Friday, January 30, 2009

Israel Elections

Friday - Kadima slips

Want to know why the latest polls show Kadima running a solid second behind Likud? It's not because centrist Israelis have suddenly become more hawkish - they've simply lost faith in Kadima as a coherent third way party. Middle Israel no longer trusts it to oversee negotiations with Mahmoud Abbas's Palestinian Authority.

Our prime minister and foreign minister, respectively, have been negotiating with Abbas and Ahmed Qurei since the November 2007 Annapolis conference. By holding continuous bilateral negotiations aimed at concluding a deal by the end of 2008, Annapolis sought to supplant the moribund April 2003 road map.

The road map was a reciprocal arrangement: Israel would freeze all settlements, including "natural growth"; the Palestinians would end violence. But Palestinian terrorism continued unabated, so Israeli leaders had no incentive to freeze settlements. Annapolis was an attempt to leapfrog over the messy problem of noncompliance by going directly to a final status agreement.

Sure enough, Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni negotiated energetically with Abbas and Qurei. Thanks to an interview Olmert gave Yediot Aharonot on Rosh Hashana eve (September 29, 2008), and a series of shameless leaks from his office to that tabloid - including one just yesterday - we pretty much know what Kadima has offered the Palestinians: Just about total withdrawal to the 1949 Armistice Lines, the boundaries from which the 1967 war broke out; including east Jerusalem. A settlement freeze has become a moot issue now that Olmert has offered the Palestinians much, much more.

Kadima is reportedly planning to uproot 70,000 Israelis (out of roughly 250,000) living beyond the Green Line. Large settlement blocs like Ma'aleh Adumim, which abuts the capital on the east, would be annexed to Israel. In return, the Palestinians would take possession of an equal amount of land in southern Israel.

Kadima plans to transfer to Palestinian sovereignty Arab neighborhoods which encircle Jerusalem on the east, north and south. Holy places, presumably including the Western Wall and Temple Mount, would be placed in the custody of an international body. A tunnel or bridge would connect the Gaza Strip and the West Bank to provide "Palestine" with territorial contiguity.

Except for refusing to absorb millions of Palestinian Arab refugees and their descendents within the Green Line - thereby having Israel commit national suicide - Olmert has given Abbas just about everything he could hope for.

Livni has criticized Olmert only for breaking his Annapolis oath to negotiate in secrecy.

WHAT fascinates is that Olmert, without addressing in tandem security, has publicized the most far-reaching concessions of any Israeli leader since the territories came into Israeli hands.

This revelation, unaccompanied by explicit assurances that Olmert and Livni have answers to the security dilemmas posed by their momentous territorial withdrawals, will cause many middle-of-the-road Israelis to lose sleep. Those who live or study in areas of Jerusalem slated to become frontline outposts abutting "Palestine" - places such as East Talpiot, Gilo and Mount Scopus - will want to know what this means for them. Those living in Kfar Saba, Hadera, Afula and Arad will also become frontline communities. Similarly, and equally worryingly, Israel's main airport will fall within range of rudimentary, shoulder-held anti-aircraft missiles.

It gives us no comfort to hear Livni say "the Palestinians' military capability is not a threat." Perhaps, but it has made life in southern Israel wretched and can make life along the coastal plain and Jerusalem equally miserable.

Given that Israel has found no effective answer to Hamas's aggression from Gaza, does Kadima have a contingency plan, should all of "Palestine" fall to Hamas?

Meanwhile, we find it mind-boggling that Abbas, rather than taking Olmert's concessions to his people, has rejected them out of hand, telling US officials that he is uncompromising on his demand for a total Israeli pullback to the 1949 lines. He also refuses to renounce the "right of return."

Kadima's leaders have reacted to Abbas's intransigence and historic shortsightedness with more blather about the need for Israeli concessions; but not a word of criticism of Abbas.

The 700,000 voters who supported Kadima in the last election still think a deal with the Palestinians is an Israeli interest. They're just not sure Kadima is sufficiently responsible to bring it to fruition.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Iraq's elections. Good Islamists & Bad Ones, And...

Thursday - Obama's Islamist challenge

This Saturday, about 15 million Iraqis will be voting in council races across most of the country's provinces. A nationwide election will follow at the end of 2009. These, together, could determine whether Iraq evolves into the Arab world's first representative democracy, where the majority respects the rights of the minority.

The price for establishing a stable, safe and free Iraq, assuming one eventually emerges, has been staggering. For Americans, maybe $3 trillion; 4,000 soldiers killed and 30,000 wounded. Some 100,000 Iraqis have died - "only" 8,000 in 2008, compared to around 20,000 in 2007. Perhaps two million Iraqis became refugees.

The war was launched in 2003 because of Saddam Hussein's "weapons of mass destruction." None were found. Had Saddam been a pro-American autocrat, there is little likelihood he would have been deposed just to promote democracy. Nor has anyone established that Saddam was connected to 9/11, though some Osama bin Laden operatives may have had ties with Iraqi intelligence.

Saddam was a champion of Palestinian extremism, so no one in Israel regrets his exit.

The unintended consequences of Saddam's departure include the chaos and radicalism unleashed in the wake of his downfall, and the regional ascendancy of Iran - Saddam's natural enemy. The war monopolized, even exhausted, American resources, lessening the prospect of US military intervention to stop Teheran from building a nuclear weapon.

During the campaign, candidate Barack Obama promised that within 16 months of taking office he'd redeploy most US troops from Iraq to the Afghan-Pakistan border to do battle with al-Qaida and the resurgent Taliban. In the interim, the Bush administration signed an accord with Iraq to withdraw US troops from population centers by June 2009, and entirely by the end of 2011. Baghdad - incapable of taking full security control of the country and needing US logistical and intelligence support - would not want to phase down any faster, despite ordinary Iraqis' view of the US presence as an "occupation."

The war overthrew Saddam's Sunni ruling clique of Ba'athists, replacing it with a violently fragmented Shi'ite majority. (Shi'ite Arabs comprise about 60 percent of the country, Sunni Arabs between 15-20%, and the remainder are non-Arab - Sunni - Kurds.) With ethnic bloodletting comparatively in check, Saturday's voting, along ethnic lines, will pit various Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish parties against each other. In 2005, the Sunnis boycotted balloting; now even those with one foot in the extremist camp are participating.

IF CONDITIONS in Iraq permit, the Obama administration can focus singlemindedly on the Taliban and the real al-Qaida. The hub of global jihad isn't in Iraq - it is along the Afghan-Pakistan border.

Obama clearly appreciates that Muslim extremism flourishes in a toxic environment of deep-seated social, demographic and economic dislocation, where masses who feel disenfranchised are receptive to religious demagogues inciting against the "infidels."

Can the new president undermine global jihad by reaching out directly to Muslim believers? It's worth a try, so we applaud his decision to give his first interview as president, on January 26, to the Al-Arabiya TV station. He told his audience that America's battle was not with ordinary Muslims - indeed, some members of his own family are of the faith - but with "organizations like al-Qaida that espouse violence, espouse terror, and act on it." He said, America is going to hunt down those who "would kill innocent civilians."

Regrettably, in Muslim civilization the leadership choice is not between authentic secularists and religious fanatics, but between violent and non-violent Islamists. So the best Obama can hope to do is help unlink Islam from brutality and drive a wedge between the two Islamist camps. Both, lamentably, favor Shari'a law as a way of life. But "good" Islamists, for instance in Turkey, Iraq, Morocco and Egypt, operate peacefully. Their "fundamentalism lite" is something the West can, at least theoretically, abide.

Yet for such an "unlinking" approach to work, Obama must stick to his principles and show zero tolerance for organizations that "kill innocent civilians."

He might permit talks with Iran; he might allow discreet inquiries into Hamas's policies. But ultimately, as he determines that they, together with Hizbullah, are incorrigible, he must inevitably conclude that Iran, Hamas and Hizbullah - like al-Qaida - need to be defeated.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Gaza wants to go another round

Wednesday - This is the test

While the outside world focuses on "Gaza relief," fretting about Israel's "disproportionate" response to years of Hamas aggression, and treating the inflated civilian casualty figures disseminated by Palestinian authorities as fact, Hamas itself has just signaled it wants to go another round.

Tuesday morning enemy forces crossed our border, detonated a powerful roadside bomb and attacked an IDF patrol near Kissufim. One soldier was killed, another was badly wounded, and several were more lightly hurt.

This is a test. Israel can either respond powerfully, or be satisfied with the kind of tit-for-tat retaliations that preceded Operation Cast Lead. It all depends on whether we consider our border inviolate.

We are tested at an inopportune moment. Elections are upon us and President Barack Obama's envoy is here.

After Israel announced the cease-fire, unknown terrorists shot an Israeli motorist near Ramallah; a mortar barrage struck the Negev; Iranian arms ships kept steaming this way; arms smuggling via tunnels below the Philadelphi Corridor resumed. Hamas continues to loot humanitarian aid, and the Islamists refuse to negotiate sensibly on Gilad Schalit.

What Hamas must do is: stop rearming; stop violating the border and make Israel a reasonable prisoner exchange offer. If Hamas does this, and if a suitable monitoring mechanism can be implemented, the Gaza crossings can be reopened.

But first Hamas must get its second round. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert pledged that if Hamas persisted in violating the border, the IDF would respond.

Now Israel must do what needs to be done. Not because we want to see Palestinians suffer, but because we want normalcy to return to southern Israel.

Hizbullah is watching. The world is watching. For the sake of quiet, Israel must act and shake the ground in Gaza.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Vatican & the Jews

Tuesday - Iudicium perversum

Pope Benedict XVI surely did not set out to undercut decades of progress in Catholic-Jewish relations initiated by Pope John XXIII, but he's managing to do just that. We do not suggest that a series of unfortunate decisions by Benedict had anything to do with malice.

Though he never explicitly condemns Palestinian terrorist attacks against Jews, Benedict routinely meets with Israeli and Jewish figures, visits a fair share of synagogues and maintains Vatican-Israel diplomatic relations on an even keel. He is scheduled to visit here in May.

The pope simply made a strategic decision: Enticing Catholic ultra-conservatives back to the fold was more important than the Church's relationship with its "dearly beloved elder brothers."

THAT IS how we understand the intention to reinstate a Holocaust-denying bishop, along with earlier decisions to identify Pius XII as a saint (though Eugenio Pacelli's detractors think of him simply as "Hitler's pope"); plus Benedict's July 2007 policy of making it easier for ultra-conservatives to celebrate the Easter Tridentine Latin Mass, despite its original references to "perfidious [or faithless] Jews."

The pope has had lots of time to reflect on Catholic dogma. From 1981 until he assumed the office in 2005, the former cardinal Joseph Ratzinger headed the Vatican's doctrinal affairs ministry.

Benedict is evidently resigned, according to Rachel Donadio of The New York Times, "to the Church's diminished status in a secular world" and would rather have "a smaller Church of more ardent believers over a larger one with looser faith."

Those fervently faithful happen to be religious arch-conservatives, a few of them old-line Jew-haters.

Some ultra-conservative clergy and lay people have never forgiven the Church for the decisions of the Second Vatican Council, including its reversal of the Church's historic teaching of contempt of the Jewish people; for absolving "the Jews of today" from the crime of deicide, and for the council's denunciation of anti-Semitism.

The pope wants it both ways: to support Vatican II and - by patching up relations with ultra-conservative followers of the late archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who broke away from Rome in 1988 over such issues as promoting interreligious understanding and religious tolerance - have its most vehement opponents back in the fold.

Lefebvre's base was the Society of Saint Pius X, which he established in 1970. Among its key theologians are the four bishops Benedict has just reinstated (they were excommunicated during the reign of John Paul II).

One of the four is Richard Williamson, a classic anti-Semite who believes Jews seek world domination as they pave the way for the Anti-Christ. Williamson doesn't see much "historical evidence" that six million Jews were slaughtered by Hitler. Indeed, he believes "there were no gas chambers," and that maybe 300,000 Jews were murdered during WWII. He also does not think Muslim terrorists carried out the 9/11 attacks.

Benedict's spokesman explained that the Vatican did not share Williamson's views. "Saying a person is not excommunicated is not the same as saying one shares all his ideas or statements."

The American Jewish Committee, which has long been in the forefront of interreligious dialogue, declared it was "shocked" by the Vatican's reinstatement decision. "It is a serious blow for Jewish-Vatican relations and a slap in the face of the late Pope John Paul II, who made such remarkable efforts to eradicate and combat anti-Semitism," said Rabbi David Rosen, AJC's International Director of Interreligious Affairs. Rome's Chief Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni said the decision opens up a "deep wound." It does.

