In the Second Lebanon War, the Israeli government forgot to declare war. In the war of attrition vis-à-vis Gaza, the government has already forgotten how to fight.
It forgot that it has one supreme mission: Defending Israeli residents rather than trying to placate the Americans, Egyptians, and Europeans. Our political and military leadership invented a convenient excuse for not doing too much and called it “a window of opportunity.” The period between Passover and Bush’s visit, they said, is a very bad time for military moves that may ruin the celebration. That’s nonsense. The truth is they fear yet another military failure, lack of consensus, and commissions of inquiries. They recognize the need but easily give in to excuses. They’re watching their behinds.
So last night, tomorrow morning, or maybe in two days they will do something in order to placate public opinion. They will explain to us that it cannot go on, and that we won’t remain silent, that we’re on a collision course, that we’re reaching the moment of decision, and all the other clichés. Yet in a few days they will find another convenient excuse for restraint: Bush has left indeed, but we need to give the lull a chance, we must not undermine Egypt’s president, Lebanon is burning, etc. This is not how a state should be managed. It looks more like a political science seminar rather than a government that knows what it wants.
Gaza-region residents who decided to evacuate their children from the area are right. They lost their trust. And this is happening in the kibbutzim too, not only among what we refer to as “weak population groups.” On the other hand, we shouldn’t envy the military officers who are required to maintain a low profile in their operations around Gaza. They know well that this is not the way to deliver the goods.
They’re really not behaving, those Palestinians. They fail to understand that Israel’s policy of restraint was created in the framework of brainstorming, a brilliant diplomatic plan that is meant to lead the Middle East to a better future. They view the restraint as weakness and are conducting themselves accordingly.
Nothing new happened Wednesday evening in Ashkelon. An accurate Grad rocket attack is a matter of statistics. Rockets have been fired at Ashkelon for a while now, and it was only a question of time and luck until one of them hit a populated area. In addition, what looks like a decline in the Qassam fire on Gaza-region communities in fact makes no difference. For area residents, two Qassams a day constitute the same threat as 20 Qassams a day. For them, a one lethal Qassam is 100% damage.
Air Force should be operating across Gaza
So Defense Minister Ehud Barak decided to forego his dinner with Bush and instead embarked on a marathon of consultations. The army, as it turned out, has ideas about how to boost the level of responses without undermining the lull still being examined seriously by Israeli officials. Yet what the chief of staff should have done Wednesday night was not to only talk about targets, but rather, to talk about principles.
He should have told the defense minister: I request your approval for a move that does not necessarily come in response to one incident or another. We need to utilize military levers more aggressively and more effectively. We are not talking about all-out war or the reoccupation of Gaza. As of Wednesday night, the Air Force should have been operating across the Strip against known targets, without a time limit. It should have been operating in a way that Thursday, Nakba Day, nobody in Gaza would have dared be outside. Hamas government offices, positions, and warehouse should be flying in the air. Hamas leaders, instead of delivering speeches today, should fear for their lives.
At the same time, the defense minister should have already ordered the army to place two brigades on alert and deploy a serious force into rocket launching sites to scour the area and make arrests, with no time limit.
So indeed, they will be firing Qassams while the IDF operates in the Strip, but they’re firing right now as well. We must realize that Hamas asked for a ceasefire because it’s not doing well. Hamas’ political leadership in Gaza, as opposed to its military leadership, can read the mood on the Palestinian street. They estimate that the ongoing siege and military pressure will make the people infuriated with them, and they will be required to come up with different solutions in order to survive.
They are firing the rockets at us these days in order to press us to accept the lull on their terms. But they won’t be able to withstand ongoing military pressure. Under such circumstances, they would ask us for a lull on terms that are more convenient for Israel, including the release of Gilad Shalit. The Egyptians too will ultimately understand that such consistent move would only serve to advance the calm.