This is a very different war from the one Israel waged in Lebanon
during summer 2006; a war that Israel, by almost all measures, lost.
Today Hezbollah is better armed and further entrenched, and has
greater prestige in the Sunni world than before the campaign. But
Hezbollah had the critical capacity to rearm -- quickly. And it also had
the capacity to orchestrate the rebuilding of Southern Lebanon.
Gaza is as effectively isolated as an island. The majority of Hamas’
weapons and rockets have transited into the territory via tunnels from
Egypt, tunnels that the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) has entered Gaza
with the intention of destroying.
But to think that this is a more winnable endeavor; to think tunnels
will not reemerge; to think a population of 1.4 million can be kept
suffocating; to think Israel can ever eradicate the threat posed by
occupying territories, is the gravest mistake of this decades-old war.
I think there’s a section of Israeli leadership -- and certainly a
portion of foreign policy intellectuals -- that quietly recognizes the
current paradigm as preferable to the alternative. The current paradigm
invokes the occasional strike in the night -- like that against Iraq in
1981 or Syria in 2007 -- and the occasional war, in which several
hundred adversaries are killed, threats are marginally reduced, and
several dozen young Israelis die honorably defending the homeland.
That, one can argue, is less threatening to Israel than the alternative.
The alternative being a flourishing Palestinian state, armed both
overtly and covertly by Arab neighbors, populated by the young and the
worn, both with fresh memory of 50 years of incursion, humiliation and
loss. A population that almost certainly won’t forget that it holds
only a fraction -- roughly 6 percent -- of the land initially promised
Israel would no longer have the privilege of disarmament at will.
Nor would it be able to employ the tactic of stoic isolation it employs
with many of its adversarial neighbors. A functional Palestine, with
which Israel would likely have to share a capital city, would be too
close to hold at arms length, and too sovereign to subdue at will.
But even if broader Israeli opinion were to quietly accept this
fomenting, unspoken thought, the reality would remain: It is vital to
U.S. interest that the conflict be solved, that Israel be at peace with
all nations of the region, and that Palestine becomes a functioning
state. It’s not lost on anyone in the region that Israel’s allies --
Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia -- are more friends of the family,
grudgingly linked to Israel via the U.S., than friends of natural
So what if Israel completely crushes Hamas? What if it manages to
destroy most of the tunnels that reach farther into the Sinai toward
Egypt? What if Israel at large comes to believe there’s no chance
Palestinians can run a functional state and that they’re safer
maintaining the past century’s status quo?
A good deal of the dialogue alongside this war has centered upon the
terror invoked by Hamas rockets. Many Israelis suggest the world at
large does not know what it is like to live in Sderot, whose residents
live in fear of being killed at any moment by rogue missiles fired
blindly from Gaza. Those more inclined to the Palestinian persuasion
suggest that rockets cause comparatively little damage -- only 13
Israeli civilians have been killed in the conflict -- and serve as the
only leverage Hamas has in dealing with Israel.
Neither opinion holds much consequence for the near future.
What matters is that Gazans, who the International Crisis Group has
reported were overwhelmingly opposed to missile deployment during the
cease-fire, now think the rockets aren’t enough, that only suicide
bombers can inspire fear comparable to their own in their Israeli
counterparts -- a fear they are desperate not to stomach alone.
Israel was not wrong to have invaded Gaza after coming under attack;
it was wrong, however, to build a political and economic asphyxiation
that guaranteed nothing else.
Thirty years ago Fatah was the Palestinian faction too militant for
the international community to engage; in 20 years Hamas, or another
incarnation of Hamas, will be the stable actor we break bread with
while another faction, perhaps more Salafist in hue, bedevils notions
Even if Israel comes to terms with its willingness to maintain the status quo, the rest of the world cannot.