First, the most important question: What Knesset committee names these things?
Is a list of military operation names compiled in advance just like the list of hurricane names? After all, recommended actions in Gaza wars and Gulf Coast hurricanes are similar:
Cat 1 hurricane — minor damage; shelter in place, except if you live in a frame home or a flood zone. Cat 1 war — minor damage; shelter in place, except if you live with Hamas family members, near missile launch sites, or have an underground tunnel system into Israel.
Cat 5 hurricane — catastrophic damage; evacuate to a permanent structure at least 50 miles inland. Cat 5 war — catastrophic damage; evacuate to what you hope will remain a permanent structure, at least 50 miles from Israeli military.
While Gazans would definitely benefit from a better warning system, and Israel’s military would benefit if Gaza residents both heeded the warnings and had some place to reliably escape to, the odds of any of this happening under Hamas’ rule are small.
But Israel should stop naming its wars. (Doesn’t Protective Edge sound more like something intended to prevent pregnancies than future missile or tunnel attacks?) It’s unnecessary. Numbers work just fine and would better serve to remind people of how often (three times in six years) these major flare-ups occur. If it was good enough for World Wars I and II and it should be good enough for these on-going conflagrations.
But let’s not get any more sidetracked than all of the people now negotiating terms of this and the next broken ceasefire. Let’s focus on my recent return trip from Israel.
My connecting flight in Newark had DirectTV, so I decided to watch CNN’s special report on then recently announced humanitarian ceasefire. Within a few minutes, I was watching CNN’s special report on the non-humanitarians who broke the ceasefire.
It all sounded so familiar, frustrating…. and repetitive. So I tested a thesis: Could just the first sentence uttered by each talking head provide enough of an information filter to guide me through the latest battle in the world’s longest running and sadest soap opera, and perhaps leave me with enough time to focus on something slightly less contentious, like Obamacare, immigration, or U.S-Russian relations?
You be the judge….
If it’s a soldier, it’s not a kidnapping.
This must be condemned in the strongest possible terms.
A ceasefire has been broken yet again.
These terrorists came out of their terror tunnel shooting — in blatant violation.
The Hamas military wing may not have gotten word from its political wing in Qatar.
These are war crimes.
Israel wants the conflict to continue so it can eliminate the tunnels, at least the ones into Israel
The ceasefire is clearly over.
It’s not the Palestinian government on the West Bank shelling us.
What about the other story?
It was a deadly, brutal incident in the Rafah area.
It’s an open air market.
UNRWA claims a violation.
We don’t know, yet; it could have been a Hamas rocket that fell short.
Right now, there’s an unknown number of deaths and injuries.
We’re still working on getting a death and injury number from the Palestinian Health Ministry, but an official source tells me it was an Israeli attack.
Gazans seemingly have nowhere safe to go.
We now have two major stories — the market attack and the apparent kidnapping of an Israeli soldier.
It’s probably al-Qassam brigades, not Hamas.
What’s the difference? Hamas controls Gaza, or at least that’s their role.
Al- Qassam is calling it a unique operation.
That’s the first time they’ve used that wording.
The ceasefire didn’t even last two hours
A senior Israeli official tells us a soldier was abducted.
Troops are on the go.
If you think it was bad before, get ready.
As great as the hope may have been, all this seems to be up in smoke.
It now seems that over 100 were killed and injured, most civilians, but I can’t stress enough that these are unconfirmed reports.
They’re going to a medical hospital, so I can’t interview anyone.
Could they go to some other kind of hospital, like one storing rockets?
No, it’s just really confusing; I misspoke.
Israel will react very harshly to this kidnapping.
It has a strong tradition of leaving no soldier behind.
Hamas won’t show proof of life without something in return.
In the coming hours and days there’ll be a vicious campaign.
Hopefully cooler heads prevail.
It’s clear that the political side is not in touch with the military side.
You mean, no one there has any access to news all over Arab media?
Is there really any hope of reviving ceasefire talks?
This is a game changer.
It’s a very populated area.
In the fog of war, intentions and plans give way to chaos.
I shows the difficulty of dealing with organizations like Hamas.
As we now know, too many innocent children and other civilians were hurt in the market.
A suicide bomber came out of the tunnel first.
Hamas is trying to create a victory image.
We grieve for innocent civilians but what other army puts itself in harm’s way by calling, dropping leaflets and firing warning shots?
Israel’s political climate strongly supports these actions.
Demilitarization of who and by who?
The kidnapping should be unconditionally condemned.
Why is the capture of one soldier huge?
We’ve seen this movie before.
There are no guarantees.
There’s nothing to be gained by a call (from Abbas) to Netanyahu.
Don’t expect anything in the short term.
There’s been administration pressure, but what Kerry offered was a “get out of jail” card to Hamas.
That’s pretty severe criticism.
Qataris and Turks can talk, but no one will listen.
We are misreading desperation and resiliency.
Netanyahu’s a risk averse politician.
He’s not Olmert or Sharon.
