The Israeli government still insists on calling the Gaza Strip campaign a “military operation.” Officially, as amazing as this may sound, the events in Gaza are not referred to as “war” or even a “military campaign.”
In Jerusalem’s view, this is no more than a military operation. The same happened in the previous war, when the Prime Minister’s Office debated how to refer to it. This was one of the reasons for the Israeli hesitation, which from an historical perspective meant the failure of the Lebanon campaign.
The concern now is that in Gaza too, the political leadership’s debate regarding the definition of the operation as a war could serve as an indicator for Israeli indecisiveness. This debate may convey a vague message to IDF officials. In practice, as we learned in Lebanon, when the army is unsure whether it is engaged in war, the results could be painful. Moreover, hesitating in characterizing “Cast Lead” as a war may prevent us from securing our national objective – delivering a harsh blow against Hamas to the point of changing the equation whereby this terror regime indiscriminately fires missiles at innocent Israeli civilians.
A historical review shows us that major wars in Israel’s history lasted only a few days on some occasions. The clearest examples are the Six-Day War in 1967 and the Sinai War in 1956, which lasted eight days. The Yom Kippur War’s length was in the medium range (19 days,) the Second Lebanon War was a little longer (34 days,) and the War of Independence lasted 22 months overall.
There is no doubt that a cumulative count shows that the First Lebanon War was the longest in Israel’s history. The first stage took 57 days overall, yet in practice, the war’s second phase last about three years, until June 1985 when Israel withdrew to the security zone. In essence, the First Lebanon War lasted 18 years, until the final withdrawal on May 24, 2000.
The current statistical summary of “Cast Lead” shows that the political leadership would do well to discuss defining the operation as a war at this time already: So far, the Air Force struck about 700 targets, with Israeli aircraft dropping hundreds of tons of bombs and firing scores of missiles at Gaza targets. Gunships accumulated dozens of hours in the air, patrolling and hunting rocket and mortar cells. About 9,100 reserve soldiers were called up for service, and a large ground force that includes two infantry divisions – the paratroops and Golani – as well armored corps, artillery, and engineering forces is currently waiting around Gaza’s borders.
Meanwhile, more than 300 rockets and a similar number of mortar shells were fired at Israel’s civilian population. The Palestinians say that about 400 people were killed in aerial strikes, including at least 220 Hamas men identified by Israel. About one million southern residents face a direct threat of Palestinian rockets, 200,000 students are not going to school, the cabinet and especially Olmert, Livni and Barak are determined to continue the military activity in Gaza, and as of now, there is no relevant diplomatic initiative that would put an end to the fighting in the coming days.
Now is the time for the Israeli government to take a decision and officially designate the military operation in Gaza the way it should be defined: War. Not much can be done about it – at this time, Gaza is Israel’s eighth official war.