BENEDICT'S DECISION is injudicious and perverse. What to do?

Interfaith dialogue remains an overall Jewish interest not because it prevents the Church from ever doing wrong things, but because having a relationship affords the community a channel for trying to get the Church to do the right thing.

We appreciate that the pope has compelling reasons to want to heal the rift within the Church. Yet Benedict's decision to include Williamson in the reinstatements is an extraordinary sign of moral indifference.

Jewish dignity demands a measured response. This newspaper calls for an immediate three-month moratorium on substantive contacts between the organized Jewish community and the Vatican. During this period, Israel's ambassador to the Holy See should be recalled to Jerusalem for consultations.

Monday, January 26, 2009

George Mitchell & Israel

Monday - Why Israelis worry

George Mitchell drew a few laughs Thursday at the State Department. After being introduced by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as the person she and President Barack Obama wanted as their Special Envoy for Middle East Peace, Mitchell remarked on how the Irish troubles had dragged on for 800 years.

"Just recently," he said, "I spoke in Jerusalem and I mentioned the 800 years. And afterward, an elderly gentleman came up to me and he said, 'Did you say 800 years?' And I said, 'Yes, 800.' He repeated the number again - I repeated it again. He said, 'Uh, such a recent argument. No wonder you settled it.'"

Obama says his administration "will make a sustained push" and work "actively and aggressively" for a lasting peace so that Israel and a Palestinian state can live side by side in peace and security. Mitchell, who is due to arrive here on Wednesday, is primarily tasked with reinvigorating negotiations and developing an integrated strategy to resolve the conflict.

One might expect the Israeli reaction to such a commitment to be: Thank you, Mr. President.

Instead, it's one of trepidation. Mitchell is coming to "pressure Israel," the Hebrew tabloids have chorused.

One reason for this anxiety is that those gloating over Mitchell's appointment - the Israel Policy Forum, Americans for Peace Now, J Street, Prof. Stephen ("The Israel Lobby") Walt, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and Ahmed Qurei (Abu Ala) - either don't seem to "get" what this conflict is all about; or are outright champions of the Arab cause.

Take New York Times star columnist Tom Friedman. He'd have Obama draw a false parallel between "Hamas in Gaza and the fanatical Jewish settlers in the West Bank." Friedman knows that only a splinter group of settlers can reasonably be labeled fanatics. What he should be telling Obama is that the surest way of closing Israeli minds is to adopt this revolting moral equivalence.

AMERICAN policy since 1967, from Lyndon Johnson to Barack Obama, has consistently called for an Israeli withdrawal from territories - not all territories - captured in the Six Day War, on the theory that one day the Arabs would be willing to trade land for peace.

Few Israelis today would countenance a total withdrawal to the boundaries Israel found itself in when the Six Day War erupted. But offer us "1967-plus," an end to Arab violence, an explicit commitment to resettle refugees and their descendants in the Palestinian territories - not in Israel - and a recognition of the right of the Jewish people to a national homeland within agreed borders, and you'd be surprised how rapidly most every other obstacle to a deal would vanish.

No one has to pressure Israel into making peace - because no one wants peace more than Israel. Yasser Arafat rejected Ehud Barak's ideas for peace in 2000; similarly, Mahmoud Abbas has rejected Ehud Olmert's apparent offer to remove most Jewish communities over the Green Line.

What is holding up a deal? The chronically fragmented Palestinian polity is in no position to make one. This week's Economist claims to see "hints" that Hamas is moderating. It would be a pity if Obama shared this delusion and, like the Bush administration, tried to paper over the chasm between Fatah, which at least professes to want a negotiated peace with Israel, and Hamas, which adamantly pursues a zero-sum struggle.

There would be virtually no support among Israelis for concessions to a Palestinian unity government in which an unreformed Hamas plays any role. Conversely, if the Obama administration could devise a strategy of sidelining the radicals and defanging their chief backer and the most destabilizing force in the region - Iran, the prospects for a sustainable peace would improve dramatically.

What about the illegal settlement "outposts" Israel committed to dismantling? They should have been taken down as part of Israel's road map commitments. But eight years of unremitting enemy violence - intifada, Kassams, Gilad Schalit's post-disengagement kidnapping - robbed our politicians of the domestic support for such a move.

It is legitimate for friends of Israel to differ over West Bank settlements. But anyone who calls themselves "pro-Israel," while demanding a withdrawal to the perilous 1949 Armistice Lines in an environment where that would represent national suicide, needs to do some serious soul-searching.

Friday, January 23, 2009

17 Days to Israel's Knesset Elections

Friday - Talk to us

Benjamin Disraeli was reputedly once asked by a novice member of parliament whether he would advise him to take frequent part in House debate. Disraeli answered: "No, I do not think you ought to do so, because it is much better that the House should wonder why you do not speak than why you do."

So in joining Ehud Barak's call for a debate between the three most likely candidates for prime minister, this newspaper is mindful that such an encounter could easily devolve into a cacophony of vacuous sound-bites.

Jaded Israelis claim intelligent debate is alien to the political culture. Moreover, they say: We know the candidates - too well. We've already made up our minds. What could we learn from a debate?

To which we say: Plenty.

What we propose is not a candidates' brawl. We envision a tightly choreographed discussion, operating under strictly enforced rules and chaperoned by a moderator respected for fair-mindedness who won't take drivel delivered in clever cadence for an answer.

There are just 17 days left before Israelis go to the polls to elect a new Knesset, from which the next government will be formed. Public opinion surveys tell us that the Likud, Kadima and Labor - in that order - are in the lead, with Yisrael Beiteinu, Shas and Hatnua Hahadasha-Meretz a tier below. Perhaps another five smaller parties, including Arab nationalists and haredim, will pass the ludicrously low two-percent threshold.

Whatever other electoral surprises may be in store, it is all but certain that Israel's next prime minister will, in order of likelihood, be Binyamin Netanyahu, Tzipi Livni or Barak. Wouldn't it be valuable, then, if we could pin them down on where they want to take the country, and how they distinguish themselves from one another?

The voters deserve more than the manipulative TV electioneering spots that begin rolling this coming Tuesday and the print, billboard and Internet ads already attacking our senses.

ISRAEL'S first televised election debate took place between Labor's Shimon Peres and the Likud's Menachem Begin in the 1977 race, which broke Labor's lock on power. In 1996, in the wake of the Rabin assassination, Peres barely deigned to acknowledge Netanyahu in an encounter that contributed to Likud's win.

In 1999, Ehud Barak boycotted a three-way debate with Yitzhak Mordechai and Binyamin Netanyahu. Mordechai chipped away at Netanyahu's credibility by asking the Likud chief to look him in the eye and answer his questions. In the event, Mordechai ultimately threw his support to Barak, who went on to win.

In 2006, Kadima's Ehud Olmert refused to debate Labor's Amir Peretz.

Netanyahu and Livni may be right to see no political profit in engaging in a debate with Barak. The only beneficiaries would be the voters - yet shouldn't that count for something?

The format we envisage would require Netanyahu, Livni and Barak to each answer questions on national security and domestic issues, with the opportunity for rebuttal.

For instance, Livni might be asked whether, since Mahmoud Abbas says Israeli-Palestinian talks have reached a dead end, Kadima still stands as the party of unilateralism, disengagement and convergence. And if unilateralism is to be jettisoned, what sets Kadima apart?

Barak could perhaps be invited to delineate the tweaks and changes he'd want to make to the Saudi-sponsored Arab League peace initiative, which Labor says it sees as a good jumping-off point for negotiations.

Binyamin Netanyahu's question could be: Since you are on record as acquiescing in the creation of a Palestinian state, what - when all is said and done - separates the Likud from Kadima and Labor?

Going beyond the issue of security, we'd ask:

• Do you favor reforming Israel's electoral system to allow some form of district representation?

• With increasing numbers of Israelis Jewishly illiterate and the Orthodox rabbinate alienating many from their heritage, how would you enrich the Jewish content of our lives?

• How can ordinary Israelis be shielded from the effects of the global economic recession?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

George W. Bush goes; Barack Obama comes. What does this mean for Israel?

Wednesday -- From Bush to Obama

As we, from 6,000 miles away, watched Barack Obama take the oath of office, promising America's friendship to all those who seek peace, the extraordinary enthusiasm of Americans for their new president, together with the optimism that he can begin to meet the challenges their country faces, draws our admiration and our affection.

The first time the name Barack Obama appeared in the pages of The Jerusalem Post was on July 28, 2004, in a report on the Democratic National Convention which nominated John Kerry. Our correspondent noted that "Barack Obama, a candidate for US Senate from Illinois, has become a star of the Democratic Party" and was scheduled to address the convention. The next day we reported that Obama "energized the crowd with an indictment of the Bush administration's decision to wage war in Iraq."

Obama was elected to the Senate that November. And by the time he made his first trip to Israel in January 2006, the junior senator was already being touted as a possible presidential candidate. He declared his candidacy in Springfield, Illinois, in February 2007, won the Democratic nomination and went on to defeat John McCain to become America's first African American president.

ONE HEBREW tabloid headlined a front-page picture of Obama in English: "Good luck." In truth, beyond wishing the new president well, Israelis are apprehensive over whether he will be not just supportive, but empathetic toward Israel - like George W. Bush.

Yet Israel had plenty of ups and downs with Bush, too.

Shortly after al-Qaida's attack on September 11, 2001, Bush sought support to build an anti-terrorism coalition by emphasizing - Palestinian suicide bombings notwithstanding - that a Palestinian state living alongside a secure Israel was part of his vision of a Middle East peace. He quickly dissociated the war on Islamist terror from Israel's war against Palestinian terror. His administration initially resisted isolating Yasser Arafat; it even opposed Operation Defensive Shield.

Bush eventually figured out that before the Palestinians can create a state they needed an institutional infrastructure and civic-minded technocrats. His administration recruited Salaam Fayad to be the PA's finance, and later prime minister.

Bush will go down in history as the first US president to explicitly call for the creation of a Palestinian state, while urging the Palestinians to reject Arafat's violent ways.

His administration proposed a "road map" aiming to settle the conflict by 2005. In it, the Palestinians committed to an unconditional cessation of violence. Israel promised to dismantle settlement outposts erected since March 2001.

Bush opposed the security barrier. He found nice things to say about the EU-funded Geneva Initiative promoted by Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abd Rabbo, which would have driven Israel back to the 1949 Armistice Lines while obfuscating a resolution of Arab claims for a "right of return."

Though Bush supported disengagement only reluctantly, out of this tentative backing came, potentially, his most important contribution to Israel's security: His April 2004 letter to premier Ariel Sharon acknowledging that "it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949."

In 2007, in the wake of the Iraq War and the need to rebuild support for the US in the Arab world, Bush repackaged the road map as the Annapolis process, setting December 2008 as the new deadline for ending the conflict.

It was under Bush's watch that the disastrous 2003 National Intelligence Estimate was issued, taking the wind out of efforts to isolate Iran. Not only didn't Bush "solve" the Iran nuclear crisis - perhaps because he had overstretched US military resources in Iraq - he also reportedly blocked Israeli efforts to go it alone.

THE LESSON in all this? Israelis would be wise not to panic at the first sign of turbulence in Jerusalem-Washington relations. American interests in the Middle East are not always in harmony with Israel's. But we have every reason to expect that Obama will support the Jewish state in its quest for defensible borders and genuine acceptance by its neighbors.

He knows that this can happen only if Iranian and Arab extremists - charter members of that very "far-reaching network of violence and hatred" he warned against in his inaugural address - are sidelined.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The true test & Tragedy is no crime

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Tuesday -- The true test

By the time Barack Obama is sworn in today as America's 44th president, every Israeli soldier, save for Gilad Schalit, will be out of Gaza. And when President Obama starts his first full day at the White House tomorrow Hamas will already be setting the stage for the next conflagration.

The new American president will no doubt have noted Ismail Haniya's speech "thanksgiving" broadcast on Hamas TV in which Gaza's prime minister declared: "God has granted us a great victory, not for one faction, or party, or area, but for our entire people."

Briefing journalists, Hamas military officials claimed that they lost just 48 gunmen to the IDF (Islamic Jihad and other organizations suffered another 40 or so killed, they said). Hamas managed to launch 1,000 rockets and mortars at Israel, killed 80 soldiers, captured some and shot down a helicopter. With these achievements under its belt, the manufacture and smuggling of arms – described as "holy" work -- would now pick up where it left off.

