Right off the bat, let me say that I’m not about the argue that Israel’s invasion of Gaza is precisely like its 1982 invasion of Lebanon (known then as Operation Peace for Galilee). But there are important and interesting similarities. Today’s Haaretz already notes that Ariel Sharon used the attempted assassination of Shlomo Argov, Israel’s ambassador to England as a pretext to launch the attack. The kidnapping of Gilad Shalit serves the same purpose today.
Military strategists note that the most important guarantee of success on the battlefield is having a carefully considered and precise plan. Knowing what you do not want to do is as important as knowing what you do. If you try to do too many things then you are almost guaranteed to fail. Likewise, in some cases (as with our invasion of Iraq) if you try to do too little then you will fail.
Today’s developments in Gaza show that Israel has fallen prey to precisely the same mistake as afflicted its long-term occupation of southern Lebanon. It seems to have allowed its politicians and military strategists to create a wish list of things it would like to accomplish regarding Gaza (this from Ariga.com):
Operation Summer Rains…includes an incursion…into southern Gaza as the first stage of a ‘big operation’ meant to apply military pressure on the Palestinians not only to release captured soldier Gilad Shalit, believed to be held somewhere in southern Gaza, but to end Qassam rocket fire on the Western Negev, ‘rehabilitate’ Israel’s deterrence against the Palestinians, and, say some, to bring down the Hamas government. The next stage began this evening as Israeli TV military reporters said planes would drop thousands of leaflets into the two northeast Gazan towns of Beit Lahiye and Beit Hanoun, warning residents to stay away from the army, which implied it was planning to roll into the area to try stopping the Qassam rockets.
It wants to do too many things and risks failing at all or most of them.
Another point on Israel’s Gaza invasion “wish list” that reared its ugly head today was the desire to decapitate the Hamas-led PA. Hence, the announcement that it has detained 87 (as of this writing) Hamas legislators, government ministers and ‘military operatives.’ The idea that a nation may invade another and imprison the latter’s entire political echelon is quite novel and preposterous. One wonders not only at what Olmert hopes to accomplish by doing so, but also what the actual result will be. If he stopped to think for a mere second he’d realize that every single one of the pols he’s jailed has become an instant hero to the average Palestinian. In fact, this so guarantees Hamas’ continued popularity that one almost wonders whether Olmert has some latent wish for Hamas to continue in power for the indefinite future. If he wishes to drive a wedge between Hamas and the Palestinian people he’s picked precisely the wrong way to do it.
Those old enough to remember the 1982 invasion will recall Sharon’s repeated assurances that the operation was meant as a short-term tactic to end rocket fire from southern Lebanon on Israel’s northern cities (shades of today’s Qassams!). His assurances turned out to mean nothing as Israel occupied southern Lebanon for years, hundreds of young Israelis died, Barak was forced to withdraw in defeat while Hezbollah crowed with victory and made its reputation as an Israeli dragon-slayer. Through last year’s unilateral disengagement from Gaza, Sharon handed Hamas precisely the same victory which in part led to its election victory in parliamentary elections. Olmert, unintentionally perhaps but foolishly nevertheless, seems hellbent on sealing Hamas’ popularity in perpetuity. Does this rhetoric give you deja vu all over again?
‘We have no intention of reoccupying Gaza, or to remain there. We have one main purpose, to bring Gilad home,’ he said. But the press reads the operation differently, with much talk about how the army has plans for going house to house, searching not only for the soldier but for the ‘terrorist infrastructure,’ a euphemism for suspected terrorists, their weapons, and their munitions factories, such as the workshops where the Qasam rockets are made. Israel has conducted many such operations in the past, with mixed results that don’t last very long. Proof? Last night, even as the tanks were rolling into southern Gaza, four Qassams were fired from northern Gaza.
Olmert has made a fool of Condoleeza Rice and her advice yesterday that Israel should “cool it” and give diplomacy a chance. Perhaps she was a fool to think that such advice would register at all with an Israeli political leader faced with a crisis. In such situations historically Israel knows but one language: absolute force. Not that this policy succeeds, much of the time it doesn’t and sometimes it fails miserably, but the force is projected as much to mollify an impotent public as to solve the crisis. Indeed, while such force is meant to convey a message of control and even dominance of the enemy it often betrays an absolute inability to influence events. This, I sadly predict is what must happen in Gaza. One wonders whether George Bush or Condi Rice could muster even an ounce of moxie to call Israel back from the precipice onto which it has crawled by demanding that it exercise restraint and release the Hamas leaders.
It is telling and sad to read Robert Rosenberg’s report that:
The kidnapped soldier’s father meanwhile was saying that the only way Israeli soldiers are ever returned is through negotiations.
Tell it to the PM.
Yet another point Olmert neglects to understand is that those who perpetrated the guerrilla operation that resulted in the kidnapping–Khaled Meshal with the approval of his Syrian protectors–expects precisely the bellicose response which the PM has provided. Israeli overreaction serves the Palestinian rejectionists perfectly. It ratchets up the heat and hatred against Israel AND against the Hamas ‘moderates’ led by Ismail Haniye. It precludes any possible rapprochement between Israeli and the Palestinians. It maintains the bloody status quo.
Shlomo ben Ami made another good point against the Gaza invasion. It bodes terribly ill for Olmert’s proposed West Bank withdrawal. When Israel withdrew unilaterally from Gaza last year it hoped it would be done with Gaza for good. Now, this ‘chicken’ of a delusion has come home to roost:
I think it was wrong to do that [invade Gaza], because — if only for the reasons that affect the stability of the government itself. You see, the government is engaged now in this idea of disengagement from the West Bank. If the they invade the Gaza Strip, what they are going to show to the Israeli opinion and to public opinion, as a whole, is that disengagement, unilateral disengagement, doesn’t work. If you do not coordinate things, either with the Palestinians or through a third party — the Quartet, for example — disengagement creates a frontline in a state of war, in a permanent state of war. And therefore, you’ll have to reoccupy the territory, so what’s the point in disengaging in such a manner? I think the government is exposing the fallacies of its own policy by occupying or reoccupying the Gaza Strip.
As another Haaretz commentator wrote last night, the territorial withdrawals only change the battle lines. Wherever Israel places its Separation Wall will be where the new Qassam battles will be fought.
Finally, 18 year-old Eliyahu Osheri‘s body was found buried in a Ramallah field today. He was kidnapped and murdered by the Popular Resistance Committees shortly after his kidnapping on Sunday. To some Palestinians, there might be some modicum of sense in this killing since Osheri hailed from one of the more ideologically hardline West Bank settlements. But to everyone else this crime must be added to all the other horrible ones perpetrated by both sides in the name of national honor and vengeance. In reality, such acts bring no honor to their cause and only promote further rounds of revenge from the enemy camp. So the cycle continues.
The chance of Operation Summer Rains bringing any rain or relief to the Israeli people are about as nonexistent as the chance, way back in 1982, that Operation Peace for Galilee would bring the Galilee, or Israel any peace.