Video: Israel's Foreign Ministry Addresses the People of Gaza
Let's assume that Hamas is a rational political actor. What did the organization hope to achieve with the barrage of rocket, mortar, and missiles that it has fired at Israeli civilians since the conclusion of the cease fire? There are two separate but linked strategic aims that the Hamas government in Gaza is pursuing:
1. maintaining control over and legitimacy among the Gazan population against the challenges of other terrorist factions and Fatah
2. deterring Israel from attacking Hamas's fighters, political leadership, and infrastructure.
In order to maintain both control and legitimacy, Hamas has to reconcile two contradictory objectives. First, it has to ensure that the border crossings which deliver food, oil, and other supplies into Gaza stay open. Second, it has to prove its military superiority over other factions and local strongmen, by being at the forefront of the terrorist struggle against Israeli civilians and attacks on soldiers.
As far as Hamas's strategic objectives go, I am increasingly convinced that protecting Gaza's civilian population from being injured or killed by Israeli air force strikes and ground operations are not a priority. In fact, Hamas wants to draw Israel into bombing operations or incursions that will lead to dramatic footage of dead Palestinian "martyrs" being aired on Al Jazeera and other Arab television networks. Such deaths hardly seem to hurt Hamas's legitimacy, as they tend rather to stoke feelings of revenge and mobilize civilians to put aside dissatisfaction with their government in favor of unity against the enemy.
The calculus for Israel, on the other hand, looks different. The Israeli government's main aim is to protect its citizens from terrorist attacks - whether in the form of rockets or suicide bombings. Because of Hamas's commitment to armed struggle against Israel and its rejection of peace negotiations, the state of Israel has viewed Hamas's removal from power as a means to safeguarding Israel's security. A cease fire of limited duration, while providing some relief to Israeli civilians, is clearly not a viable long-term solution. The problem is that assuming Israel succeeded in dislodging Hamas from power, it is hardly realistic to expect Fatah to take over and stop rocket fire on Israel.
Israel's best bet, therefore, seems to me, to threaten Hamas with destruction - of its legitimacy and control in Gaza - while simultaneously holding out a deal by which Hamas might stay in power if it ceases its rocket attacks on Israel and other terrorist operations.
All this is easier said than done, of course. On the military front, the following is precisely what Israel does not need:
"If the Qassam [rocket] fire does not stop, the Israel Defense Forces will fight you with the same might with which it fought Hezbollah during the Second Lebanon War," said Hanegbi (Kadima), speaking to Army Radio (Ha'aretz).
Hanegbi wants a repeat of the Lebanon War? I.e., a hundred plus rockets raining on Israeli civilians every day for a month and many dead soldiers? The truth is that we do not know whether the IDF will be able to restrain Hamas's rocket attacks even if it embarks on a major ground operation. Might is not enough. The IDF will have to demonstrate a significant improvement in its rocket hunting capabilities in order to prevent a repeat of July 2006.
Beyond the military option, Israel must create as much diplomatic space as possible to maintain a crippling embargo on Gaza, should the Hamas government continue to terrorize Israeli civilians. It has come to the point where all measures ought to be on the table - including cutting off Gaza's power and certainly closing all crossings. Israel's message to Hamas and its supporters must be unambiguous: stop your terrorism in words and deeds, and you can live in peace and perhaps even prosperity.