Josef Olmert

Gaza – Surprising beginning and the foretold ending

Another round in the ongoing drama of Gaza and Israel came to an end. It was shorter than the previous ones, but altogether resembling them all but with one exception. It was the first time since 2009 that Israel used a preemptive strike and it achieved the desired results of surprising the terrorists and their leaders. It led to the elimination of some terror chiefs, but then it all deteriorated into the usual ritual of a shooting match between the two sides which is ending again in a cease fire without any clear result. Even if Israel achieved a tactical victory by its success to use intelligence to penetrate into the highest echelons of Islamic Jihad, still the overall strategic equation between Israel and the terrorists did not change. It is the time to ask some fundamental questions about the situation with regard to Gaza and see if it is at all possible to bring about a structural change in the nature of this equation.

The important questions to be asked are not about Israeli politics, though the temptation to do it is so obvious ahead of another round of elections in Israel. It is about more important questions, and first and foremost it is about the fact that despite Israel’s vast military superiority, the outcomes of all the rounds, including the most recent one is indecisive. Here is an answer, maybe one that many of the readers will not like to read, but still one which is the crude reality. Israel cannot use in Gaza more than a small fraction of its military might, simply because if it used much more, the numbers of casualties in Gaza would be in the thousands. It is so simple to send a squadron of F-15 or F-16 for a carpet bombing of the areas from where the rockets are launched and then see the destruction and the mass death created. But is it really so simple? Well, it is not at all. Pilots will refuse to do it, morally, politically and PR wise it is impossible. Israel is NOT Russia, and what the Russians are doing in Syria and Ukraine is NOT what Israel could and or should do. Am I a bleeding heart moralistic guy because I negate this possibility? If opposing that makes me one then so be it, but beyond that is is so clear to me that NO government in Israel can and will do it. Let Smotrich and Ben Gvir bark in the wind, yelling and screaming that it should be done, and then let the big majority of Israelis realize why these people are not only dangerous but simply ones who are detached from the real world.

In the absence of this all out military option we see so clearly what are the limitations of military power. Israel has HUGE military capabilities, but they should be preserved to situations of a real challenge to the very existence of the state. Gaza is NOT one of those. That does not mean, that more power cannot be used even in the rounds as they are, but then we come across another question. This one is about the significance of the Gaza question in the overall context of Israel’s regional relations. ”Something” has happened in the region in recent years, and this is the gradual and growing process of peace and normalization between Israel and neighboring Arab countries. Reactions in Arab countries in the last two-three days were amazingly moderate, and when dealing with Gaza it HAS to be a prime Israeli consideration -what will be the reaction in neighboring countries. Yes, the Palestinian problem is NOT the prime concern of Arab countries, but NO, the Palestinian problem did NOT disappear completely from the agenda of these countries, not of the rulers, and surely not the majority of the population. There is another important question, and it is the implication of events in Gaza over Arabs in Israel

Let me be clear here-Israel should do what it feels that has to be done there, and no opposition of people like ODEH and TIBI should prevent it, regardless of the volume of their propaganda. However an interesting experiment has taken place recently in Israel-the possibility of coopting at least one Arab party in the coalition and government, and this is an ongoing situation without a clear cut result. The jury is out and, reactions of the Ra’am party led by Mansour Abbas indicate, that the experiment is not yet dead, maybe far from it. Yes, it is troubling for many, that Israel could or should not use its military power to its utmost whenever a terror group provokes troubles, and naturally it may seem to be a sign of weakness. I disagree with that-I argue the opposite, as I believe, that it is a sign of weakness when you have only ONE option to use, and this is to go to war, because being in such a situation and constantly facing such a dilemma shows, that the very existence of the state in on the balance. T

his is NOT the case anymore, exactly because Israel is strong, and it has more options than just the one of putting all its resources behind a war of no choice. That said, the question remains as to what IS the situation which will require Israel to engage in an all out war with a neighboring country, and I refer to IRAN and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah, and with it comes the question whether Israel’s performance in the rounds with Gaza brings closer this confrontation or puts it off.

From my vintage point, this IS THE question to be asked, and here are possible answers. IRAN does pose an existential threat to Israel IF and WHEN it has a nuclear option. It is most likely WHEN, not IF. Hezbollah is much stronger than the Gaza terror groups and has the ability to cause Israel strategic damage, as opposed to the limited ability of the Gazans, whether Hamas or Jihad. It follows from my perspective, that Israel should and most probably would have to deal militarily with Iran and Hezbollah, and the clock is ticking. Therefore, what we do or do not do in Gaza HAS to take into account the implications on the Iran-Hezbollah situation. Israel cannot look weak in terms of its actions in Gaza, and it does NOT, and that is also the state of affairs after the last round, but at the same time Israel should devote most of its potential, not just the military and intelligence, but also the political, diplomatic and economic ones towards the near inevitable confrontation with IRAN and its proxy in the North. This should be the overwhelming consideration guiding Israeli policy with regard to Gaza, and that brings us to where we started. How to handle Gaza?

The answer is, to contain AND initiate. We can do more about helping to improve the economic situation there, though it is NOT only our responsibility. We should do more to mobilize international, mainly American support in this regard, as partners and not as the ONLY country involved, we can do more militarily when forced to react to the provocations, and all this in the context of ever raising the stakes for the other side. Hamas behavior this time shows, that this is not a policy doomed to failure. Then we have to remember two important facts.

First, It is IRAN, NOT GAZA which is our number one, two and third priority, and in Gaza itself there are no magical solutions, So any expectation about Zbeng Vegamarnu[finish the problem at one stroke] is appealing in empty rhetoric, but unrealistic in actual terms.

About the Author
Dr Josef Olmert, a Middle East expert, is currently an adjunct professor at the University of South Carolina
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