As the flames of the last two days of combat recede and the cease-fire takes hold, I have heard many comments on Netanyahu’s supposed cynical manipulation of the conflict to promote his own political interests. It is no secret that this week was to be the last major push for a unity government – something Bibi has long sought to avoid – and that sending Israel back for a third round of elections would have cost the Prime Minister politically. The timing of this round of violence – especially in light of its apparent instigation by Israel – seems to many almost too perfect.
Those familiar with my previous writings know that I’m no fan of Bibi, and look forward to the end of his administration soon. That being said, however, we must give credit where credit is due, and if there is one arena where Bibi has consistently shined, it has been in his skilled tactical handling of the Gaza front, which has slowly drawn us out of a war of attrition and into a constructive and developing process to make peace with our worst enemies and rehabilitate the Gaza strip.
It’s true that the timing of this round was politically convenient for Bibi. But I am also not so cynical as to believe that he planned this war for personal gain. On the contrary – this is the first skirmish that Israel has engaged in in recent years wherein we seized the initiative, came equipped with well-defined strategic objectives – and ultimately trounced our enemies.
Abu Al Atta, the target of the airstrike that ignited the escalation, was behind most, if not all, of the recent “trickling” rocket attacks on the Gaza envelope communities. More importantly, he was the Islamic Jihad faction head leading the opposition to the peace and Gaza rehabilitation negotiations between Israel and Hamas. These negotiations have become the axis of our Gaza strategy, as Israel seeks to rebuild Gaza’s infrastructure in order to avert the impending ecological and human catastrophe in the strip. In promoting the welfare of Gaza’s civilian population, Israel has also forced Hamas to play ball, choosing between its militant ideology and the Palestinian nationalism that has tenuously justified its mandate in Gaza. As the civilian infrastructure becomes more developed, and Gazans have more to lose, it will become harder and harder over time for Hamas to renounce these agreements.
Islamic Jihad has been a thorn in the side of all the involved parties throughout: Hamas, Israel, and, indeed, the Palestinian people. Strong enough to threaten Hamas, and sufficiently armed to defy its security forces, it has compelled Hamas to share administration of the territory with it in recent years. In an effort to subvert the negotiations, it has been firing interspersed volleys at Israel for months, in violation of past ceasefire agreements, hoping to provoke precisely such an escalation that would force Hamas to abandon its attempts to negotiate with Israel. Abu Al Atta was a hardliner among the PIJ leadership, and the driving force behind this project.
This week, Israel succeeded in eliminating this threat, all in exchange for two days of fighting and no concessions. In a single move, we blunted the teeth of PIJ and sent them running, so much so that they agreed to a ceasefire with no preconditions, other than adherence to the prior arrangements with Hamas. The skirmish achieved its strategic objectives by clearing the way for progress in negotiations with Hamas and the reconstruction of the strip.
This operation also granted Israel an excellent opportunity to test:
Thus we have, in the course of two days, seized the initiative from the terrorists; struck a decisive blow to the main opposition to peace negotiations (and to the stability of the regime) in Gaza; and demonstrated the well-oiled war machine that our army and Homefront Command have produced, allowing us the strategic advantage of being able to hit our enemies anytime, anywhere, without worrying about excess collateral damage and without fear of retaliation.
Say what you will about Bibi – and I intend to! – but this was a lightning war that would have put Guderian to shame, and one that achieved practical and necessary gains to promoting Israel’s overall strategy of rehabilitation and deterrence in the region.