The Israeli public deserves a clear answer from its leaders to one fundamental question: What’s the objective Israel aspires to achieve in the current Gaza Strip confrontation? Only after we have an answer we can create a strategy, argue over tactics, and hold discussions in the cabinet and with other bodies.
We need to understand why we are shooting, how much we are shooting, and who are we shooting at.
In recent days, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has been boasting of his “cautious” and “calculated” management of the conflict in Gaza. His associates say this is the ultimate proof that the lessons of the Second Lebanon war have been internalized. However, in some respects, the management of the war in the summer of 2006, as failed as it was, was still better than the current escalation.
Before the Olmert government embarked on the war in Lebanon it presented targets – perhaps they were pretensions, unfounded, and unwise – but still, we had targets. What is our current target?
Not that there aren’t some similarities to the fresh trauma of the Lebanon war. While the public is engaged in a virtual discussion on whether to embark on a ground incursion into the Strip, the forces are already operating there on the ground. They do it in the same way it was done in the first weeks of the war in Lebanon – only “a few kilometers deep” or through “local operations” for the purpose of “preventing rocket attacks,” but it doesn’t matter.
The presence creates friction, friction leads to escalation, the response of one side necessitates a response by the other side, and again we have Israel’s foreign and defense policy entrusted in the hands of a few division and brigade commanders. However, even military leaders are taught to “cling to the mission in light of the target.” Well, what’s the target?
Collective maturation needed?
When Hamas was almost down to its knees last month, pleading for a ceasefire, defense officials convinced us this was precisely the time to continue hitting it, and as usual they explained that calm would provide the group with precious time to prepare and arm itself for conflict.
This is of course a perpetual winning argument, yet the time has come to present a question to counter it: What is the objective of the war, and what will be considered victory?
If we are talking about putting an end to Qassam rocket attacks, then the current escalation only boosted the launching rate exponentially. Assuming that Israel is not fantasizing about yet another round of “etching their consciousness,” whereby Mahmoud al-Zahar and his comrades will convert to Judaism and proceed to chew olive branches, perhaps the time has come for collective maturation, even if this is a painful process.
One cannot kill 18 Gazans in air strikes and then express stunned lamentations after Hamas renews its impressive launching capability. One cannot move troops and embark on operations in the morning, and then express “serious concerns over the Gilad Shalit deal” at night. A sovereign government must be able to identify connection between reasons and causes, means and targets - unless it was officially decided to hand over the management of the country to talkback writers.