I set judicious ambitions for this conflict because I wanted goals that could actually be achieved. I haven’t spoken about regime change or destroying Hamas or annihilating Hamas. That is not the goal here. The goal, rather, is sustained quiet for the civilian population of Israel. That is what I seek, and that is what we will achieve.
If we emerge from this round of conflict with an extended period of quiet, I will consider that to constitute success. Operation Cast Lead (winter 2008-9) gave us almost four years of quiet. Operation Pillar of Defense (November 2012) gave us 20 months. Longer, needless to say, would be better.
In pursuit of that goal we are hitting Hamas hard. We are damaging Hamas’s military machine. We are diminishing its capacity to cause us harm. And Hamas is losing support among the local population for the harm it is causing to Gaza.
There are no perfect solutions, no magic fixes. There are limits to what can be achieved by force.
I am only too aware of some of the limitations of our response. Hamas now has a sophisticated rocket-production capability inside Gaza; we are doing our best to target its workshops. We are targeting its key terror chiefs, knowing full well that they are trying to keep themselves out of reach, in the subterranean network of reinforced tunnels and bunkers they have fashioned for themselves.
But under President el-Sissi, Egypt today has a very different stance on Hamas than did the previous regime of Mohammed Morsi. We see that Egypt has acted unprecedentedly to seal the tunnels under the Egypt-Gaza border; we hope that, in partnership with our security forces, Egypt’s role will limit Hamas’s capacity to rearm.
Let nobody forget the thwarted infiltrations from the sea and via Hamas’s tunnels. These were potential mega-attacks. If any one of them had succeeded, we’d be talking about nothing else
Nonetheless, of course, so long as Hamas runs Gaza, the border will be tense. I need hardly restate that I opposed the 2005 disengagement. I need hardly stress my long-held belief that our enemies will always use adjacent territory to tunnel beneath and fire rockets over our borders. Hence my wariness when it comes to the West Bank.
I am full of admiration for the resilience being shown by the Israeli public, and for the layers of protection our security forces are managing to provide. Iron Dome’s performance has exceeded all reasonable expectations, and let nobody forget the thwarted infiltrations from the sea and via Hamas’s tunnels. These were potential mega-attacks. If any one of them had succeeded, we’d be talking about nothing else. We must remain fully on our guard.
Thanks all the same, Messrs Liberman and co, but nobody needs to lecture me about the dangers posed to Israel by Hamas and Islamic extremism. As for minnows like my Likud “colleagues,” Gideon Sa’ar, Yisrael Katz, Danny Danon, et al, I marvel at their arrogant inexpertise.
I know that achieving the wider goals loudly demanded by some of my colleagues and much of the Israeli public would come at a high price. We would run the risk of having soldiers kidnapped and killed, changing the entire dynamic of this conflict to our detriment. I know how quickly my fellow politicians would change their tunes; I know how quickly the public mood would shift. International pressure would reach new heights, with stinging humanitarian criticism and potential practical consequence. And we would find ourselves again burdened by full responsibility for Gaza. I did not favor the disengagement, but that does not mean I wish to retake control of the Strip. I do not.
A land invasion is our last choice. I should stress, unequivocally, that we might have to do it, nonetheless. Hamas might compel us to do so. It rejected our efforts to de-escalate in the days before we resorted to Operation Protective Edge. It threw away Monday’s Egyptian ceasefire proposal. It didn’t even fully honor today’s five-hour humanitarian time-out.
I’ll allow myself to add that bringing the likes of Qatar and Turkey into the arena of mediation is not helpful. If there’s confusion about who the mediators are, that’s hardly conducive to the prospects of success. I’ll stick with the Egyptians.
Finally, during previous rounds of conflict with Hamas, we lived in a somewhat more stable Middle East. Today, I’m watching war, instability and/or potential instability simultaneously in almost every direction — in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan and the West Bank. We are battling Hamas at a time of supreme regional chaos, and with international diplomacy over Iran’s nuclear program reaching its height.
A responsible prime minister cannot afford to narrowly focus on Gaza. Hence, again, the imperative to be realistic in my goals. Hence, too, the imperative to work, where possible, with those partners that we do have in this region.