Ordinary Gazans, much as they are wont to identify with Hamas's delusional sense of triumph, will find their gratification tempered by their coming face-to-face with the price paid for Hamas's "achievements" which according to Palestinian sources include 1,300 dead; over 5,000 wounded; 90,000 made homeless and over $1 billion in economic damages.

Hamas's claims notwithstanding, no IDF soldiers were captured; 10 soldiers were killed (though several in "friendly fire" incidents); some 50 troops remain hospitalized. Three civilians lost their lives. Hamas's bombardments (some 852 flying bombs packed with shrapnel) injured over 700 Israelis. Fourteen non-combatants remain hospitalized, including seven-year old Orel Yelizarov, who lies gravely injured with shrapnel in the brain.

WE WILL know soon enough whether Operation Cast Lead achieved its purpose. The test is not whether it is "quiet" in the south while the terrorist organizations take a hiatus. The true test is whether Hamas is allowed to realize its plans to rearm.

The IDF needs to intervene the moment Gaza's workshops resume producing Kassams; the instant its laboratories renew the production of explosives; and the minute tunnels under the Philadelphi Corridor are refurbished for the smuggling of weapons and supplies necessary for the arms industry. Failure to act, without delay, would instantly return Israel to the intolerable state of affairs which prevailed prior to the launching of IDF operations.

We were glad to hear Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni tell Israel Radio that she had reached an understanding with the outgoing Bush administration that Israel could act even in the absence of actual Hamas shooting. Israel also reserves the right, she said, to operate along the Philadelphi Corridor, if the pledges made by Egypt and other countries to halt weapons smuggling go unfilled. Should Hamas resume its attacks, Livni warned, it would get another dose of what the IDF dished out over the past three weeks.

Will Israelis and Palestinians have reason to recollect the flash visit, first to Sharm e-Sheikh and then to Jerusalem of six European leaders, including the voluble French President Nicolas Sarkozy? They Europeans came expressively to bolster the cease-fire, and Israel's leaders are convinced they now have part their solid support against Hamas. Each leader assured Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that Israel has every right to defend itself. Sadly, it's not self-evident that any of them meant what they said – literally.

Be that as it may, beyond doing the obvious and making certain that those who brought devastation upon Gaza aren't given the wherewithal to do so again by rearming, Europe and the international community needs to restrain itself for making Hamas the project manager and chief financial officer for the reconstruction of the Strip. EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner seems to have taken this point on board and hints that it will be difficult to rebuild Gaza while the Islamist remains opposed to peace.

So long as Hamas remains an unrepentant enemy of peace, so long as it is full-throttle committed to violence, so long as it refuses to recognize the right of the Jewish people to a homeland anywhere, and so long as it refuses to abide by the Palestinians' international commitments, Hamas can never, legitimately, be part of the solution in Gaza – not even under the fig leaf of a Palestinian unity government.


Monday -- Tragedy is no crime

You are a freshman university student on the first day of a philosophy course. Your professor poses this ethical dilemma: A devoutly religious man is shooting at you with an AK-47. He is determined to kill you and your family. Is it moral to shoot back? Before you answer; consider that he is shielded by his pregnant wife and three young children.

Ordinary Israelis know what any undergraduate not suffering from a death-wish intuitively appreciates - namely, that human beings should not intentionally injure other human beings but may sometimes need to resort to violence to keep themselves and others from harm.

We are sensitive to the heartrending loss of innocent life in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead. Arab and foreign press reports claim upwards of 1,300 Palestinians killed, including 300 children and 100 women. It will take Israeli experts time to accurately determine how many of the dead were truly non-combatants. For now, there are huge discrepancies.

Of the 900 enemy dead that Israeli intelligence had reportedly identified by last Thursday, about 250 were said to be non-combatants. The blame for their deaths rests solely with Hamas. Hamas provoked this war, and then fought it from behind Palestinian men, women and children.

Still, for some knee-jerk enemies of Israel like the 78-year-old British MP Gerald Kaufman, even the killing of "militants" is inexcusable. He's implied that Israel's shooting of a Hamas gunman is akin to the Nazis' murder of his grandmother during the Holocaust. We can have no common language with someone whose moral compass is so warped. Kaufman, like the mullahs in Iran, has convinced himself that Israel is exploiting the "continuing guilt from Gentiles" over the Holocaust "as justification for their murder of Palestinians."

That broken record won't play. Presumably, Kaufman means the "gentiles" who control the United Nations. But how sympathetic are they to Israel's right of self-defense? Or perhaps he means the "gentiles" in the international media? How convincing is it to suggest that they side with Israel in their Gaza coverage?

Even Kaufman's notoriety as a "Jewish critic" of Israel has lost its cachet - such critics are hardly a rare species.

And anyway, Kaufman has been siding with the Palestinians since 1988, when he endorsed the first intifada.

The Kaufmans of the world apart, Israel can also do no right in the eyes of those critics who believe that our existence here is an "original sin"; that since there were 600,000 Jews here in 1948 and, arguably, twice that number of Arabs, any partition of Palestine was inherently "theft." We have no claims on the hearts of those who embrace the Arab narrative so utterly.

BUT WE'VE also been let down by those who profess to believe that the Jewish people do have the right to a homeland. Why is it so hard for them to comprehend the nature of the enemy we're facing in Gaza? After all, the theology that motivates Hamas is analogous to the fanaticism that brought down the World Trade Center, exploded London's transport system, and continues to spill innocent blood from Bali to Mumbai.

Israelis are told that no matter the provocation, we are "too quick" to resort to force. As if negotiations with Hamas were an option; as if eight years was too quick.

And if we've acted so "disproportionately" in our brutal march to triumph, how come the enemy is still standing and declaring victory?

To the morally obscene charge that we've committed "genocide" in Gaza - does anyone seriously doubt that were genocide our goal, heaven forbid, there would be 500,000 dead Palestinians, and not 1,000?

What other army drops warning leaflets and makes automated warning calls prior to attacking? Why is it ethical for Hamas to fire from a mosque or over the walls of a UN facility, but unethical for our citizen-soldiers to save themselves by responding with heavy weapons?

The truth is that no Western country faced with a similar set of circumstances - fighting an enemy that principally targets non-combatants while hiding behind its own civilians - would comport itself with higher moral standards than the IDF.

Sophomoric ideals about wartime morality are barely tolerable in Philosophy 101. When mouthed by leaders and pundits who should know better, they reflect intellectual laziness and dishonesty.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Cease-fire -- Day 1

Deterrence restored?

If the cabinet's decision Saturday night to halt Operation Cast Lead is premised on the notion that such restraint will afford this country renewed international legitimacy to defend itself against continued Hamas aggression, the ministers are likely to be disappointed.

Nevertheless, under intense worldwide pressure, including from the US, the cabinet declared an immediate unilateral Gaza cease-fire whose longevity will depend on how Hamas responds. The cease-fire comes in the wake of commitments by Egypt regarding the Philadelphi Corridor. Meanwhile, our forces will remain in-place; the crossing points from Israel and from Egypt into Gaza will stay closed until security arrangements to prevent Hamas arms smuggling can be implemented.

UN Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon declared: "We cannot wait for all the details, the mechanisms, to be conclusively negotiated and agreed, while civilians continue to be traumatized, injured or killed."

Though Hamas has repeatedly rejected the cease-fire, and even now says that "resistance and confrontation will continue," the feeling among ordinary Israelis is that Ban was hectoring Israel and not the Islamist aggressors. Because the international community never seems to have the time to "wait for all the details" on how to stop Hamas or Hizbullah from arming themselves to be worked out; and because the UN has said not a single word to criticize Hamas's belligerence or its unlawful practice of fighting from behind Gaza's civilian population, it may be setting the stage for yet another round of bloodshed.

The goal of the IDF operation which began on Dec. 27 was to halt continuing Hamas rocket attacks and infiltration attempts against southern Israel; to change a reality in which a generation of Israeli schoolchildren has grown up thinking the threat of rockets and mortars was part of the fabric of life; and to plug up the hundreds of tunnels from Egypt into Gaza which deliver military hardware, trained gunmen and illicit cash that prop up Hamas. Defense Minister Ehud Barak argues that Israel is "very close" to reaching these goals "and securing them through diplomatic agreements."

Time will tell.

Israel's decision to agree to a cease-fire was facilitated by its talks with Egypt and a rather nebulous memorandum of understanding signed Friday between Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and outgoing US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (in coordination with incoming Obama administration officials). Washington pledged to "work cooperatively" with Jerusalem on an array of steps to stem the flow of arms to Hamas. Separately, Italy, the UK, France and Germany have signed on to the memorandum.

ISRAELIS HAVE every reason to be skeptical that these pledges will translate into a tangible diminution of the enemy's capacity to smuggle Iranian weapons into Gaza. Moreover, while the US and EU have always supported Israel's theoretical right of self defense against terrorism – and do so again in these latest commitments – when push comes to shove, as it did at the UN Security Council debate on Gaza, that support evaporated.

We are hardly encouraged by Egypt's announcement that the Israel-US memo does not obligate it. Indeed, all we heard from President Hosni Mubarak was an adamant demand for "an immediate and unconditional cease-fire" and "a full withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Strip."

Leaders of several EU countries are due to visit Egypt and Israel tomorrow to bolster the cease-fire. But unless Mubarak can be convinced to fulfill his responsibilities to stop the smuggling beneath the Philadelphi Corridor, all the photo-ops in the world will be to no avail.

Whatever the fate of the cease-fire, it is not too soon to praise the IDF for an astoundingly effective war against Hamas, and to thank our fighters for their extraordinary efforts -- the disparagement of the foreign media notwithstanding -- to avoid hurting non-combatants.

Operation Cast Lead has taught Hamas that just because Israel is a civilized society, and though we cherish life and are loath to engage an enemy that shields among its own civilian population; our army can nevertheless overcome its inhibitions. It has admittedly been disagreeable for the IDF to strike back at Hamas as it operates out of mosques, schools, hospitals and aid buildings. But the enemy now knows that Israel will not commit national suicide -- not even if surviving makes us unpopular.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Gaza War Week 3 continued -- closer to the endgame?

Don't forget to check for the latest.

FRIDAY - Fatah and Abbas to the rescue?

In the rosiest of rosy scenarios, one purportedly championed by Egypt though not necessarily by Israel, Operation Cast Lead ends with Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority restored to power in Gaza. A multi-billion-dollar internationally-financed reconstruction effort gets under way, administered to great acclaim by Fatah. At the Rafah crossing, meanwhile, the 2005 agreement that put Abbas's Force 17 in charge of security would be resurrected, returning international monitors and Israeli cameras to scrutinize comings and goings.

A battered Hamas would, the optimists have it, accept the prolongation of Abbas's presidency (his term expired last week) and a junior role in a Fatah-led government of national reconciliation. This turnabout would reverse Hamas's June 2007 coup in Gaza and undo the diplomatic damage to Palestinian aspirations for international legitimacy caused by the Islamists' January 2006 electoral victory. Fatah would gain a new lease on life.

It would solve so many problems for Israelis, moderate Arabs and the West, if Fatah were truly capable of rebuilding Gaza, conscientiously governing its denizens and policing its borders.

But those who place their hopes in the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority are, regrettably,in for a let-down.

Why? Because 100 years of Palestinian Arab history shows that Palestinians reward extremism and punish moderation; because Fatah remains crooked; and because, as its own activists acknowledge, they are simply not up to the task of governing Gaza.

Writing in The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood, Rashid Khalidi bemoans the fact that though Fatah was formed in the 1950s, the PLO in the 1960s, and the PA in the 1990s; though its leadership was already running a mammoth bureaucracy by the 1970s and a quasi-state in Lebanon until 1982, "the PLO had done precious little to prepare for independent statehood."

Khalidi, predictably, claims it was mostly Israel's fault. "Nevertheless," he writes, "there was much that [the PLO] could have done in spite of these crippling disabilities that they did not do. Notably, when they established the PA they failed to create a solid framework for the rule of law, a constitutional system, a balance of powers, and many of the other building blocks of a modern state to organize the governance of the 3.6 million Palestinians whose welfare they were now responsible for."

SOME Westerners delude themselves into believing they know why support for Hamas appears to have grown despite the fact that since it kidnapped Gilad Schalit in June 2006, the Islamists' self-destructive behavior has paid dividends mostly in Palestinian blood, suffering and mayhem. They attribute Hamas's ascendancy and Fatah's decline to the current fighting, or to settlements, or to the "occupation" pushing ordinary Palestinians ever deeper into Hamas's embrace.

It is more accurate, however, to sadly acknowledge that Hamas's worldview better reflects the extremism, rejectionism and self-destructive tendencies that embody the ethos of the Palestinian polity. Fatah's perceived drift toward moderation, combined with its corruption, have made it increasingly irrelevant to many Palestinians.

