Much of my thinking about the current operation has been guided by a hidden axiom, that Israel cannot, under any circumstances, reoccupy the Gaza Strip. I am starting to think that this premise was mistaken. The time has come for a ground operation that commits enough forces to the task of defeating Hamas.
As I read the editorials by commentators advocating a return to the tahadiyeh or cease fire, I am growing increasingly convinced that they are too optimistic about the possibility of reaching a durable accommodation with Hamas. Furthermore, in their desire to avert a ground operation by the IDF, some of these commentators are drawing imaginary red lines that have long been crossed. Thus, Steven Klein writes that
If the rockets continue, Israel would be free of the restraint dilemma it has confronted since the dawn of the Oslo era, while Hamas would emerge as the sole party responsible for the continuation of hostilities. Israel would then enjoy more support from its allies for subsequent military operations.
But isn't this what the disengagement from Gaza was supposed to accomplish? Has Hamas not had opportunities to accumulate goodwill by ending its terrorist activities? What has really prevented the organization from ceasing its attacks on Israel? If Hamas were truly interested in peace with Israel, it would have found a way to demonstrate the sincerity of its intentions. It is time to stop supplying Hamas with excuses. Just like Hizbullah, Hamas will always find some reasons for continuing the armed struggle - border crossings, prisoner exchanges, lifting of restrictions in the West Bank, and the list goes on. And if met, each one of these preconditions for peace will further erode Israel's position vis-a-vis Hamas, as unfortunately, the Gaza evacuation did.
The truth is that Hamas has very little to offer Gazans other than a continuation of the "resistance" against Israel. Let's face it, Gaza is a demographic, environmental, and economic catastrophe. Plus, Hamas's Iranian and Syrian backers have no interest in removing this thorn in Israel's side. What then could another cease fire, along the lines of the previous one, possibly accomplish? I think it would simply delay the inevitable future showdown.
The problem is that the longer an organization like Hamas stays in power and the more legitimacy it gets, the more difficult it will be to remove it from power once it becomes clear that it doesn't have an interest in ever normalizing relations with Israel.
Thus, I think Israel has no option but to put all its resources toward crushing Hamas. This means putting boots on the ground - and a lot of them. I know that many people say that a "defeat" of Hamas is impossible. I agree that it's difficult. But I'm thinking about Russia's invasion of Georgia. Saakashvili was seriously weakened and will most likely lose the upcoming elections. Georgia's military power is destroyed. It will take decades before Georgia ever challenges Russia again. Even worse, it has probably lost Abkhazia and South Ossetia for good.
The Russians exited Georgia at their own pace, with a cease fire agreement that represented a clear victory for them. On paper and on the ground, the current Georgian regime was utterly defeated. Russia and its allies accomplished this with utter ruthlessness, decimating the Georgian army even once the initial Georgian assault had been repulsed, and not showing very much consideration for civilians either. We don't know how many forces the Russians lost, but the casualties they endured were not insignificant. But could anyone say that it was not worth it for Russia? Has the Georgian war undermined Russia's legitimacy anymore than Putin already had? It is true that today Russia is in trouble, but its problems now have far more to do with the global economic crisis than the after-effects of the war with Georgia.
It is true that innocent Palestinian civilians will die, if there is a ground operation. But no state can be expected to show more concern for the welfare of its enemy's civilian population than for the lives of its own people. Israel is not embarking on a quest to secure more land or resources for Israeli civilians; it wants only to protect its citizens from daily rocket attacks.
Everyone asks what will happen on the day after an invasion of the Gaza Strip. Ideally, Israel will leave Gaza with a durable peace agreement, based on ideological commitments and facts on the ground. If that proves unattainable, Israel will have to contemplate ruling Gaza again, in a similar manner in which it controls the West Bank, minus the settlers.