Back from Tel Aviv after sitting out most of the war there, now in Florida with a busted air conditioner waiting for the repairman, I can’t help but scratch my hot head from a distance and wonder why Israelis are hot enough under their collars to drive Bibi’s approval rating down from 90’s to 30’s.
Bibi did exactly what he set out to do. Not destroy Hamas. Not crush Hamas. He certainly knew he couldn’t change them. He set out to weaken Hamas, yet leave them intact for the après-final-final-final-ceasefire talks. Otherwise he would have to take over the Strip so bigger crazies won’t show up, or leave the place 100% in the none-too-reliable hands of Abbas. Keeping a balance between Fatah and Hamas was always Bibi’s stated goal, from day one. Look back.
Bibi’s end strategy in this war echoes and perhaps channels the last Lebanon war -which Israel also thinks it lost because Hezbollah re-armed, and remained in government. But Nasrallah said a few years ago, well after the war, that if he had calculated how much damage was going to be done to Lebanon he would not have engaged the Israelis like that. Who knows what Hezbollah is thinking, but they did not jump in with Hamas this summer. They did not invite IDF planes back into Lebanon. The IAF base in the north was capable and ready, but its planes kept flying south while Hezbollah kept its fight in someone else’s backyard – let Syria pay for the clean up after a Middle Eastern style play date.
If August is hot and gloomy in Israel, perhaps it is because the country always mourns war and especially the death of children. It hurt when the southerners were told to come back too soon.
But if Israelis think their army didn’t get the job done – it did. Bibi did not get stuck inside Gaza, nor lose soldiers by the hundreds (by the tens, sadly). The Iron Dome and shelters protected most (but not all, sadly) civilians. Troops destroyed 32 tunnels, Hamas’ surprise weapon. No mass attacks will come on Rosh haShana this year, now just weeks away.
Yet somehow the talk from here seems gloomy, as if this war was lost.
Did Israel break Hamas? Yes. How? By displaying a country-wide unity that was breathtaking in its wholeness. Especially for Israel! If you want a sign that the war is truly over, just look at how Israel is back to finger pointing. And whining. Shame. It was a wonderful oasis for awhile. It made being there during the war an odd privilege, a seat in the front row of history in the making, and of a great people making it. Their message rang out loud and clear: Israel is here to stay.
Did Hamas surrender? Yes, although optics are deceiving because when Hamas loses Gazans shoot in the air to celebrate, killing another 19-year-old and wounding another 49. Hey, put it on Israel’s tab. And don’t forget to photograph smiling kids with war paint on their faces and rifles in their hands. Don’t Gazans know rifles shot by 9-year-olds can really kill? Oh, I forgot, Hamas can’t read the American news, it cut its main electric line during the war it started. No internet.
Win or lose, Israel cries after a war. Its toughest soldiers cry. So much bereavement. But they fight. They have to. And Bibi beat Hamas despite the latter’s twisted, willing acceptance of death.
Bibi won by playing a crescendo, coming on stronger after every doomed ceasefire. First, the IDF displayed that the Iron Dome defense system protected against even barrages of rockets. Then the country proved willing to wait in shelters until the all clear. When the defenses held Bibi played on, slowly, using troops just to destroy the tunnels. Then, he reported Hamas’ plot to overthrow Abbas. Then, the IDF began to kill leaders, perhaps with intelligence from a pissed off Abbas (better than a smug one). Then the IDF mustered the will to kill any family members at home with the legendary Deif. And then the IDF targeted more leaders. Until the game changer, the piece de resistance. The IAF took down a nice building, made of glass, with 24-hour-doormen, right inside Gaza City. Where several rich Gazans lived, doctors and lawyers unlucky enough to have bought a condo in the same building as Hamas’ targeted money guy, Mohammed al-Ghoul. Like Ra’s al-Gul – Arabic for head of the demon, and the very, very bad guy from DC Comics, and Batman’s Dark Knight. In cartoons and in movies, as in reality, when the wealthy take the hit, the game shifts.
Fighting on would have cost Hamas everything. In Bibi they found a leader who wasn’t stopped by the world in 50 days, who wasn’t rushed to recklessness, who wouldn’t negotiate from his position of strength, and who kept playing a steady crescendo. Slow enough for the world to absorb without exploding against Israel. Steady enough that I think Bibi gets to stop here, a final ceasefire. Hamas will be in the negotiations, and Israeli troops will stay happily out of Gaza. Including my two kids, lone soldiers who like many don’t trust Hamas’ ceasefires anymore.
I understand that after almost a dozen ceasefires, they and all Israelis must ask, why is this ceasefire different from all (almost a dozen) other ceasefires? Bibi has shown that Israel will not let Hamas defeat it from next door anytime soon. Without the too-bold military moves of other earlier wars. In 1973 Israel pushed past Sinai all the way into Africa before halting 101 km from Cairo, and in the same war marched into Syria, 35 km from Damascus. In 1982 the IDF landed itself at the gates of Beirut. But Israel wound up back home anyway, the clear military victor with nothing permanent to show for the harder work done and the higher price paid. And if Israelis feel they are missing a clear victory here, what they really seem to want is an assurance of prolonged quiet. But no script seems exempt from change in this region, especially lately. What I want from Operation Protective Edge is a better airing on the world stage, and an understanding, an admittance, that Hamas is Isis, and Isis is Hamas. Bibi worked harder on getting out this message than he did at war. Bibi tweeted photos of Isis and Hamas conducting eerily similar be-headings, side by side, until pressed to take it off as too gruesome, which points out how hard it is for people to absorb such hard-line radicalism in a Rorschach. Even after September 11. Even after James Foley’s beheading. Bibi still had to remove the tweet.
When will countries like the US, Europe, China, Australia and India finally see that Israel is a full-fledged democracy standing on the front line of a new, radical threat? (New to the West and East, not to Israel.) Now the changes in the region are so rapid and drastic it must be hard even for Israelis to keep track of what is swirling in the countries around them. And they have front row seats. For a show that wants to go global.
Global! The million dollar (now worth less than four million shekels) question is not whether Bibi beat Hamas, but whether his international performance sufficed. Last year he sang on and on in English about the extreme danger of a nuclear Iran, and though he is right, the world didn’t take up the cry. He is now crooning until purple about Isis and Hamas being the same Sunni radical movement with aspirations to turn the world toward Sharia law, and though hard evidence is mounting, the world still thinks this preposterous and refuses to take it up. Even with Muslims amassing and screaming at full throttle throughout Europe and getting more organized by the month in America.
So I get that Israelis are fully fed up, and want already to know if it is this time, or next time, or the time after that before Israel’s side will be truly heard. Since 1948 there has been a stubborn decision to side against Israel, notably by the press. (An Insider’s Guide to the Most Important Story on Earth)
But alone or with allies, squawking or united, heard or misunderstood, Israelis know how to hold down the fort. The Jewish nation rocks. And Israel is here to stay.