“Are we gonna die son?” – Homer Simpson
“Yeah. But at least we’ll take a lot of innocent people with us.” – Bart Simpson
Congratulations to the government of Israel! In exchange for three weeks of bombing and a half assed invasion of Gaza you stopped ineffectual rocket fire for two whole weeks. That is a victory worthy of commemoration in the annals of Israeli military history; David Ben-Gurion, Moshe Dayan and Yitzhak Rabin would certainly be proud.
Of course, in exchange for your fortnight you had to piss off pretty much the entire planet, but hey, it was a great two weeks, wasn’t it? Hamas, by the way, is still in power in Gaza (and by all accounts getting things right back to where they were). The man you’d rather be dealing with, Mahmoud Abbas, has again been humiliated in front of his own people for his utter ineffectualness. And the Prime Minister of Turkey, which was once your best friend in the region, stormed off the stage in Davos rather than put up with your side of the story. If this is what victory in Gaza looks like, another one may ruin you.
Of course, it gets worse from here because long before Gaza runs out of rockets or civilians you’re going to run out of friends overseas (even here in the States). In the last six weeks you’ve managed to do something that all of your enemies failed to do in the last six decades: prove to the world that the Israeli military cannot protect its people. The rockets will fly no matter how many tunnels you bomb or people you kill, and all the while the rest of the world is becoming less and less interested in who really started it.
Where can you go from here? Truthfully, nobody knows. Obviously much depends on the results of your election next week, but whoever is calling the shots isn’t going to have any attractive options. You can continue to starve and bomb the Palestinians in Gaza, that certainly has its appeal, but it isn’t going to stop the rockets even if you continue to inflict casualties at a 100-1 ratio. You could lift the blockade on Gaza, but that’s going make Hamas the cock of the walk and even then the rockets might still fly (on orders from Hamas or from other groups). You could go back to war or even reoccupy Gaza, and while that might have the most immediate impact on the rate of rocket fire it probably won’t eliminate it and it would cost you dearly in terms of soldiers killed and wounded as well as international respect (what little you have left). In other words: you’re fucked. All three of your options (abandoning force as a tool in dealing with Hamas, continuing along as before, increasing your use of force) are unpalatable and none of them is certain to cease the rocket attacks which, until you made them a casus belli, weren’t all that harmful in the grand scheme of things.
Land for peace is still the only path to remaining a Jewish state in an Arab sea, but you’ve been running away from it headlong for almost a decade in pursuit of shorter term gains. You are strong enough (diplomatically, militarily, economically and politically) to keep it up for years to come, but it won’t end well for you, even if it takes decades. And let’s not forget, two years ago Jimmy Carter was more or less pilloried for using the word “apartheid” in reference to Israel; now that word pops up more and more often.
Of the three people most likely to become Israel’s next Prime Minister, two of them, Ehud Barack (Defense Minister) and Tzipi Livni (Foreign Minister) are currently in government and are responsible for the utterly predictable fiasco in Gaza. (That they were willing to undertake a course of action with an outcome as unpredictable as war just weeks before the election doesn’t speak well of their judgment either.) The third, Benjamin Netanyahu, thinks it wasn’t enough of fiasco already and would like to continue it. Good luck with them.
No one knows whether or not it’s already too late to save Israel; changing course right now may or may not result in a happy outcome, but the long term prospects look worse than they have for a long time and none of the three prospective Prime Ministers should fill anyone with confidence. Hey, at least it was a fun little war. Oh, wait, scratch that:
What is far less clear is that Israel’s tactical successes achieved significant strategic and grand strategic benefits. In practice, any such benefits may actually have been more than offset by the mid and long-term strategic costs of the operation in terms of Arab and other regional reactions. Such conclusions are necessarily uncertain, but Israel does not seem to have been properly prepared for the political dimensions of war, or to have had any clear plan and cohesive leadership in achieving conflict termination. Moreover, it may have approach Hamas and the Arab world with attitudes that will increase instability in the region and ultimately weaken Israel’s security.