There’s no doubt in my mind that Israel’s response to the rocket attacks on the Israeli civilian population, which serve no strategic purpose, are quite justified. Hamas literally begged Israel rocket-by-rocket to respond and so it did. Hamas wasn’t expecting anything like what it got in return and the price it has paid has been a dear one. That price could yet be much higher for all concerned.
Israel has said it wants to sweep Hamas from power in Gaza and is talking about an all-out war on the Islamist movement, about regime change, as it destroys the group’s infrastructure and capability.
Haim Ramon, PM Ehud Olmert’s deputy was quoted today in The Times as saying: “The goal of the operation is to topple Hamas. We will stop firing immediately if someone takes the responsibility of this government, anyone but Hamas. We are favourable to any other government to take the place of Hamas.”
I for one hope that this is sabre rattling. As the next step after an air assault is a ground assault and that is one road that Israel must not go down.
At the moment Hamas is on the back foot. It has no response other than to lob more rockets and pray for a change in the dynamic of the situation. An escalation will play to its strengths and not to Israeli’s.
Israel has already achieved much in showing that it is willing to dramatically increase its level of response if Hamas continues to lob rockets at Israel. Evidence of that is apparent in the fact that the Arab world is not united in its condemnation of Israel. The Egyptian newspaper al-Ahram among others hints that Hamas and its rocket attacks are partly to blame for what has unfolded: “If you can’t kill the wolf, don’t pull its tail,” the paper said.
If Israel launches a ground assault into Gaza it will lose any gains that it has made and play it will also give Hamas the response it needs. The Islamic group can’t do much about Israeli jets, but it can do a lot more about tanks and troops on the ground. It has people aplenty willing to fire AK’s and throw stones and get themselves killed in the process as Hamas like all Islamic fundamentalists groups is more than happy to use the lives of its people as its main currency. The 345 dead and 1500 wounded so far would quickly multiply if ground troops go in and any sympathy that Israel has so far won for the unprovoked attacks on its people will be lost.
Hamas is not going to be bombed out of power and it certainly won’t be shot out by street to street fighting. Even supposing that Hamas were removed it is highly unlikely, in the short term at least, that Fatah can stage a return. That being true then Israel needs to accept that there currently exists no immediate alternative to the Islamic group in Gaza.
There have to be talks and there has to be a resumption of normality for those living in the Gaza strip.
As David Aaronovitch writes in The Times today “the message that has been given out to Palestinians, time and again, is that there is no clear advantage to be gained from being moderate”. He’s right when he says it has been all stick and no carrot.
Of course the stick is needed when you are dealing with a truculent group like Hamas that appears to be pulling in a number of different directions, as different factions vie for supremacy, like other terror groups before it, that have crashed and tumbled on a road that has inevitably to lead to peace. That in the Middle East has to lead to two states and two nations.
But why speak about such things, Aaronovitch writes, when we can hold up placards equating Jews with Nazis, emote over dead babies or talk tough about defending Israeli citizens? Why indeed.
“It was Shimon Peres, the Israeli President, who said that, far from there being no light at the end of the Middle East tunnel, there was indeed light. The trouble was that there was no tunnel. Bit by bit, inducement by bribe and ceasefire by restraint, we have to construct one.
“If we are to do this then the friends of the Palestinians would be best advised to put pressure on Hamas never to launch another of its bloody rockets and to stop its death-laden rhetoric, and the friends of Israel well placed to cajole it into making a settlement seem worthwhile. All else is verbiage.”