(Israel) will destroy as many tunnels as possible and try to make sure Hamas can’t call it a victory.
Getting all the ones (tunnels) within Gaza would take a house to house search.
Yes, they only know what they know.
They won’t get bogged down in a long ground incursion.
No one is in the peace camp now, but Israel isn’t used to this long of a campaign.
Hamas is accountable for Gazans continuing to struggle.
Israel was totally honoring those (ceasefire) commitments.
They (soldiers) were simply trying to decommission the tunnel.
It’s a deliberate violation.
Their (Hamas’s) assurances are not worth anything.
It’s a consistent pattern of (untrustworthy) behavior.
Our goal is to achieve peace and quiet for the people of Israel.
This will only lead to a dangerous escalation.
I am sure it feels like nothing ever changes.
It’s hard not to feel like saying ‘stay tuned for the next 47 years.’
Until both sides move from military tactics to focusing on a political solution, they will remain mired in these occasional flare-ups, some much worse than others.
What matters in post-battle analyses is not the militant and civilian body counts, tallying the before and after on missiles or tunnels or calculating the billions in damage to Gaza’s infrastructure. What matters is not interrupting Tel Aviv’s airport operations for a few days, damaging Israel’s tourist economy or creating more of a sense of vulnerability for Israelis living outside of southern Israel.
What really matters is this: While Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the other allied militant groups can’t defeat Israel militarily and Israel is fully capable of continuing to manage their threats, Israel’s future is far less bright if it tries to survive and thrive as a fortress nation. And if that’s the course Israel continues to take (whether it’s, as some feel, by necessity, or as others feel, by choice), Palestinians will only move further away from their own state.
Instead of each side focusing on who has more historical rights or has suffered more historical wrongs or whose historical narrative is more compelling, each side must move past their grievances, their hurts and their suffering. The only way forward is for Israel to wage a Protective Edge peace campaign with the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank and with sympathetic Arab states, that is far stronger and more complete than its Protective Edge military campaign against Hamas in Gaza.
The basic outlines of a potential deal have been known for some time. The unwillingness of Israel to take more risks for peace than it does to preserve the stasis has, unfortunately, also been known. But, the status quo is now far more risky.
Here is one way forward:
Israel, Egypt and other supportive Arab League countries, such as Jordan and Saudi Arabia, should work together to to strengthen moderate Fatah Party leader Mahmoud Abbas’s political standing so he is better positioned to eventually make and sell a two-state (and two-step) deal to Palestinians in the West Bank, and then, after Hamas’s hold has been weakened, Palestinians throughout Gaza.
Abbas’ non-violent approach and willingness to demilitarize both the West Bank and Gaza have to be seen as having benefited Palestinians. He and his party must be given a significant Gaza role as a part of the eventual ceasefire agreement. Abbas and Fatah should be specifically credited for all of the reconstruction funding, opening up the border crossings, expanding eligible import and export items, extending fishing limits and easing freedom of movement. When the electricity and water supply gets stabilized, Fatah should be the party that is applauded.
As Fatah gets stronger, militant factions will grow weaker and the Palestinian people will become less supportive of Hamas destroying their futures.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has a key role also. He should announce to the Israeli public that the Gaza War against Hamas served to highlight the great difference between the terrorist rule in Gaza and the non-violent and stabilizing role Fatah has had in the West Bank. This is why, he should say, that he now believes that it is in Israel’s interest to try once again to move to a two-state agreement with Palestinians on the West Bank. And in preparations for those negotiations, Israel needs to agree to stop all settlement building, even in the settlement blocs that are likely to remain part of Israel.
That type of messaging will further strengthen Abbas, weaken Hamas and set a more positive negotiating climate. In addition, Netanyahu should publicly embrace Tzipi Livni’s recently announced negotiating ideas and agree that Israeli negotiators will pick up where the last serious negotiations with former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Abbas left off less than four years ago.
Netanyahu can offer a vision of a brighter future for Israel once Gazans end up demanding the type of peace he hopes to negotiate with West Bank Palestinians. He can also add that while Israel will work feverishly to make what many may see as painful concessions, the Palestinians must be prepared to do so as well. That includes restating the agreement (made in prior negotiations) to remain demilitarized and ensure that Israel has the type of security assurances it needs so that Israel can feel it is able to cede territory and security control and not end up with a Gaza on the West Bank.
Can Netanyahu move from manager to leader? Can Netanyahu have a Nixon-in-China moment?
Probably not. But we can hope.
The reality is that for Israel to move forward Netanyahu will almost certainly need to change his coalition and overcome his deep distrust of Palestinian intent. Unfortunately, neither is likely, and what we are likely to see, at least until the next election, is Netanyahu focus on continuing to manage the ongoing 47-year-old Palestinian-Israeli contretemps. So Gaza III could begat Gaza IV, which could eventually begat a Cat 5 war for Israel as missiles, that will only grow more and more accurate, replace diplomacy.
Let us hope my vision is wrong and Netanyahu suddenly develops one.