After kicking the can down the road for the last four years, Israel has finally reached the proverbial brick wall in regard to Gaza. Whether Israel should have, or could have, dealt Hamas a death blow back in 2008-2009 is a matter for history to decide. The current reality however, is that Hamas, and not Israel, is determining the time and place to join battle, and from a military perspective, this is never a good thing.
Hamas’ escalation is a risky but brilliant move. Hamas has essentially maneuvered Israel into a nearly no-win situation.
Hamas is more than willing to sacrifice civilian lives and take a severe military beating, especially if the end result is frenzied outrage on the Arab Streets, in the wider Islamic and Third World, and among the useful idiots in the West. The ultimate prize is Egypt’s renunciation of its peace treaty with Israel and a firm alliance with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood leadership that transfers support away from Abbas’ Fatah government to Hamas.
By so boldly attacking Israel, Hamas is greatly enhancing its prestige in the eyes of the Arab and Muslim Worlds, and providing a favorable contrast between itself and the seemingly impotent, cowardly, and collaborationist Fatah regime in the West Bank. The more intense the Israeli response, the higher Hamas’ stock will rise in this regard, perhaps encouraging and emboldening the outbreak of further terrorist aggression against Israel from Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank, and within Israel itself.
A commitment by Israel to wage a bloody urban combat operation will result in unavoidable casualties to Gaza’s civilian population as well as painful losses to the IDF. The risk Hamas is taking is that Israel may indeed choose to take this course of action regardless of the costs. But even a powerful and determined Israeli offensive will only solve the Gaza problem in the short term.
The most effective action to severely curtail, or end, the Hamas threat to Israel would be to re-occupy Gaza and insert a permanent garrison force to police the territory. Whether this is even an option in the minds of the IDF, the Israeli government, and Israeli populace remains to be seen.
But the fact is, it will be extremely difficult to destroy Hamas completely, and the sympathy and support a “martyred” Hamas will garner in the attempt will go far in making the sacrifice worthwhile. Even if only the smallest remnant of Hamas survives, it will be claimed as an Israeli “defeat.”
In any case, Israel will be condemned by the international community as it always is regardless of whether the response is “restrained” or not, and the Arab Street and Muslim World will claim victory in any outcome.
In the end, Israel really has no option that doesn’t benefit Hamas or play into its trap. Israel didn’t act decisively in 2008 when it had the opportunity, and the political conditions in the Middle East were far more advantageous. Now it is paying the price.
The painful lesson learned? Take advantage of any opportunity to destroy your enemies while you can, because it will probably be more difficult to do so further down the road. Is Israel making the same mistake with Iran? Will Israel wait for the Iranian missiles to rein down before it acts?
For now, hopefully Israel decides to shut out all the noise and focus solely on conducting a tactically sound and effective military operation that successfully destroys Hamas’ weapons arsenal and launch capabilities, and severely decimates the ranks of its combatants. Unfortunately, at this point that is about the best Israel can hope for.