Since the start of the Zionist enterprise, Arab fanatics have been at war not only with our national liberation movement, but, simultaneously, with any internal voice advocating Arab-Jewish coexistence. Those who acquiesce in any semblance of Jewish rights are habitually labeled "collaborators."

Though Fatah denounces Israel's battle with Hamas in the most venomous terms, the West Bank masses are said to be fuming that Fatah won't let them confront Israel directly. "This will irreparably damage its standing in the eyes of Palestinians…" an Arab expert told The Christian Science Monitor.

In other words, many ordinary Palestinians want Fatah to again lead them into another violent uprising - despite the devastation a third intifada would bring down on them. Never mind that the standard of living in the West Bank is better than it has been in years.

So the problem is not just a PA demonstrably incapable of reforming itself, or a politically toxic Hamas; it is, more fundamentally, much of the Palestinian political culture.

Those who want to create a Palestinian state living peaceably with Israel could, then, reasonably conclude that what Palestinians need foremost is some kind of trusteeship to help them create a civil society, accountable institutions, transparent government... and the tools necessary for political socialization toward tolerance.

Until that happens, talk about creating a Palestinian state is...just talk.

THURSDAY - Remember the mission

Somewhere in a cave along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, a gaunt man who hasn't seen much sun for seven long years has been watching Al-Jazeera's coverage of Operation Cast Lead. Perhaps he's telling himself that the 20 days Hamas commanders have been hunkered down in the sub-basement of Gaza's Shifa hospital is nothing compared to the ordeal he's been through.

Still, Osama bin Laden wants to do the "Islamist thing." So he's called - again - for a holy war against the Jews. Such a Sunni jihad offers the added delight of irking the detested Shi'ite "heretics" in Iran. Didn't Ayatollah Ali Khamenei invite young Persian men to volunteer for suicide missions in Gaza - only to snatch back the offer after 70,000 actually signed up?

Time may be running out for a holy war to save Hamas. Its leaders from both Damascus and Gaza - who cross overland at Rafah - have been dialoguing with each other, and with Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman in Cairo, on a cease-fire. Hamas "inside" is said to be pushing hard to bring the fighting to an end; Hamas "outside" appears, belatedly, to be coming around.

The toing and froing is not limited to Hamas's functionaries. Our own Amos Gilad, head of the Defense Ministry's Diplomatic-Security Bureau, travels to Cairo today. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spent Wednesday there and is heading to Jordan, Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria and Kuwait.

Meanwhile, in Washington, Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton began her Senate confirmation hearings by declaring that she will make the Arab-Israel conflict a priority. On Sunday, the Arab League is scheduled to meet in Kuwait to discuss the Gaza crisis. And the UN General Assembly wants to hold a session to condemn Israel - something it hasn't done in two months.

Here in Israel, Ehud Olmert, Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni have resumed their sniping. Supposedly, Barak has recommended a one-week humanitarian cease-fire; Olmert wants to push on; and Livni wants to act unilaterally once the IDF has done its (undefined) work.

All this plays out as the world waits for Barack Obama to assume the US presidency on Tuesday.

WITH ALL this going on, it is essential that Israel not lose sight of the minimum it should be getting before Operation Cast Lead ends.

• The smuggling must stop. Hamas's access to armaments must be choked off. Any deal between Israel and Egypt on the tunnels beneath the Philadelphi Corridor must not encumber the IDF's freedom to operate when necessary. Once Egypt fulfills its commitments, IDF activity can be wound down.

• There must be an end to shooting at Israel, and to infiltration attempts. The cease-fire must have no time-limit. And it must be honored not just by Hamas's Izzadin Kassam, but also by Islamic Jihad, the Popular Resistance Committees, the PFLP, the DFLP and Fatah's Aksa Martyrs Brigades. All violations will meet with immediate and "disproportionate" retaliation.

• Hamas must become more reasonable on the Gilad Schalit issue; until it does, Hamas "military" figures will enjoy no repose.

• Regardless of who runs Gaza, Egypt must keep tight control of its side of the Rafah border. When it comes to entry and egress, the buck stops with Cairo.

• There can be absolutely no Turkish or other foreign troops on the Palestinian side of the border. Such a presence would hamper any necessary IDF activity. The foreigners can operate on the Egyptian side, if Cairo desires.

If Israel's fundamental needs are met, how the Palestinians choose to govern themselves in Gaza is their own affair.

Israel, for its part, will open crossing points to everything excepting materiel that can be used for military purposes. The embargo, for all intents and purposes, would be over.

ON DAY 1 of this war, Ehud Barak declared that its mission was to put an end to Hamas aggression. Nothing short of achieving this goal should bring Israel's efforts to a permanent halt.

No deal is better than a bad deal. If Hamas insists on fighting on, Israeli decision-makers will need to weigh when and how to mobilize our society for the prolonged, all-out assault needed to uproot the Islamist menace.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The war - week 3

Dear all,

Thank you for your notes of support. I am sorry that I can't reply to everyone individually.

For the latest news about what is really taking place -- please go to the Jerusalem Post homepage:


Wed: What a democracy owes itself

There is something unpalatable about banning political parties. During the coldest days of the Cold War, American voters were never deprived of the chance to vote for Gus Hall and his Soviet-funded Communist Party USA. In Germany, voters can today opt for the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party. The British National Party, whose mission is to secure a future for "indigenous" white people, is there for UK voters.

In contrast, authoritarian countries show little compunction about banning. Saudi Arabia bars the Green Party; Sudan and Cuba outlaw all parties. And Syria allows opposition parties that accept the "vanguard role" of the ruling Ba'ath Party.

On Monday, the Knesset Central Elections Committee, comprising 25 politicians and one jurist, disqualified Balad and the United Arab List from running in the February 10 elections. The consensus was that both support terrorism, incitement and reject Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state. Arab critics retorted that the decision proved Israel is "racist" and "fascist."

The High Court of Justice, which overruled an effort to disqualify Balad prior to the 2006 elections, will make the final call. The attorney-general's office is on record as determining that there is not enough evidence to disqualify either party.

But overturning the ban this time may be harder. The Knesset recently passed a new law based on clause 7A of the Basic Law: The Knesset, which outlaws candidates who deny the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state; engage in incitement, or support violence against Israel by an enemy state or terror organization. The amended legislation adds that anyone who illegally visited an enemy state in the past seven years can be banned.

The Supreme Court has yet to rule on challenges to the amended law.

DEMOCRACIES are not obligated to commit suicide. Spain, for instance, bans the political party affiliated with the terror group ETA. Similarly, US law makes it illegal for an organization that abets the use of violence against the government to seek office.

The case for banning Balad seems fairly plain. While it's off-putting to hear MK Jamal Zahalka say, "We are not Zionists and we will never be," the reason for keeping his party out of the Knesset is that it refuses to dissociate from its former leader Azmi Bishara - with whom Zahalka proudly consults - who fled to Syria after the Second Lebanon War, fearing arrest as a Hizbullah agent.

The case against Tibi's UAL party is not clear-cut. He is perhaps the most intellectually formidable of the Arab anti-Zionists, has a disarming personality, and calibrates his actions to stay just within the law. He won't declare unequivocally that he opposes terrorism, merely "militarization of the intifada."

At a 2007 Fatah rally in Ramallah, Tibi urged continued struggle against Israel "until all of the Palestinian land is freed." Yasser Arafat's former consigliere tells Palestinians that Israel wants to "eliminate" them "en route to the elimination of the ideas of Palestinian freedom and liberty."

Tibi says he does not oppose the state - just its policies. And he too declares that Arab citizens "will never accept Zionism..." He will not, he says, stop visiting enemy states.

Paradoxically, the disappearance of Balad and UAL from the Knesset might allow the emergence of Arab parties that actually cared about building the kinds of parliamentary alliances that can get things done for the Arab sector.

Israel's proportional representation system allowed the UAL and Balad to gain six seats in the current Knesset. The tragic dynamic is that the more radical the party, the more support it garners from the Arab public. It doesn't help matters that the major parties give Arab voters little incentive to shun the extremists.

In a world where 21 states define themselves as "Arab," and 56 proudly identify as Islamic, we do have a problem with Knesset members who begrudge Jewish self-determination within the rubric of a democratic Israel that respects minority rights.

The Likud's Bennie Begin cautions that Israeli society must be "very, very, careful" about outlawing factions or disenfranchising constituencies in wartime. To that we would add: But neither should our polity shy away from making tough decisions to protect the system from those who would destabilize it.

Tuesday: Egypt at the crossroads
(With Sarah Honig)

For a myriad reasons it suits those who mold international public opinion to minimize the intrinsic importance of Egypt's contiguity to the Gaza Strip. Not only does Egypt border Gaza, it even ruled it for most of the time between 1948 and 1967. This geographic reality could well become the source of Gaza's salvation just as, in recent years, it became the source of its misfortune. Egypt's role is pivotal.

Hamas propagandists like to portray Gaza as "one big prison" totally blockaded by Israel. Yet, as any map shows, Gaza isn't fully encircled by Israel. Its southern end, the Philadelphi Corridor, borders Egyptian Sinai.

This outlet could, assuming prudence and good will, become Gaza's lifeline. Or it could continue to serve as a gateway for the importation of death - which is what it became during years of assiduous weapons smuggling by Hamas.

There can be no lasting stability between Israel and Gaza unless the Philadelphi Corridor is plugged up to prevent gun-running and transformed, instead, into a conduit for improving Gazans' living standards. This necessitates a vigilant presence.

The buildup of Gaza's rocket arsenal since 2005 illustrates what happens when so vital a passage is abandoned to the supervision of a disinclined Cairo and international observers with no clout. It is this state of affairs that allowed Hamas commanders to travel freely in and out of Gaza for training in Iran.

While IDF deployment along the Corridor offers the best way to stop Hamas smuggling in weapons, terrorists and illicit cash, it is not our first preference. Such a deployment would be diplomatically and militarily problematic. The international community does not want to see Israel carve out a buffer zone there, and holding that thin sliver of territory would leave our soldiers highly vulnerable.

The best way - militarily, diplomatically and politically - to secure this crucial bit of real estate is from the Egyptian, not the Gazan side.

WERE Egyptian goodwill unadulterated and its commitment to getting the job done unstinting, sealing Philadelphi would still be a tall order.

Alas, Egypt has not over-extended itself. Its failure to keep Gaza from becoming a combustible repository of Hamas weaponry isn't merely the result, as Cairo claims, of not having enough personnel on the border because the Israel-Egypt peace treaty caps their allowable number.

In reality, Hamas's ability to connect Gaza and Sinai via hundreds of tunnels has better explanations: the failure to check rampant lawlessness among Sinai Beduin tribes; sclerotic Egyptian decision-making, which deprives officials on the spot of authority; and the failure to adequately recompense those charged with securing the border, leaving them susceptible to bakshish.

But the best explanation is that Hosni Mubarak's regime failed to make the cessation of smuggling its own priority. While on the one hand, it didn't want Hamas to grow ever stronger, it didn't, on the other hand, want to be seen as collaborating with Jerusalem against Hamas. Trying to have it both ways has now come back to bite the regime. It inadvertently helped create the explosive situation that forced Israel into Operation Cast Lead.

Egypt is in a bind. Its own national interest isn't far from Israel's, yet it dare not inflame its domestic Islamist opposition, the Muslim Brotherhood, which is closely tied to Hamas. It is understandably loath to allow a free flow of Gazans - who might have Brotherhood or Iranian ties and stir up more unrest inside Egypt.

Keeping the current situation on a low flame may strike Egypt as the least distasteful of a poor menu of choices. Yet it is a recipe for further bloodshed. If the Philadelphi Corridor isn't permanently secured, another - worse - round of warfare is inevitable. It would leave Hamas approaching Hizbullah in strength and posing an even greater risk of destabilization within Egypt.

Egypt stands at a fateful crossroads. It must, finally, overcome its inhibitions vis-a-vis its own Islamists and take real action to stop arms trafficking. Alternatively, it must allow an empowered multi-national military presence on its soil to do the job.

Either way, Egypt ought to desire the most effective supervisory mechanism, one it can oversee and coordinate, thereby cementing its status as regional leader.

Monday:Israel goes it alone

The world must be wondering, 17 days into Operation Cast Lead, why it is taking so long for Jerusalem to cave into pressure for a cease-fire in Gaza. From the UN Security Council, that renowned bastion of international probity, and the constellation of Muslim, Arab and non-aligned states to our unwavering European allies, the international community - and much of the media - wants Israel to stop fighting.

