To Khaled Mashaal and Ismail Haniyeh:
The domestic and international challenges you are facing are serious and complex. Despite your efforts and despite your feeling that you removed Fatah’s corrupt regime and replaced it with a more honest government that is attentive to the people, you failed to improve Gaza residents’ wellbeing.
I also know that your ability to restrain the militant elements within Hamas is limited, and that you are frustrated by the lack of progress on the prisoner swap issue. The only alternative you think you have left is small-scale warfare: The Jews are killing you, while you attempt to turn Sderot into a ghost town and create an ongoing threat on area communities, without breaking the rules of the game. Seemingly, you were able to create a balance of terror.
Yet as someone familiar with Israeli politics, I know that the days of this balance of terror are numbered. Thus far, Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak were able to postpone the demand for a major operation, yet the countdown has already begun. As experienced observers, you probably know this turnaround point from previous wars. At some point, Israelis get fed up with the lengthy war of attrition, public pressure grows, and we take a decision; from that point, it’s only a matter of time.
The signal will be given once weather conditions are right, military preparations are completed, and a bloody attack gives us a sense of international support. And this time, Mr. Mashaal and Mr. Haniyeh, it will not be a repeat of the Second Lebanon War.
You can say many things about the Israelis, but you can’t blame them for failing to investigate their failures and draw lessons.
You can, of course, put this to the test. You prepared arsenals of arms and ammunition, sophisticated mines and traps, and brave fighters willing to sacrifice their lives. You prepared an international campaign and count on an expected catastrophe – another Israeli mistake, a foolish attack on a school or residential home – and in this campaign you will be more successful than our government.
Hizbullah won’t save youYet until that time, until the international community stops the Israeli army in order to save you, it may be too late. If your assessments are wrong, you will pay a heavy price. After all, you already know, based on the results of clashes with the IDF so far, how to assess your chances in an operation of this type.
I have no sympathy for the Hamas regime and I will be glad to witness your downfall, yet a war of this type will result in many civilian casualties, both Israeli and Palestinian, as well as the death of many combatants. As a longtime citizen of the Middle East, I turn to you, no less veteran citizens, and ask that you reconsider the situation.
I know that the leaders of your military wing would be happy to rush into battle. I know they promise you that they will be able to repeat the (fictitious) success of the Second Lebanon War. Don’t listen to them. Even Hizbullah won’t be able to get you out of this mess this time around. If you still have authority in the areas you rule, declare immediately and openly a full ceasefire in the Strip, and maintain it even in the face of continued Israeli attacks.
Prove to Israel and to the world that you are capable of it. Within a short time, Israeli officials will realize that the enemy is exhibiting authority and self-restraint, and that the only chance to avert bloodshed is to honor the truce.
Both Judaism and Islam are familiar with and respect the proverb: “He who saves one soul has saved the whole world.” Perhaps we still have time to do that.
Prof. Dror Ze’evi is a lecturer at Ben-Gurion University’s Middle Eastern Studies Department