The Blog

Maybe the Israelis Know What They're Doing?

2:18 PM, Jan 12, 2009 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

It's become an article of faith on the left that any use of force by Israel works to the advantage of its enemies. We are told that by invading Lebanon, the Israelis strengthened Hezbollah and Iran. There may be some truth to this. No doubt Hezbollah is much stronger, politically, than it was before the war, but as Israel's northern front remains quiet it seems an open question as to whether that conflict had some salutary effects. Likewise, it is presumed that the Israelis are strengthening Hamas in Gaza, and that like the war in Lebanon, there is no end game for the Israelis which will not leave Hamas able to declare victory and rearm for the next fight. I'm not so sure that's true.

We've seen in Iraq that terrorist groups hiding among a civilian population -- even a relatively sympathetic civilian population as was the case with the Mahdi Army in Basra and Sadr City -- can be marginalized through the use of force. Coalition successes in Iraq came on the heels of repeated failures, but lessons were learned and applied on the battlefield. Israel seems to have adapted as well, particularly with regard to playing the expectations game. Just look at the statements of Israeli figures over the past couple of days. Olmert says that "Israel is nearing the goals it set for itself," essentially declaring victory before Hamas has the chance to do the same. Likewise, Israeli officials are hard at work pushing a story that has the Hamas leadership in Gaza desperate for a ceasefire:

THE battered Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip is seeking an immediate ceasefire with Israel and is demanding that the organisation's political leader in Damascus, Khaled Meshaal, make the necessary concessions, according to Israeli television reports.

The Arab affairs analyst on Channel Two, Ehud Ya'ari, said last night the dispute amounted to a virtual split between the two Hamas centres of power.

Sharp differences emerged at a meeting in Cairo yesterday between two Hamas representatives from Gaza and a delegation from Mr Meshaal in Damascus.

They had come to hear an Egyptian ceasefire proposal outlined by Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman.

Mr Suleiman said the agreement included the creation of a mechanism to prevent further smuggling of rockets and other armaments to the Gaza Strip in tunnels from Egypt, and a demand that Hamas hold political talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, which it has been refusing to do.

"The Gazans not only accepted it," said Ya'ari, of the ceasefire proposal, "they demanded it."

Variations of this story have been reprinted in newspapers around the world. At the same time, the Israelis banned foreign journalists from Gaza, providing a great deal more latitude in shaping the story than was possible during the 2006 war in Lebanon. Is this story true? Who knows, but the Israelis have made it almost impossible for Hamas to accept a cease fire and still be perceived as triumphant. More than that, the Israelis have managed to exploit another division, in addition to the ever growing fissures between Egypt on one side and Hamas and Hezbollah on the other, between Hamas in Gaza and Hamas in Syria. Again, it's not clear that there is a real separation. What is clear is that the Israelis are winning the information war -- for a change.

If the Israelis sustain their incursion beyond the inauguration of Obama, there may be an opportunity for the new administration to make a dramatic entrance to this conflict by brokering a deal between the two parties. If such a deal leads even to a temporary halt to the rocket fire and a serious effort to manage the flow of heavy weapons into Gaza, then the Israelis may well walk away with what will be seen as a stunning, and surprising, victory against Hamas. The country will have achieved all three of its war aims -- increasing the credibility of its deterrent, reducing the rocket fire, and implementing some kind of policy for policing the Gaza-Egypt border.