We Israelis can hear these erstwhile friends in Europe and the media saying: "Everybody is wrong, and you alone are right?"

They continue: "Yes, Israel has a right to self-defense - but must your IDF kill innocent civilians and destroy buildings in the process? Can't your tanks avoid harming them? Your failure to fight a war that is televised live, 24/7, without spilling blood has enraged the Arab street. We don't want this fury turned against our interests in the Middle East."

That's why London's Telegraph could withdraw its "support."

"There comes a point beyond which an operation of this sort becomes… morally unjustifiable," it said. "The humanitarian crisis in Gaza is so severe that a cease-fire is essential, irrespective of whether Israel feels it has achieved its military objectives."

By this logic, Britain should have thrown in the towel in its war against Germany by September 18, 1939 - 17 days into WWII. Instead, Winston Churchill fought on for five long years at an awful - but morally justifiable - cost in Allied and enemy civilian lives.

The New York Times, likewise, sympathizes with Israel's predicament but worries that trying to wrest Gaza from Hamas's grip will complicate the efforts of the incoming Obama administration to broker peace.

Yet the reality is precisely the opposite: Unless Hamas is defanged, the prospect that relative moderates among the Palestinians, led by Mahmoud Abbas, will be emboldened to strike a deal with Israel is - nil.

The reaction of Israel's European allies in particular has been instructive. Having abandoned Israel as it defends itself against a transparently fanatical Hamas - and after Israel unilaterally uprooted its settlements and pulled its soldiers out of Gaza in 2005 - Israel will be mindful of how much their support is worth when the time comes to "take risks for peace" in the West Bank.

SPEAKING AT the Sunday cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made Israelis feel proud when he summed up the justice of the struggle and denounced the world's callous reaction: "For three weeks now… Israel has been making an impressive military effort in the Gaza Strip in order to change the security situation in the south of the country. For many years we've shown restraint. We reined in our reactions. We gritted our teeth and absorbed barrage after barrage.

"No country in the world - not even those who preach morality at us - would have shown similar patience and self-control. At the end of the day, the... obligation to defend our citizens - after we issued many warnings - led us to the unavoidable decision [that we had] to defend our [people], whose lives had become intolerable.

"We knew in advance that this struggle would be neither easy nor simple. We did not delude ourselves that what seemed natural, clear and self-evident for any other country would be similarly accepted when the State of Israel is involved. But this did not, and does not hinder our determination to defend our citizens.

"We have never agreed that anyone should decide in our place if we are allowed to strike at those who bomb our kindergartens and schools; nor will ever agree to it...

"Israel is nearing its goal [of changing] the security situation in the south so that our citizens can experience security and stability in the long term. We must not, at the last minute, squander what has been achieved in this unprecedented national effort that has restored a spirit of unity to our nation.

"The Israeli public, especially the residents of the south, have the patience and willingness needed. So does the Israeli government."

Amen to that.

Israel would have preferred to act with the support of those who claim to back our right to self-defense. In a cynical world, Israel must press ahead without it.

The above editorial generated the following NYT piece

Israelis United on War as Censure Rises Abroad

Published: Tuesday, January 13, 2009

JERUSALEM — To Israel’s critics abroad, the picture could not be clearer: Israel’s war in Gaza is a wildly disproportionate response to the rockets of Hamas, causing untold human suffering and bombing an already isolated and impoverished population into the Stone Age, and it must be stopped.

Yet here in Israel very few, at least among the Jewish population, see it that way.

Since Israeli warplanes opened the assault on Gaza 17 days ago, about 900 Palestinians have been reported killed, many of them civilians. Red Cross workers were denied access to scores of dead and wounded Gazans, and a civilian crowd near a United Nations school was hit, with at least 40 people killed.

But voices of dissent in this country have been rare. And while tens of thousands have poured into the streets of world capitals demonstrating against the Israeli military operation, antiwar rallies here have struggled to draw 1,000 participants. The Peace Now organization has received many messages from supporters telling it to stay out of the streets on this one.

As the editorial page of The Jerusalem Post put it on Monday, the world must be wondering, do Israelis really believe that everybody is wrong and they alone are right?

The answer is yes.

“It is very frustrating for us not to be understood,” remarked Yoel Esteron, editor of a daily business newspaper called Calcalist. “Almost 100 percent of Israelis feel that the world is hypocritical. Where was the world when our cities were rocketed for eight years and our soldier was kidnapped? Why should we care about the world’s view now?”

Israel, which is sometimes a fractured, bickering society, has turned in the past couple of weeks into a paradigm of unity and mutual support. Flags are flying high. Celebrities are visiting schoolchildren in at-risk areas, soldiers are praising the equipment and camaraderie of their army units, and neighbors are worried about families whose fathers are on reserve duty. Ask people anywhere how they feel about the army’s barring journalists from entering Gaza and the response is: let the army do its job.

Israelis deeply believe, rightly or wrongly, that their military works harder than most to spare civilians, holding their fire in many more cases than using it.

Because Hamas booby-traps schools, apartment buildings and the zoo, and its fighters hide among civilians, it is Hamas that is viewed here as responsible for the civilian toll. Hamas is committed to Israel’s destruction and gets help and inspiration from Iran, so that what looks to the world like a disproportionate war of choice is seen by many here as an obligatory war for existence.

“This is a just war and we don’t feel guilty when civilians we don’t intend to hurt get hurt, because we feel Hamas uses these civilians as human shields,” said Elliot Jager, editorial page editor of The Jerusalem Post, who happened to answer his phone for an interview while in Ashkelon, an Israeli city about 10 miles from Gaza, standing in front of a house that had been hit two hours earlier by a Hamas rocket.

“We do feel bad about it, but we don’t feel guilty,” Mr. Jager added. “The most ethical moral imperative is for Israel to prevail in this conflict over an immoral Islamist philosophy. It is a zero sum conflict. That is what is not understood outside this country.”

It is true that there are voices of concern here that the war may be outliving its value. Worries over the risk to Israeli troops and over even steeper civilian casualties as the ground war escalates have produced calls to declare victory and pull out.

For many of the 1.4 million Israelis who are Arabs, the war has produced a very different feeling, a mix of anger and despair. The largest demonstration against the war so far, with some 6,000 participants, was organized by an Arab political party. But that is still distinctly a minority view. Polls have shown nearly 90 percent support for the war thus far, and street interviews confirm that Israelis not only favor it but do so quite strongly. The country’s leaders, while seeking an arrangement to stop Hamas’s ability to rearm, do not want a face-saving agreement. They want one that works, or else they want to continue the war until Hamas has lost either its rockets or its will to fire them.

Boaz Gaon, a playwright and peace activist, said he found it deeply depressing how the Israeli public had embraced the military’s arguments in explaining the deaths of civilians. But he was livid at Hamas, both for what it had done to its own people and civilians in the south, and for its impact on the Israeli left.

“Hamas has pushed Israeli thinking back 30 years,” he said. “It has killed the peace camp.”

Moshe Halbertal, a left-leaning professor of philosophy at the Hebrew University, helped write the army’s ethics code. He said he knew from personal experience how much laborious discussion went into deciding when it was acceptable to shoot at a legitimate target if civilians were nearby, adding that there had been several events in this war in which he suspected that the wrong decision had been made.

For example, Israel killed a top Hamas ideologue, Nizar Rayyan, during the first week of the war and at the same time killed his four wives and at least nine of his children. Looking back at it, Mr. Halbertal disapproves, assuming that the decision was made consciously, even if Mr. Rayyan purposely hid among his family to protect himself, as it appears he did. Yet almost no one here publicly questioned the decision to drop a bomb on his house and kill civilians; all the sentiment in Israel was how satisfying and just it was to kill a man whose ideology and activity had been so virulent and destructive.

But Mr. Halbertal takes quite seriously the threat that Hamas poses to Israel’s existence, and that issue affects him in his judgments of the war.

“Rockets from Hamas could eventually reach all of Israel,” he said. “This is not a fantasy. It is a real problem. So there is a gap between actual images on the screen and the geopolitical situation.

“You have Al Jazeera standing at Shifa Hospital and the wounded are coming in,” he continued, referring to an Arab news outlet. “So you have this great Goliath crushing these poor people, and they are perceived as victims. But from the Israeli perspective, Hamas and Hezbollah are really the spearhead of a whole larger threat that is invisible. Israelis feel like the tiny David faced with an immense Muslim Goliath. The question is: who is the David here?”

The war, of course, is portrayed differently here and abroad. What Israelis see on the front pages of their newspapers and on their evening broadcasts is not what the rest of the world is reading and seeing. Israeli news focuses on Israeli suffering — the continuing rocket attacks on Israel, the wounded Israeli soldiers with pictures from Gaza coming later. On a day last week when the foreign news media focused on Red Cross allegations of possible war crimes, Israeli news outlets played down the story.

But the Israeli news media are not so much determining the national agenda as reflecting it. Even the left and what was long called the peace camp consider this conflict almost entirely the responsibility of Hamas, and thus a moral and just struggle.

“By this stage in the first and second Lebanon wars, there were much larger street demonstrations, vigils and op-ed pieces,” said Janet Aviad, a former sociologist and peace activist. “But in this case, the entire Israeli public is angry at the immoral behavior of Hamas.”

The writer A.B. Yehoshua, who opposes Israel’s occupation and promotes a Palestinian state, has been trying to explain the war to foreigners.

“ ‘Imagine,’ I tell a French reporter, ‘that every two days a missile falls in the Champs-Élysées and only the glass windows of the shops break and five people suffer from shock,’ ” Mr. Yehoshua told a reporter from Yediot Aharonot, a Tel Aviv newspaper. “ ‘What would you say? Wouldn’t you be angry? Wouldn’t you send missiles at Belgium if it were responsible for missiles on your grand boulevard?’ ”

Friday, January 09, 2009

G A Z A W A R week 2

FRIDAY: The Diaspora rallies

The boys wear yarmulkes, the girls hijabs. Chaperoned by their Muslim teacher, they hold signs with the word for "peace" in Hebrew, English and Farsi.

They are Jewish schoolchildren in Teheran - at an anti-Israel demonstration.

In times like these, our thoughts go to the predicament of Iran's 25,000 Jews.

Just 52 years after Theodor Herzl published The Jewish State, transforming the Jews' age-old longing for Zion into modern political Zionism, the State of Israel was born.

But our visionary founder got two things wrong: He assumed that with the creation of a Jewish homeland, the Diaspora would disappear, and so would the anti-Semitism endemic to it.

Surprisingly, the non-disappearance of the galut has turned out - from a Zionist perspective - to be a blessing of sorts.

Israel and the Diaspora sustain each other religiously, culturally and politically. For affiliated Jews, some level of attachment to Israel has become the sine qua non of an authentic Jewish life. Jewish civilization continues to thrive outside Israel, though demographic and other challenges are seldom far from the surface.

This synergy, however, is not without its downside. As the IDF fights on the Gaza battlefield and campaigners wage an uphill battle to make Israel's case in the media, we Israelis are mindful that events here are having a deleterious security impact on the Diaspora.

We worry, for instance, about the 15,000 Jews of Venezuela, being browbeaten by Hugo Chavez.

But life is uncomfortable not just for Jews in hostile countries: Jews have also been targeted in the UK, Belgium, France and Sweden. Anti-Jewish louts marched brazenly through London's Golders Green. A synagogue in Brussels was hit by fire-bombers. A Jewish girl was beaten in Paris. A Helsingborg shul was nearly set ablaze.

A VOCAL minority of Jews has joined the anti-Zionist chorus. Our tradition teaches that such defectors have been part of the scene ever since the Israelites came out of Egypt.

For some, tragically, this is their only Jewish connection. To paraphrase the late US Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart in a famous 1964 pornography case: "Self-hatred is hard to define, but we know it when we see it."

Besides the self-haters, there is another small yet well-connected grouping of British and American Jews that identifies itself as friendly to Israel, but whose endeavors undermine Israel's security. These people make a fetish out of breaking with the community's consensus.

Now they're urging the British and US governments to pressure Israel into accepting an unsatisfactory Gaza cease-fire which would leave the Islamists emboldened.

Most Israelis look past them and draw comfort from the solidarity of the vast majority of affiliated Jews.

We know the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations stands solidly with Israel. Expressions of support come from its constituents - the Union of Reform Judaism, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America. We acknowledge with appreciation the support of the Board of Deputies of British Jewry, and of CRIF, the umbrella group of French Jewish organizations. The Australian community, too, is with us.

