Part 1 of analysis
Hamas knows that it is about to be hit, but the group believes that it will be a “proportional” blow, and that the international constraints faced by Israel would force it to maintain fair play and operate for a limited time only.
A proportional blow could be some kind of aerial assault, for example, or a series of such strikes, coupled with plenty of hysterical media coverage on both sides of the border. Hamas already knows that under such circumstances, it would be a matter of a day or two – or at most a week – before the photos of casualties in Gaza’s collapsing hospitals – which would be lacking electricity, water, or medical equipment – would end the Israeli move very quickly.
At that point, Israel would regain its senses: Israeli public opinion would calm down, the army would regain some of its lost dignity, and Hamas heads will come out of their hideouts and continue to waste time in negotiations about the opening of the Gaza crossings, via Egyptian mediation, as we’ve been doing for a while. Until the next round.
If our cabinet decided to meet Hamas’ expectations Wednesday and chose a “proportional” military operation in order to etch in the organization’s consciousness – via aerial and pyrotechnical effects – the forgotten sense of defeat, we should not embark on such operation to begin with. Instead, cabinet members can just read the Winograd report again.
Any Israeli military operation that the cabinet voted on Wednesday, in whatever form it takes, cannot focus on the ousting of Hamas’ regime in the Gaza Strip. It isn’t realistic. Any operation presented to the cabinet apparently does not include the objective of taking over the Gaza Strip. This would likely be the last resort, at the height of any future escalation.
At this time, the objective of an Israeli military operation in Gaza must be to undermine Hamas’ desire to keep fighting, and at that point agree on a ceasefire.
If the IDF chief of staff constantly demands that the political leadership formulate clear objectives for a Gaza Strip operation – also known as an exit strategy – this needs to be the goal. The realistic objective of any military operation is not the ousting of Hamas, but rather, the possibility of undermining its military effectiveness and weakening its regime.
Such operation must end with a truce based on terms Israel can live with.
Part 2 of analysis by Alex Fishman to be published Friday