Friday, June 13, 2008

A unifying doctrine

If only citizens of Israel living near the Gaza Strip border could be magically granted 24 hours of tranquility for every day Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak have leveled worthless threats at the Hamas regime in Gaza. If only the Iranian menace could be banished by Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz's bellicose babble.

If only Israel could bluff its way out of its security conundrums.

Last Thursday, after a 120-mm mortar shell carrying 4.5 kilograms of explosives slammed into a factory at Kibbutz Nahal Oz and killed 51-year-old Amnon Rozenberg, Israeli policymakers unleashed another barrage of rhetoric. Barak cautioned "the sand of the hourglass is running out" and Olmert warned about "the pendulum" swinging toward "a harsh operation" instead of a cease-fire with Hamas.

TODAY, A three-way meeting among Olmert, Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is scheduled to discuss what to do about Gaza. The cabinet has been procrastinating since January as almost 1,000 rockets and over 1,000 mortars have struck the south. Eight people have been killed (compared to 10 last year) and innumerable citizens traumatized.

It is not as if the IDF has been sitting on its hands. Israel regularly sends aircraft, tanks and ground troops into the Strip. Hundreds of enemy targets have been hit and many hundreds of gunmen killed. Still, at the end of the day, the army has been unable to protect Israel's civilian population from attack.

Jerusalem is understandably not keen on launching a massive retaliatory operation in the Strip. Its goal is far from clear; there is trepidation over casualties (on both sides); and media coverage of Israeli tanks rumbling through the squalid and congested streets of Gaza would be nasty. Finally, there is a real prospect that, sooner or later, it will all have to be repeated.

So first, Israelis were told nothing would happen while the country was celebrating its 60th anniversary and world leaders were here. Then there were hints that Defense Ministry bureau director Amos Gilad, working via Egyptian intermediaries, had gotten as good a cease-fire deal as could be had with Hamas, and that Olmert, Barak and Livni were weighing whether to take it.
Now, with Shavuot over, our procrastinating decision-makers will have to choose either military action or a problematic cease-fire - and it looks like they will say "yes" to both options: first a military strike "to teach Hamas a lesson," then a temporary cease-fire which would presumably bring about the freeing of Gilad Schalit in exchange for untold numbers of hardened terrorists from Israeli prisons, but would also give Hamas time to rebuild its forces and solidify its hold.
This apparent combination of massive retaliation plus a cease-fire interlude, along with caving in to kidnappers' blackmail, strikes us as deeply flawed. There may be a better way.

ISRAELI policymakers need to enunciate a "River-to-Sea Doctrine" declaring that this country will not tolerate on territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan any foreign power that threatens the security of the Jewish state. Once approved by the cabinet, this principled national policy statement would be brought to the Knesset for bipartisan ratification and enshrined not as the policy of a particular prime minister, but as state policy.

Fulfilling this doctrine, the IDF could then be directed to topple the Hamas regime by whatever stratagem works best. And an exit strategy? Once the top echelon of the Islamist leadership is eliminated, its forces decimated and the structures associated with it razed, the way would be paved for the Palestinian Authority to resume control over the area; for international aid to flow more smoothly and, with any luck, for the process of rebuilding and rehabilitation to begin.

The chances of a deal with Palestinian relative moderates led by Mahmoud Abbas would, if anything, be enhanced by such a doctrine executed as bipartisan Israeli policy. More importantly, should the West Bank fall under Islamist control after Israel and the Palestinians sign a peace accord, the "River-to-Sea Doctrine" would automatically become operative.

In pursuit of war or peace, a doctrine like this would harmonize the will of the people, the policies of the government and the strategy of the military. And it would send an important message to the international community about where Israel draws its red lines.

No comments:

My Archive