Pro-Israel demonstrations were held this past week at the gates of our embassy in Washington. A standing-room-only midday crowd packed the Sixth & I synagogue in the US capital. So many people came to a pro-Israel rally outside Israel's UN Consulate in Manhattan that police had to turn some away.

The United Jewish Communities and the Jewish Federations of North America have been steadfast. The Jews of Boston are rallying; the Los Angeles community has established an emergency fund for victims of Hamas terror; San Francisco's community has been praying for the peace of Israel.

Up and down America - from Providence to Tucson to Memphis; from Kansas City to Dallas to Chicago - this has been a week of solidarity with Israel.

In Europe, pro-Israel rallies have been held - or are scheduled - in every major city. On Sunday morning, London's Jews will gather in Trafalgar Square on behalf of Israel.

We Israelis don't tell our Diaspora brethren often enough how grateful we are for their support, or how cognizant we are that what we do to defend ourselves sometimes complicates their lives.

So we're telling them now: Toda raba!

Thursday: Israel's terms

Notwithstanding the cabinet's authorization for the IDF to fight on, Israel's decision to unilaterally halt offensive military operations in Gaza for three hours daily so residents can obtain supplies is just one of several indications that our decision makers are seeking an endgame to Operation Cast Lead.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak reportedly intimated that he opposes expanding the land war against Hamas, while Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has expressed appreciation to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and French President Nicolas Sarkozy for their efforts to advance a cease-fire. Meanwhile, Syrian President Bashar Assad told CNN that the Hamas leaders he hosts in Damascus were in fact "ready [to make a deal]. They were ready, they are ready."

Like it or not, the spotlight is now shifting to the diplomatic arena at a moment when - while Hamas has been dealt a series of punishing blows - the bulk of its guerrilla army and military hardware remain unscathed.

We have consistently argued that Israel cannot tolerate the existence of a hostile regime between the Mediterranean and the River Jordan. Hamas stands as the antithesis of the two-state solution - the quintessential enemy of reconciliation. The prospects of cutting a deal with relative Palestinian moderates like Mahmoud Abbas are improbable so long as Hamas remains in power.

EGYPT IS spearheading the cease-fire efforts in coordination with the US, France and Britain, and in consultation with Israel and Hamas. Assuming Cairo comes up with an agreement, the UN Security Council can be expected to provide its imprimatur.

The Egyptian plan, presented when Mubarak met French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Sharm e-Sheikh, reportedly calls for a temporary cease-fire as well as opening the crossing points into Gaza from Egypt and Israel for humanitarian relief. The Bush administration is pressing to include a reference to halting rocket attacks from Gaza and an end to smuggling into the Strip through tunnels from Sinai.

Egyptian media say any cease-fire would then be followed by further talks on long-term arrangements.

Publicly, Hamas leaders in Damascus and in Gaza are talking tough. After meeting with Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, the Syrian-based Mohamed Nasr said, "Our position is clear: End the aggression, withdraw from Gaza; open the crossing points, especially Rafah; [and] a total lifting of the blockade." And when last heard from, Mahmoud Zahar, in Gaza, declared that his men would confront and defeat the IDF.

Zahar's bluster apart, the assumption among Israeli analysts is that Hamas is eager for a time-out.

So if a cease-fire is in the offing, Israel needs to be very clear about what it expects from such a temporary cessation of hostilities. It must also adhere to the larger strategy of asphyxiating Hamas in the fullness of time.

For now, Israel must insist that:

• the smuggling of weapons, munitions, terrorists and contraband via tunnels below the Philadelphi Corridor not be allowed to resume. If it does, all our efforts in the current fighting will have been in vain.

Maj.-Gen. (res.) Giora Eiland has recommended widening the corridor on both sides of the border and declaring it a closed military zone. This would require Egypt to be fully on board, and financial backing from the international community to relocate those displaced by the need to create a cordon sanitaire.

Meanwhile, Israel must reserve the right to continue military operations against the tunnels.

• the security reality be changed. The purpose of the IDF operation was to deter Hamas from attacking. If the Palestinians violate the cease-fire by firing, tunneling, smuggling or manufacturing weapons, Israel must enjoy the freedom to retaliate, and in a timely fashion.

• prior to implementing any cease-fire, Gilad Schalit be freed in exchange for Hamas gunmen taken in the current operation; plus, perhaps, others captured subsequent to his kidnapping. Israel will never have more leverage to free him than it has now.

• the mandate for any international forces that would police the crossing points explicitly give them the kind of enforcement authority that earlier EU "monitors" lacked. If not, their presence would be meaningless and Israel should oppose permanent opening of the crossings.

The cabinet must not lose sight of the fact that the goal of this operation was not a cease-fire, but to stop Hamas terror.

Wednesday: Death of innocents

How do Israelis feel when our artillery strikes a UN-run school building, killing dozens of people? The answer is: deeply shaken, profoundly distressed, sorrowful at the catastrophic loss of life.

But we do not feel guilt. We are angry at Hamas for forcing this war on us; for habitually using Gaza's civilians as human shields; and - in this latest outrage - for transforming a center where people had sought refuge into a shooting gallery and weapons depot.

To paraphrase Golda Meir, there may come a time when we will forgive the Arabs for killing our sons, "but it will be harder for us to forgive them for having forced us to kill their sons."

Images of carnage take on a momentum of their own, and it requires a certain amount of savvy to realize that, sometimes, a picture is not worth 1,000 words. Images that jumble people's thinking and distort reality are less than worthless - they're propagandistic.

News consumers rely on journalists to keep them from being duped. But what if the media becomes part of the problem?

Take, for instance, a report by Gaza-based BBC producer Rushdi Abu Alouf from Shifa Hospital. The segment opened as frenzied crowds crying Allahu akbar encircled ambulances bringing war-wounded to Shifa's emergency room. The camera took us inside. This "you-are-there" treatment, patented by Al Jazeera, provides a voyeuristic, nearly pornographic, view from inside emergency rooms, operating theaters and morgues.

The BBC producer interviewed a Norwegian physician, Mads Gilbert, presumably to get the view of an impartial foreigner, a Good Samaritan who had arrived in Gaza days earlier to volunteer his medical skills. Gilbert, clad in green scrubs, stethoscope slung around his neck, expressed outrage that international aid agencies were absent from the hospital. He called what is now happening in Gaza the worst man-made medical disaster he'd ever seen.

The Israelis, prompted the producer, were claiming that most of the killed were gunmen - Gilbert's cue to assert that of the hundreds of patients flooding Shifa, maybe two were "militants." He elucidated: 2,450 had been injured, 45 percent of them women and children - and that didn't even include innocent men. Twenty-five percent of the dead were innocents; 801 children were "killed or injured."

Faced with heartrending images of blood-drenched hospital floors, and funeral processions bearing white-shrouded toddlers, who could be bothered to recall that Gaza's Palestinians empowered Hamas knowing full well that its raison d'etre is relentless struggle against the existence of a Jewish state? Or that some of Hamas's leadership is operating out of that very Shifa hospital? Or that Hamas hijacks international medical aid intended for the Gazan masses, diverting it to special locations where its gunmen are being treated?

When readers of Britain's Guardian are confronted by a front-page photo of a father collapsed in front of his three dead children, they can be forgiven for losing sight of the bigger picture: that between 2001-2008, over 8,000 flying bombs were launched at Israel, traumatizing an entire generation of Israeli children; and that unless the IDF manages to stop Hamas, the months ahead could see life in metropolitan Tel Aviv become as perilous as it is in Sderot.

And when readers of London's Times see the headline: "We're wading in death, blood and amputees. Pass it on - shout it out" they, too, may be forgiven for overlooking the fact that Hamas purposely situates its launchers in densely populated areas.

When the Arizona Republic reports: "Israel ignores calls for peace," a photo isn't even necessary.

A WORD about Dr. Mads Gilbert: It turns out he's no neutral medical man, but active in "solidarity work with Palestinians" for 30 years. Responding to 9/11, Gilbert didn't rush to New York's Bellevue Hospital to offer his services. Instead, he defended the moral right of the "oppressed" to have launched that attack.

Too many news outlets have allowed their coverage of Gaza to be agenda-driven, to willfully disregard the duty of presenting news and images in context.

Cynically thrusting pictures of dead toddlers at readers and viewers obfuscates truth, bedevils news consumers, and robotically demonizes those "who could do such a thing."

What a devious way of giving succor to the uncompromising fanatics who are really to blame for the horror of it all.

Tuesday: Turkey chooses sides

Israel's founders had high hopes that the Jewish state, isolated in a sea of Arab hostility, could align itself informally with Iran and Turkey - Muslim countries which had their own differences with the Arabs.

Sure enough, for years Israel obtained much of its oil from the shah, and our unofficial embassy in Teheran was second in personnel only to our Washington representation. Turkey, in 1949, became the first Muslim state to recognize Israel. David Ben-Gurion made a secret trip there in 1958, but it was not until 1999 that an Israeli premier, Ehud Barak, visited openly. Defying the Arab League, Turkey signed a military cooperation pact with Israel in 1996.

In 2002, Turkey's Islamically-inclined Justice and Development Party (AKP), under the leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, won a landslide victory. Keen to pursue EU membership (Turkey is a candidate member), Erdogan said his party would maintain Ankara's ties with Israel.

It has; but the approach, under the AKP, has turned decidedly tepid. During the 2000-2005 Palestinian uprising, for instance, Erdogan nixed a proposed water deal and temporarily recalled his ambassador to Israel.

After Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian elections, Turkey broke with Western policy and received Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal. Having mended its relations with Damascus, Turkey protested the 2007 IAF raid on the Syrian nuclear facility and Israel's alleged overflight of Turkish territory. And last year, Turkey hosted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Istanbul. Ankara and Teheran now have close political and economic ties. Despite Turkey's evident drift away from the Western camp, the Olmert government nevertheless accepted Ankara's offer to serve as a go-between in peace talks with Damascus.

SINCE THE IDF began hitting back at Hamas in Operation Cast Lead, both the government and people of Turkey have lined up behind the Islamists. Thousands rallied outside the Israeli consulate in Istanbul on Saturday; 200,000 demonstrated in a main Istanbul square on Sunday. There were also big "Down with Israel" rallies in Ankara, Diyarbakir province, Trabzon, Adana, Bursa and Sirnak.

Erdogan has been trying to halt the IDF's operation to deter Hamas violence virtually since the mission began 11 days ago. He ostentatiously avoided Israel in a just-concluded fact-finding mission that took him to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Syria. Now he has "found" that Israel is conducting "inhuman acts" in Gaza, which, he says, will cause Israel to destroy itself. He believes that, in time, Allah will punish those who violate the rights of the "innocent."

The human tragedy in Gaza, it transpires, is entirely Israel's fault: "Hamas abided by the truce. But Israel failed to lift embargoes. In Gaza, people seem to live in an open prison. In fact, all Palestine looks like an open prison…"

Turkish President Abdullah Gul adds: "What Israel has done is nothing but atrocity."

Erdogan can find absolutely nothing wrong with anything Hamas has done since it grabbed power in Gaza.

Turkey has just taken its seat as a non-permanent member of the Security Council and Ankara pledges to be Hamas's conduit to the United Nations. It has offered to deliver Hamas's conditions for a cease-fire to the council. Erdogan is also pushing to bring Fatah and Hamas together, though such reconciliation is unlikely to produce a less intransigent Palestinian polity, or one committed to coexistence with Israel.

On balance, we're not convinced that Turkey has earned the right to lecture Israelis about human rights. While world attention focuses on Gaza, Turkish jets have bombed Kurdish positions in northern Iraq. Over the years, tens of thousands of people have been killed as the radical PKK pursues its campaign for autonomy from Turkey. Kurdish civilians in Iraq complain regularly that Ankara's air force has struck civilian areas where there is no PKK activity.

THE NEXT Israeli government should weigh whether Israel can accept as a mediator a country that speaks, albeit elliptically, of our destruction. Meanwhile, if Turkey persists in its one-sided, anti-Israel rhetoric, the Foreign Ministry might consider recalling our ambassador in Ankara for consultations.

Turkey needs to choose between bridging the gap between East and West and flacking for the kind of dead-end Islamist policies championed by Iran, Hizbullah and Hamas - policies that threaten to destabilize the entire region.

Monday: A moral war

For pacifists who believe that all wars are immoral, Israel's self-defense operation against Hamas in Gaza is necessarily wrong. To such people we invoke the 18th-century philosopher Edmund Burke: "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." Confronted by a movement that amalgamates fascism with religious extremism and a genocidal platform, our moral imperative demands Jewish self-defense.

Few of the voices slamming Israel for conducting an "immoral" war in Gaza are those of pacifists.

