Monday, March 28, 2011


Gaza Endgame

The weekend meeting in Ramallah between Palestinian Authority chairman and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas and an unofficial delegation of West Bank Hamas "parliamentarians" was not just about reconciling the two factions.

Abbas told his visitors that long months of Palestinian diplomacy were being jeopardized by Hamas's bellicosity.

Fatah is on the cusp of gaining United Nations backing for a Palestinian state along the 1949 Armistice Lines, without having conceded the "right of return," or recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, or addressing a single of Israel's security needs.

If the Palestinians played their cards right they could bring Yassir Arafat's June 1974 plan for the destruction of Israel in phases massively closer to realization. But another Gaza war now, Abbas warned, would only highlight Palestinian disunity and prove Israel's claim that an imposed international solution would leave Jews and Arabs still killing each other.

Abbas might have told his visitors that in the West Bank and east Jerusalem Palestinians can hurl rocks at Israeli motorists or ambulances, attack soldiers without provocation, or riot against the security barrier without negative consequences to Palestinian interests simply by invoking the "occupation."

Some in the media had even downplayed the slaughter of a Jewish family at Itamar as having been provoked by "settlements." He might have agreed that Palestinian diplomacy was not adversely affected by Israel having interdicted a ship laden with weapons bound for Gaza "militants," and that no one seems perturbed over foiled Hamas terror efforts to tunnel into Israel from Gaza.

Still, some recent "resistance" activities had risked Fatah's strides at the UN. What was the point of pummeling Israel from Gaza with 50 mortars in 15 minutes back on March 19th? Or take the recent bus-stop bombing in "west" Jerusalem which almost claimed a British television reporter and killed a visiting Christian bible scholar? How are Fatah's diplomats to explain the bombardment of Beersheba and Ashdod by Grad missiles?

A direct hit on some Jewish kindergarten could setback painstaking PLO diplomacy.

Had they been in a position to speak frankly the Hamas men would have acknowledged that they, too, have an interest in seeing Abbas succeed at the U.N. After all, a diplomatic victory for Fatah today will accrue to Hamas tomorrow – as the Islamists fully expect to one day assume control over a reunited Palestinian polity.

For now, however, Hamas's calculations are anything but straightforward. The popular uprisings now sweeping the Arab world have shaken Hamas's confidence as demonstrated by the brutally with which its thugs have crushed Gazans' protests. What better way to redirect criticism of the regime than by instigating a conflict with Israel?

Moreover, Hamas is not monolithic. There are divisions between the hard-line armed faction led Ahmed Ja'abari and the purportedly more moderate "government" led by Ismail Haniyeh. He wants to be seen as open to reconciliation with Abbas; Ja'abari makes no such pretense. There are also tensions between the Damascus-based leadership, buffeted by the upheavals in Syria, and Hamas chiefs in Gaza.

In this environment, it may be that Hamas is having trouble imposing its will on other extremist factions in the Strip. For only hours after Hamas announced that Gaza terror groups were ready to return to a de facto ceasefire with Israel, two Islamic Jihad gunmen were liquidated by the Israeli air force on their way to launch rockets against Israel. (Curiously, for its own Machiavellian reasons, Islamic Jihad has been advocating Fatah-Hamas reconciliation.)

Add to this mix uncertainty over the future of Syria and by implication, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan and it's no wonder that Hamas would rather Palestinians vent their spleen against Israel.

That is precisely why Israel has no interest in shifting the attention of the Arab street onto itself. By demolishing the headquarters of the Hamas government in Gaza, continuing pinpoint targeting of terrorists engaged in attacks, deploying the imperfect Iron Dome anti-rocket defensive shield, and signaling that targeted killings of Hamas leaders was on the agenda, Jerusalem is endeavoring to deter Gaza violence in a prudent and calibrated manner.

What if, nevertheless, a terror attack resulting in mega casualties leaves Israel with no choice but to go to war? If an Operation Cast Lead II becomes obligatory, Israel will obviously strive to avoid the mistakes of the first Gaza war. But it must do more.

This time Israel needs a coherent mission: ending Hamas rule. That would require a strategy of unremitting attack against the movement's leaders, structures and symbols regardless of whether they are political or military so that Hamas loses the ability to command and control events in the Strip.

With its back to the wall Hamas can be expected to unleash its entire arsenal. To win, the IDF will need to be led with élan. A broad based national unity cabinet would need to inspire heretofore elusive solidarity on a besieged home-front. The country's diplomats would have to argue convincingly that with Hamas looking over his shoulder, Abbas has been petrified to make necessary compromises for peace and has turned, instead, to a morally obtuse international community to deliver Israel prostrate.

What would the impact of destroying the Hamas government be on Abbas's diplomatic campaign?

With Hamas vanquished and the Palestinian Authority presumably back in Gaza, Abbas will be faced with a dilemma: make real peace with Israel or continue down Arafat's falsehearted path. The big unknown is whether the Obama administration and those EU countries not pledged to Arab cause robot-like will press Abbas to choose wisely.

Defeating Hamas would be no panacea, but as Max Singer, a Senior Fellow at the BESA Institute of Bar Ilan University has argued, an Israeli willingness to defeat a Palestinian army and destroy a Palestinian government can serve as an important deterrent, signaling that the Jewish state will not tolerate a belligerent regime anywhere between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.


March 28, 2011

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