ISRAEL'S STRATEGIC INCOMPETENCE IN GAZA
By Dr. Daniel Pipes
Hillel Frisch argues that Hamas (which he calls "a small isolated movement that controls a small strip") has "grossly miscalculated" by antagonizing the Egyptian government and making war on Israel. He concludes Hamas has embarked on "strategic suicide."
Perhaps, but scenarios exist in which Hamas gains. Khaled Abu Toameh notes the powerful and growing support for Hamas around the Middle East. Caroline Glick offers two ways for Hamas to win: a return to the status quo ante, with Hamas still in charge of Gaza, or a ceasefire agreement whereby foreign powers form an international monitoring regime to oversee Gaza's borders with Israel and Egypt.
As this suggests, an assessment of Hamas' war record depends primarily on decisions made in Jerusalem. Those decisions being the real issue, how well has Israel's leadership performed?
Disastrously. Jerusalem's profound strategic incompetence continues and heightens the failed policies since 1993 that have eroded Israel's reputation, strategic advantage, and security. Four main reasons lead me to this negative conclusion.
First, the team in charge in Jerusalem created the Gaza problem. Its leader, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert immortally explained in 2005 the forthcoming unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Gaza: "We [Israelis] are tired of fighting, we are tired of being courageous, we are tired of winning, we are tired of defeating our enemies."
Olmert had a vital role in (1) initiating the Gaza withdrawal, which ended the Israel Defense Forces' close control of the territory, and (2) giving up Israeli control over the Gaza-Egypt border. This latter, little noted decision, enabled Hamas to build tunnels to Egypt, smuggle in matériel, and launch missiles into Israel.
Secondly, Olmert and his colleagues failed to respond to the barrage of rockets and mortar shells. From the Israeli withdrawal in 2005 until now, Hamas has launched over 6,500 missiles into Israel. Incredibly, Israelis endured nearly eight attacks a day for three years; why? A responsible government would have responded to the first rocket as a casus belli and immediately responded.
Thirdly, a committee of the French Parliament published an important technical report in mid-December, 2008, establishing that "there is no longer doubt" about the military purposes of the Iranian nuclear program, and that it will be up and running in 2 to 3 years.
The waning days of the Bush administration, with the current President nearly out the door and the President-Elect yet in the wings, offers a unique moment to take care of business. Why did Olmert squander this opportunity to confront the relatively trivial danger Hamas presents, rather than the existential threat of Iran's nuclear program? This negligence has potentially dire repercussions.
Finally, from what one can discern of the Olmert government's goal in its war on Hamas, it seems to be to weaken Hamas and strengthen Fatah so that Mahmoud Abbas can re-take control of Gaza and re-start diplomacy with Israel. Michael B. Oren and Yossi Klein Halevi captured this idea in a recent article title: "Palestinians need Israel to win: If Hamas Gets Away with Terror Once Again, the Peace Process Will Be Over."
Bitter experience, however, invalidates this thesis. For one, Fatah has proven itself a determined enemy intent on eliminating the Jewish state. For another, Palestinians themselves repudiated Fatah in 2006 elections. It strains credulity that anyone could still think of Fatah as a "partner for peace." Rather, Jerusalem should think creatively of other scenarios, perhaps my "no-state solution" bringing in the Jordanian and Egyptian governments.
More dismaying even than Olmert's ineptitude is that the Israeli election a month from now pits three leaders of his same ilk. Two of them (Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak) currently serve as Olmert's main lieutenants, while two (Barak and Binyamin Netanyahu) failed badly in their prior prime ministerial stints.
Looking beyond Olmert and his potential successors comes the worst news of all, namely, that no one at the upper echelons of Israel's political life articulates the imperative for victory. For this reason, I see Israel as a lost polity, one full of talent, energy and resolve, but lacking direction.
© Daniel Pipes 2009
Originally Published in the Jerusalem Post, January 11, 2009
Republished with the Permission of Daniel Pipes
Reprinted from the Daniel Pipes Mailing List, January 11, 2009
Article URL: http://www.danielpipes.org/article/6118
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Author or co-author of eighteen books, Dr. Pipes is a regular columnist for Front Page Magazine, the New York Sun, and the Jerusalem Post. His analyses of world trends and of forces and developments in the Middle East have appeared in numerous North American newspapers, including the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal. He frequently appears on American network television, as well as at universities and think tanks, to discuss the Middle East, Islam, and the Islamist threat to the U.S.A. and the West. He also has appeared on BBC and Al Jazeera, and has lectured in approximately twenty-five countries.
Dr. Pipes is a Polish-American Jew whose parents fled Poland in 1939, immigrated to the U.S.A., and assimilated well into
American society and culture. His father is Richard Pipes, an American historian specializing in Russian and Soviet history
and serving as Professor of History at Harvard University from 1950 until his retirement in 1996. During the Cold War, the
worldview of Richard Pipes was strongly anti-Soviet and anti-Communist.
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