Take Riyad Mansour, Mahmoud Abbas's man at the UN. He claimed on CNN that "3,000 Palestinians had been killed or injured" in Gaza, then denounced Israel's "targeting 1.5 million Palestinians" as "immoral" and a "crime against humanity."

Even as Mansour was pontificating, Hamas gunmen in Gaza were shooting Fatah activists in the knees as a preventive security measure lest they take advantage of the unstable situation.

In the West Bank, meanwhile, Mansour's Fatah has been ruthlessly hunting down Hamas members to keep the Islamists from seizing power there when Abbas's presidential term expires next week.

Far from there being "3,000 killed and wounded," more like 500 have been killed - 400 of them Hamas "militants," according to Palestinian Arab and UN sources inside Gaza cited by the Associated Press. Israeli sources put the Palestinian civilian death toll at some 50.

Pointing this out does not diminish the dreadful loss of dozens of innocent Palestinian lives in a week's worth of fighting. It does show, however, that the IDF continues to do everything possible to avoid "collateral damage." But its prime mandate is to protect the lives of Israeli civilians and minimize risks to our citizen-soldiers.

Over the weekend, glitterati including Annie Lennox and Bianca Jagger joined tens of thousands of mostly Muslim protesters in rallies held worldwide against the Israeli "genocide."

In fact, we'd be surprised if any other army currently on the battlefield is more conscientious about avoiding civilian casualties. Before it attacks and whenever possible, the IDF leaflets, telephones or sends text messages to residents of buildings used to launch rockets at our territory, warning them of the impending air-strike.

Conversely, what sort of "resistance" movement deliberately uses mosques, schools and homes as weapons depots and rocket launching pads? Answer: one that also uses its children and women as human shields.

AMONG those troubled by Israel's actions are Jews whose connections to things Jewish are limited to the occasional bagel or lox sandwich. They too march to make clear they're nothing like those pitiless Israelis. "As a Jew, it is very moving to see so many people… outraged at Israel's actions," said comedian Alexei Sayle, who was raised in a strictly orthodox Communist Liverpool household.

Not all uncomfortable Jews are cut off from the community. Take Isaac Luria - not the ancient kabbalist, but the young Internet director of J Street, which is devoted to redefining what it means to be pro-Israel. Luria thinks that the IDF is "pushing the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict further down a path of never-ending violence." He's strictly against "raining rockets on Israeli families" (this is bad, he knows, because he spent a year in Israel), but "there is nothing 'right' in punishing a million and a half already-suffering Gazans for the actions of the extremists among them."

Wouldn't it be more intellectually honest to admit that Palestinian suffering is mostly self-inflicted? And that Hamas's anti-Israel agenda is wildly popular among Gaza's masses? And doesn't Luria owe it to himself to look a little closer at the nature of the Israeli military response.

The folks at J Street believe "there is no military solution to what is fundamentally a political conflict...." Hamas would beg to differ. Indeed, Hamas has been trying to prove the contrary, forcing Israel's hand.

What Israel's critics need to understand is that there can be no political solution while we are under Palestinian bombardment. Those who are sincere about fostering coexistence should stop bashing the IDF and start telling the Palestinians: Stop the violence.

Friday, January 02, 2009


FRIDAY: Thank you President George W. Bush

Six days into Israel's confrontation with Hamas, just one world leader has steadfastly shown genuine understanding of our dilemma - George W. Bush.

The initial reaction of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, for instance, was commonsensical: "I understand the Israeli government's sense of obligation to its population." That sympathy, though not dissipated, was soon watered down as the Foreign Office brought London's policy into harmony with the European Union by calling for an immediate cease-fire.

In contrast, from Texas, where the president has been marking the holidays, his spokesman Gordon Johndroe placed the onus for the hostilities where it belongs: "Hamas's continued rocket attacks into Israel must cease if the violence is to stop," he said. The administration was satisfied, Johndroe added, that the IDF was doing everything possible to avoid civilian casualties. Moreover, he said, the best way to ensure that violence didn't flare up again was for Hamas to stop smuggling weapons into Gaza.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also blamed Hamas: "We strongly condemn the repeated rocket and mortar attacks against Israel and hold Hamas responsible for breaking the cease-fire and for the renewal of violence there."

As the week progressed, however, a certain slippage in Rice's rhetoric was discernible. "The cease-fire must be restored immediately and fully respected," she said.

But absent a fundamental deterioration in Hamas's military capabilities, a premature cessation of IDF operations would simply set the stage for more violence later.

In all fairness, Rice has been grappling with the wording of a binding UN Security Council draft resolution trying to mediate between the Israel, EU, Arab and other positions.

The Arab League version "strongly condemns all military attacks and the excessive, disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force by Israel…" It makes no mention of Hamas's aggression.

At some point, Rice will meld her own proposals with those of French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (who ostentatiously boycotted Israel on his fact-finding tour of the region), and the proposals of a bitterly divided Arab world, along with Israel's thoughts, to produce a workable cease-fire proposal.

As this scenario plays out, we hope Hamas's military capacity will, meanwhile, become considerably eroded.

With sirens wailing and the population of Israel's South absorbing blow after blow from Hamas gunners, with everyday-life from Beersheba to Ashdod torn asunder, and with our citizen-army poised at the gates of Hamastan, this newspaper expresses its appreciation to President Bush for his goodwill, and for the diplomatic backing of his administration. We do not take this support for granted.

IN JUST 18 days, Barack Obama will be sworn in as America's president. We are reasonably confident that the incoming administration will cut Hamas no more slack than the outgoing one.

As Obama said in July on a visit to Sderot: "When bombs are raining down on your citizens, there is an urge to respond and act and try and put an end to that."

Sure, there will be those, like former State Department official Aaron David Miller, who argue that by fighting Hamas, Israel is making "a difficult situation even tougher" and reducing the prospects for a durable Palestinian-Israel agreement.

In fact, the opposite is the case. A negotiated settlement requires Arabs and Israelis to want to live in peace. Hamas, meanwhile, is uncompromisingly dedicated, in creed and in deed, to pursuing a zero-sum struggle against Israel. No amount of territorial concessions, no matter how far-reaching, will make a Jewish state palatable to the Hamas fanatics.

Thus any policy predicated on bolstering the relative moderates in the Palestinian polity - Mahmoud Abbas and Salaam Fayad, for example - must, logically, seek to chip away at those who denigrate them as Zionist collaborators.

For 100 years, Palestinian politics has seen rejectionists assassinate those who voice any willingness to accommodate Jewish national aspirations. Put differently: If Hamas thrives, peace dies.

Miller isn't entirely wrong about the "Arab street" being resentful of Washington's commitment to Israel's survival. The smart response, however, is not to force Israel into making suicidal territorial concessions - which would only promote endless upheaval - but to help broker the kind of peace that both Israel and the Palestinians will see as just and lasting.

THURSDAY: Europe has a plan

Toward the end of 2005, after Israel unilaterally pulled its citizens and soldiers out of Gaza, Jerusalem consented to the presence of European Union "monitors" at the Rafah Crossing connecting the Strip to Egyptian Sinai. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice praised the arrangement as giving "the Palestinian people the freedom to move, to trade, to live ordinary lives."

Rafah was opened on November 26, 2005 in a ceremony attended by Mahmoud Abbas. Just two months later, Palestinians voting in the West Bank and Gaza gave Hamas a majority in the Palestinian parliament. But because Hamas was an international outlaw, forces loyal to Abbas continued to oversee Rafah's terminal, providing security for some 70 EU monitors. They had the authority to "reexamine" and "reassess" anyone or anything which struck them as suspicious.

Little, however, struck the monitors as suspicious. When Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar's brother strolled past them on his way into Gaza, the Europeans answered Israeli complaints by arguing that Jerusalem never gave the monitors a list naming those it wanted barred.

When Zahar himself and another Hamas official crossed over with some dozen suitcases containing $20 million, EU monitors did not look the other way. They protested to Abbas's Palestinian Authority, which promised to investigate.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana told this newspaper in October 2006 that Israelis were over-obsessing about security at Rafah. He didn't think Hamas wanted to destroy Israel; it simply wanted to liberate Palestinians.

After Gilad Schalit was captured by Hamas in a June 2006 cross-border raid, the EU monitors complained that Israel was keeping the Rafah crossing closed more days than it was open, and threatened to walk off the job. The threat became moot in June 2007: Hamas expelled Fatah, and the monitors fled.

THIS slice of history is pertinent in the wake of an offer by EU foreign ministers, meeting Tuesday night in Paris, to send monitors to Rafah and other crossings to ensure their smooth operation. The proposal came in the context of the EU's demand for an "unconditional halt to rocket attacks by Hamas on Israel and an end to Israeli military action." The ministers concluded with what is, for them, a truism: "There is no military solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in Gaza or elsewhere."

Hamas, for its part, appears somewhat less certain about this point. Its founding charter asserts: "Israel... will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it."

Tuesday a Hamas spokesman said on television: "The children of Gaza will be collecting the body parts of [Israeli] soldiers and the ruins of tanks" if IDF ground forces moved in to halt Hamas rocket launchings.

As a Grad slammed into a Beersheba kindergarten, empty at the time, European and US press reports lamented that hopes for an early end to the fighting had "faded" - as if they had existed in the first place - because "Israel rejected international calls for a 48-hour cease-fire to allow the supply of humanitarian aid." Never mind that 179 shipments of international supplies including food and medicines, donations from various governments, blood and 10 ambulances were being conveyed to Gaza.

Other media carried the boilerplate: "Hamas says it will keep up its attacks if Israel does not stop its assault" - which begs the question of why Hamas had been attacking us before the IDF went into action Saturday.

Europe's press is wont to dub the Kassams "rudimentary" because these explosive- and shrapnel-filled rockets lack any guidance system. Hamas-developed Kassams were first launched against Gaza's Jewish settlements in October 2001. By March 5, 2002 they had been sufficiently perfected to hit Sderot. Further refined over the years, more than 10,000 Kassams have smashed into Israeli targets, killing scores, wounding hundreds and terrorizing tens of thousands. After Israel's disengagement from Gaza, Hamas smuggled in tons of advanced weaponry, including the Grad. It too is "primitive" - early versions were fielded by the Soviets in 1963. The model now being fired at Beersheba, 40 km. from Gaza, is Chinese-made.

HAMAS was established in 1987 because the local Muslim Brotherhood doubted the PLO's continued commitment to the destruction of Israel.

Brussels may have the luxury of deluding itself about Hamas's intentions and capabilities. Jerusalem does not.

WEDNESDAY: Cease terror, not cease-fire

On day four of Operation Cast Lead, international demands notwithstanding, it is way too premature for Jerusalem to be entertaining thoughts of a cease-fire. It is Hamas that needs an exit strategy to extricate it from a devastating situation of its own making.

Hamas leaders ordered the cross-border attack against Israel in June 2006 in which two IDF soldiers were killed and Gilad Schalit was taken hostage. They grabbed power away from Fatah the following year, transforming Gaza into a spoiling-for-a-fight Islamist stronghold. Hundreds of Palestinians have lost their lives as a result of Hamas's warmongering.

They locked themselves into the old Arab mantra of "no recognition, no negotiation and no peace." They refused to honor agreements the PLO signed with Israel. They oppose the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. And they've kept Gaza an impoverished basket-case.

Despite their vitriol and bravado, since Israeli military operations began Saturday, the Hamas government has buckled: 400 targets have been struck; most of the regime's symbols have either been pulverized or are tottering. Hamas officials have gone into hiding, providing no succor to the masses, whose distress is directly attributable to Hamas's bellicose policies.

LET US keep our eyes on the prize. The government has belatedly but rightly declared the imperative to change the security environment in the south and stop Hamas from attacking our population. No country - not Germany, Britain, France, or Russia; not Turkey, Greece, Korea or the United States - would tolerate missile attacks on its homeland. Neither can Israel.

The effort to bring long-term peace to southern Israel is in its early stages. Military analysts estimate that half of Hamas's arsenal remains intact. Most of its armed forces are safely hunkered down. Put another way, Hamas is saving itself as it leaves the people of Gaza exposed and leaderless. The longer Israel can keep Hamas from exercising authority, the more the Islamists' legitimacy is weakened.

That being the case, Hamas is keen to change the equation, to goad Israel into launching a predictable land campaign. It wants Israeli tanks mired in the mud of Gaza. Its continued launching of missiles, rockets and mortars at Ashdod, Ashkelon, Sderot and the Negev is Hamas's way of taunting Israel into playing its game, by its rules. Hamas knows that there are certain targets, for instance - munitions storage facilities situated in the heart of residential areas - that have been off-limits to Israel's air force. It also knows that airpower alone can't stop the rocket-launching crews.

