Bitkhonists stirring the Helba
Pressure is mounting among the type of "bitkhonists," mentioned previously by Jeha, for the army to pursue a more aggressive policy in the Gaza Strip. Moshe "Boogie" Ya'alon, the chief of staff who preceded Dan Halutz, last week called on Israel to launch a major ground invasion into the strip, in order to eliminate the rocket threat. Ya'alon, who still opposes the 2005 unilateral disengagement from Gaza, and who has been sharply critical of former chief of staff Dan Halutz's handling of the Lebanon war, argued that
The problem in Gaza will not solve itself and no one will solve it for us. It requires us to reach the terrorists and the areas in which they operate, and strike at the industry of terror. We did this during Operation Defensive Shield, and before that operation we were unsure about whether to proceed. Today, you must be blind not to realize the necessity of entering Gaza.Defensive Shield (חומת מגן) was a massive military operation conducted by Israel in response to a month of suicide bombings, including the infamous attack at a hotel in Netanya, which killed 30 Israeli civilians, on the eve of Passover on March 27, 2002. Under Halutz's direction, the IDF mounted a major campaign in the West Bank, targeting Ramallah, Nablus, Betlehem, and, especially, Jenin. Ya'alon seems to be suggesting that the operation "finished" the suicide bombing squads. It is true that, as far as I can recall, Israel did not experience anything close to the level of violence that it faced in March 2002. But were the tactics of the duo of former Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and Chief of Staff Ya'alon throughout the al-Aqsa intifadah really the reason for eventual defeat of the suicide bombers? During their administration, it did not look that way at all.
Ze'ev Schiff, Ha'aretz's military correspondent, is more cautious than Ya'alon. In a recent piece on the qassams and the situation in Gaza, he suggests that "A temporary incursion by the IDF deep into certain parts of the Gaza Strip is also a possibility." However, his assessment of the situation in Gaza is equally pessimistic, and he offers no diplomatic solutions at all, arguing pretty much for purely unilateral measures.
The thrust of the piece is that the Palestinians cannot be trusted to abide by agreements with Israel or any other state (the argument is in the title: "If that's how they act in Gaza"):
the Palestinians do not want to, or are not capable of, keeping agreements. They'll always find an excuse or a pretext, even if it ends up hurting them. Some say this happens because the Palestinians have no national entity. But Yasser Arafat had such an entity and controlled a majority of his organizations, and he continuously violated agreements (Ha'aretz ).I am not entirely convinced that this is true (though I'm certainly leaning this way), and Schiff, too, believes that "Israel has no choice but to continue to seek agreements with the Palestinians." What measures then does Schiff think Israel should take? Rather vaguely, he speaks of "maintaining broader margins of security," which translates into isolating the West Bank from Gaza, to prevent the spread of qassams (as well as internecine fighting) there. This means that Israel must oppose the Dayton recommendations. He also insists that Israel must keep striking at the sources of qassam fire (before or after rockets are launched). In this respect, the logic is again very familiar from the Lebanon war:
Hamas and the other Palestinian organizations, which seek mainly to strike civilian targets in Israel, are now complaining about Palestinian civilians being harmed. Israel mustn't punish Palestinian civilians for the attacks on its communities, but it must return fire immediately to the sources of fire, even if civilians nearby are hurt. This is the most basic and natural right to defense. The fact that Russia was the first one to criticize Israel on this is utterly ridiculous.And, according to Schiff, Hamas has scored a victory against Sderot and Israel as a whole, perhaps the same kind of "victory" claimed by Nasrallah's katyushas. The other big problem for Schiff is Egypt, which he accuses of turning a blind eye to weapons and cash smuggling into Gaza, and thereby of playing a "two-faced game in the war on terror."
I still think that a ground operation would be a huge mistake. Throughout the al-Aqsa intifadah, Mofaz and Ya'alon kept arguing for permission to carry out some decisive operation that would "wipe out" the terrorists. The same kind of logic led to the utterly fantastic war aims of eradicating Hizbullah that were articulated by Olmert, Peretz, and Halutz during the Lebanon war. We must resist the temptation of a "dramatic solution."
A combination of more subtle defensive as well as "surgical," small-scale measures offensive measures, not the mammoth campaigns like Operation Defensive Shield, have been the key to managing the conflict - i.e., to dramatically decreasing Israeli civilian as well as military casualties. Among these measures I include the security fence, checkpoints, and the diplomatic isolation of the Hamas government. The problem is that this strategy also precludes a dramatic negotiated solution of the type that so many of us keep yearning for.