises
For all the success of Iron Dome, and the failures as of this writing by Hamas to achieve what ToI’s Avi Issacharoff terms a “quality” terrorist attack, it’s a fool who’d write off Hamas’s capacity to wreak devastation. This is a cunning, resourceful organization, driven by religiously motivated hatred. We underestimate it at our peril.
10. The end game
And similarly, for all the apparent achievements in these early hours of Operation Protective Edge, a resort to force has its limitations, and bitter experience shows that wars and mini-wars often look like they’re going well in their early stages, before taking dramatic turns for the worse.
The current relative international apathy can turn in an instant into bitter criticism, and lead to strenuous efforts to force a ceasefire. A single misguided air strike can remake the climate, in a world where many opinion-shapers assume the worst where Israeli is concerned.
The key to a genuinely successful resort to force is knowing when, and under what conditions, to stop.