Hamas must not get what it most wants. Hamas wants Israel's home front to be demoralized, to feel under siege. It wants to stampede our government into sending ground forces into Gaza's camps and alleyways, to ensnare our fighters in ambushes it has spent long months setting.

IF HAMAS can't hoodwink Israelis into self-defeating policies, it is counting on pressure from within Israel or without to produce at least a temporary halt to the operation, during which it could regroup, or better yet a cease-fire. It needs this to claim a "moral victory" over the IDF; to demonstrate that the West has no response but appeasement to violent Muslim extremism. Finally, Hamas needs a cease-fire on its terms, or it will lose face vis-a-vis Mahmoud Abbas.

Some of what Hamas wants, it is getting. It wants AP and Reuters to continue to disseminate casualty figures which obscure the fact that most of the killed and wounded are gunmen. It wants the wire services to distribute photos and TV footage depicting mostly Palestinian, not Israeli trauma.

The air force will soon have done all it can at the present time - yet, frustratingly, Hamas will still retain its capability to lash out. That's when Israel's historic capacity for military innovation - for utilizing unexpected strategies against its enemies, rather than following a battle-plan for which the enemy has prepared - should be utilized.

Sooner or later, furthermore, Hamas's political and military echelon will emerge from hiding, and the air force will have more work to do. Meanwhile, the homefront's mettle will truly be tested; we will need to demonstrate our patience and resilience.

There should be no talk of a cease-fire until the declared goal of achieving long-term normality in the South has been attained.

Tuesday: Arab elites vs Hamas

Predictably, it's started. Europe's pro-Palestinian lobby, instinctive anti-war campaigners, Muslim extremists and the so-called Arab street have all been demonstrating against Israel's military operations in Gaza.

In London, Muslim and leftist protesters rallied raucously outside the Israeli embassy. Marchers protesting the Palestinian "holocaust" were held in Copenhagen, Paris and Madrid. A protest by the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party in the northern city of Mosul ended abruptly when a suicide bomber on a bicycle blew himself up, killing one and wounding 16. Some might wonder why al-Qaida would attack other Sunni anti-Zionists. Plainly, the extremists' lust for chaos and bloodshed trumps all.

Pro-Hamas rallies were organized from Teheran to Beirut, and from Baghdad to Cairo. Arab citizens of Israel observed a general strike, accompanied by sporadic rock-throwing and tire-burning. An Arab minister in the Israeli government protested by refusing to attend a cabinet meeting; Palestinian youths in east Jerusalem rioted as their elders honored the strike.

We find it curious that the weekend deaths of 13 schoolchildren in Afghanistan at the hands of an Islamist bomber; the Taliban suicide attack in Pakistan, which claimed 30 Muslim lives, and the unremitting internecine slaughter in Iraq (9,000 dead in 2008 alone) fail to incense the Arab street half as much as the Jews exercising their right to self-defense.

THAT SAID, it is instructive to look beyond the mobs with their incendiary placards, shrill chants and de-rigueur burning of Israeli flags and take note of a remarkable rupture in the Arab and Muslim world.

The Arab elites, comprising statesmen, academics, journalists and businesspeople, may preface their criticism with references to Israel's "crimes," but a significant facet of this class - it would be simplistic to label them "moderates" - appreciates that Hamas is to blame for what is taking place in the Gaza Strip.

Moreover, their hearts may tell them to bankroll Hamas, but their brains tell them that the fanaticism, political intolerance and social backwardness championed by the Islamists pose a profound threat to the Arab future.

These predominantly Sunni elites - whether they sit in Cairo, Riyadh or Amman, in the Maghreb, the Gulf or in the West - don't want their societies to ape the Taliban or the ayatollahs.

HIZBULLAH leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, still in hiding two years after supposedly defeating Israel in the Second Lebanon War, has been denouncing this attitude as he seeks to salvage Hamas's fortunes - in which he and his Iranian patrons are heavily invested - by mobilizing the Arab street.

He has practically called for a revolution in Egypt. As Al Jazeera reported: "Nasrallah urged Egyptians... to force their government to open the country's border with Gaza. 'If the Egyptian people took to the streets by the millions, could the police kill millions of Egyptians? People of Egypt, you must open this border by the force of your chests.'"

What Hizbullah's demagogue in-chief pointedly neglected to tell the throngs watching him on a giant TV screen as he spoke from his bunker, was that Hizbullah and Iran were egging Hamas on to pick a fight with Israel while Egypt (and Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas) were working overtime to convince Hamas to honor the cease-fire.

Nasrallah is half-right. Arab elites suffer from a sort of split personality disorder. Even as they are trying to pull Hamas's chestnuts out of the fire by pressing Washington to lean on Israel to back off, they know that Hamas (like Hizbullah and the Muslim Brotherhood) threatens not just their own regimes, but political development in the Arab world. If only the Jordanian and Saudi monarchs, Gulf emirs and the Egyptian president would stand up to the Islamists.

How? They should be incrementally fostering transparent government and the rule of law, and socializing their masses to the idea of tolerance and majority rule while respecting the minority. That would promote political institution-building and social stability.

The Arab elites need to offer their people an alternative to Islamist extremism. They could begin by redefining what it means to be pro-Palestinian and dissociating the Palestinian cause from anti-Israel rejectionism.

In this context, if Israel can deflate Hamas, it will be advancing an Arab interest as much as its own citizens' security.

MONDAY: Gaza portrayed

With the exception of the White House - which reacted to Israel's Gaza operation by labeling Hamas leaders "nothing but thugs" and blaming the "terrorists" for igniting the violence - international political and media reaction has, by and large, fallen into two broad categories: low-key evenhandedness and knee-jerk condemnation.

The evenhanded school appreciates that no country can permit, indefinitely, its citizens to be bombarded by an enemy committed to its annihilation. Still, they oppose "disproportionate" Israeli measures - basically those that might actually compel Hamas to end its campaign of terror.

Among these evenhanded are Quartet envoy Tony Blair, French President Nicholas Sarkozy (who also holds the EU presidency), British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

The quintessentially evenhanded Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy czar, holds any non-combatant deaths on the Palestinian side "unacceptable." His advice? Hamas should stop attacking Israel, and Israel should stop retaliating.

But it is the Vatican's reaction that captures the very essence of evenhandedness: "Hamas is a prisoner to a logic of hate; Israel to a logic of faith in force as the best response to hate." What to do? "One must continue to search for a different way out, even if that may seem impossible."

THERE are those who make no pretense at being evenhanded. For them, Hamas has been exercising its inalienable right to resist "the occupation" by violently opposing the existence of the Jewish state. For them, practically out of the blue, the Zionists went berserk, massacring women, children, and the occasional Hamas "martyr."

Desmond Tutu weighed in by calling Israel's use of its air force to stop Hamas "a war crime." Peter Beaumont, foreign affairs editor of Britain's Guardian, said that Israel's actions ranked with what he termed the massacres of Deir Yassin and Sabra and Shatilla.

Tim Butcher of London's Telegraph aimed to provide context. As time goes on, he explained, Israel lowers the threshold for who it considers a legitimate target. In 2004, "an elderly man in his wheelchair, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, was killed by an Israeli missile as he was pushed out of a mosque after weekly prayers." Butcher went on to note that Yassin "was the Hamas leader responsible for ordering suicide bombings." Still, his point was that, nowadays, "any Hamas traffic cop on a street corner" has become fair game.

ISRAEL embarked on this operation to compel Hamas to stop terrorizing our population in the South. It did so reluctantly, and only after Hamas rejected multiple appeals from Mahmoud Abbas and the Egyptian government to maintain the "cease-fire."

Despite the difficulties inherent in presenting Israel's position to a not always sympathetic media, the Prime Minister's Office, Foreign Ministry and IDF recognize that public diplomacy is an integral element in getting Hamas to stop its attacks. To that end, the articulate former UN representative Dan Gillerman has been appointed to coordinate the Foreign Ministry's response to the crisis. On the whole, Israeli spokespeople have rarely been more proactive or competent.

Israel has had no military or civilian presence in Gaza since 2005. Quiet would prevail across the Israel-Gaza border, and the Palestinians could build a model state, if their Hamas leadership were not insistently bent on attacking Israel. Hamas acknowledges as much. Even as its spokesman Taher al-Nunu was telling al-Jazeera and other channels of the current "ferocious Zionist massacre," he was also emphasizing that Hamas will never abandon its determination to destroy Israel.

The declared Israeli aim in the military operation - putting an end to a neighboring terror-state's ability to threaten our populace - is precisely the goal that any other nation would set itself if attacked as Israel has been.

All of this should be obvious to fair-minded observers everywhere. But when dramatic pictures from Gaza threaten to overwhelm clear thinking, Israeli leaders have in the past two days often formulated effective reminders. "Military actions are not easy to support," Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni noted in one interview on Monday, for instance. "But this is the only way we can change realities on the ground... This is our responsibility as a government to our citizens."

Carefully chosen words set against dramatic images? It's an uneven media battlefield. But at least, this time, Israel is fighting.

SUNDAY: A time to fight

On Friday, a Hamas spokesman made Israel the following proposal: You keep the stream of humanitarian aid and supplies flowing into Gaza and we will keep launching rockets and mortars at Israeli civilians.

It was an offer Israel had little choice but to refuse.

For weeks Israel has been imploring Hamas to stop shooting across the border, to stop tunneling in preparation for the next round of violence, and to allow our farmers to tend their fields. The Islamists responded that they were not afraid of the IDF and that they reserved the right to resist "the occupation" - meaning the existence of a Jewish state. They brazenly told Israel to get used to the idea that no amount of humanitarian gestures would stem their behavior.

At 11:30 a.m. Saturday, Israel finally told Hamas that it would not be bled, slowly, to death. Thanks to excellent intelligence and superb training, a haughty enemy was caught off-guard. Targets up and down the Strip were hit and large numbers of Hamas personnel including senior military figures were killed. Key facilities were turned into rubble; well-camouflaged equipment was destroyed.

In launching "Operation Cast Lead," Defense Minister Ehud Barak, declared, "There is a time for calm and there is a time for fighting, and now is the time for fighting." And Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, flanked by Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, said that Israel had done everything possible to avoid this escalation, but that its entreaties for quiet had been met with disdain.

The IDF's mission is not to bring down the Hamas regime, but to bring quiet to the South. In a sense we are asking Hamas to stop being Hamas. The Islamists need to decide whether they want to go down in flames or are prepared to take on the responsibilities that come with control over the Strip. They may give Israel no choice but to topple their administration.

To their credit, Israeli decision makers are avoiding the kind of bombastic rhetoric all of us came to regret in the course of the Second Lebanon War and its aftermath. Now, what ordinary Israelis demand is that their government deliver, as promised, quiet to the South. We do not expect this operation to be fast or easy. We do expect it to succeed.

Israelis must unite and be vigilant. Regrettably, we've already seen rioting among some east Jerusalem Palestinians. The possibility of disturbances among our Arab citizens cannot be discounted. Hamas rockets may reach targets heretofore thought to be beyond enemy range; their threats to launch suicide attacks must be taken with utmost seriousness. And Diaspora Jews also need be on alert.

ON A quiet post-Christmas weekend, the events in Gaza have captured world attention. From an unsympathetic foreign media, we are already hearing complaints that Israel's retaliation is "disproportionate" and a form of "collective punishment." That over 200 Palestinians have been killed compared to only one Israeli leads some journalists to conclude that Israel is inherently in the wrong. One British news anchor wondered why her government had not already demanded that Israel halt its operation. There was a grudging understanding that Hamas uses Palestinian non-combatants as human shields, along with an unreasonable demand that Israel magically find a way not to harm any of them.

The formula for purchasing the affection of those who suffer from moral relativism is sickeningly clear: if one Jew is killed, we get very little piety. If, heaven forbid, an Israeli kindergarten was to take a direct hit - Israel might, temporarily, gain the sympathy of news anchors from Paris to London to Madrid.

At that price we would rather forgo their sympathy.

Nevertheless, we expect our diplomats to work 24/7 to make Israel's case to the international community. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has begun that process. In an English-language address she said, "Enough is enough" - Israel would not continue to absorb rockets, mortars and bullets without retaliating.

At this newspaper, we wonder how an international community that can't bring itself to explicitly support Israel's operation against the most intransigent of Muslim fanatics expects to play a positive role in facilitating peace in this region.

Hamas must be stopped. And the civilized world must help stop it.

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