Catching Up on Gaza
On Sunday, my pastor mentioned the new violence in Gaza. It surprised me, because I hadn't read any news reports all weekend long. I spent today getting caught up on the events. Here's what I found out: Israel attacked Hamas.
Israel launched Saturday morning the start of a massive offensive against Qassam rocket and mortar fire on its southern communities, targeting dozens of buildings belonging to the ruling Hamas militant group.
Palestinian medical sources said that at least 195 people had been killed in the strikes, which began with almost no warning at around 11:30 A.M.
Medical personnel in Gaza said that more than 200 people were also wounded in the series of Israel Air Force strikes. Egypt has opened its long-sealed border with Gaza to allow in the wounded for medical treatment. Hamas said that the attacks had caused widespread panic in the Strip.
The first wave of air strikes was launched by a 60 warplanes which hit a total of 50 targets in one fell swoop. The IAF deployed approximately 100 bombs, with an estimated 95 percent of the ordinance reaching its intended target. Most of the casualties were Hamas operatives.
Why? Well, Israel's getting tired of Hamas using them for rocket target practice:
"This operation will be extended and deepened as we find necessary. Our goal is to strike Hamas and stop the attacks on Israel. Hamas controls Gaza and is responsible for everything happening there and for all attacks carried out from within the Strip. The goals of this operation are to stop Hamas from attacking our citizens and soldiers. I would like to remind the world that Israel withdrew from the entire Gaza Strip more than three years ago. We gave a chance for a new reality, and all we’ve seen is Hamas firing rockets and missiles on our citizens and carrying out attacks against Israel. We have nothing against the citizens of Gaza, but we must fight against the Hamas leadership. We are making great efforts to prevent civilian casualties... We are not preventing humanitarian aid from entering the Gaza Strip."
But what does it all mean?
Noah Pollak talks about What's at Stake in Gaza
The war that Israel joined today is superficially concerned with stopping Hamas' rocket fire, but substantially it is much more important than that. It is Israel's biggest military engagement since the 2006 Hezbollah war, and therefore it will be a retroactive judgment on that engagement.
The 2006 war re-defined the concept of Arab victory against Israel. Hezbollah is perceived as having won not because it displayed military superiority over Israel, killed more IDF soldiers than the IDF killed Hezbollah, or drove the IDF out of Lebanon through force of arms. The perception is due to a more modest metric: Hezbollah’s ability to thwart Israel from accomplishing the objectives the government announced at the beginning of the war, and Hezbollah’s ability to maintain a consistent level of rocket fire throughout the war.
Israel's job is not necessarily to topple Hamas rule — that would be a tall order, being that there is no competent Fatah force to replace Hamas in Gaza -- but to humiliate the swaggering resistance, to kill as many of its leaders and militants as possible, and to demonstrate to Hamas' allies that the IDF and Israeli government learned the right lessons from the 2006 war. This will require more strikes like those of this morning, and it will require the IDF to stop Hamas' rocket fire -- either through military dominance, or by forcing Hamas to conclude that it must cease its attacks lest its rule be terminated. The former is much more likely than the latter.
Israel's response is destructive and asymmetric. That is the point. Israel is proving to Hamas that it is willing and able to mount a war, regardless of Arab and international opinion, if that is what Hamas desires. Hamas and Hezbollah taught Israelis that unilateral withdrawal from territory only prolongs the violence. If Israel's enemies are willing to use violence, Israel has no qualms about using violence. If, like Syria, Israel's enemies remain non-belligerent, those enemies can exist in perpetuity. In fact, Israel might even help its enemies achieve their goals, as it has done with the Syrian regime.
A critical re-think of the situation is imperative to end this cycle of violence. The state of Israel is predicated on survival, and it has powerful allies to assist it. The Palestinians need and deserve a state, but rejection of the state of Israel is not how that state and a future peace will occur.
International demonstrations on behalf of Palestinians or Israelis supporting human rights and rejecting violence are commendable as manifestations of humanitarian concern and expressions of free speech. However, ideologies and facts on the ground must change before a solution is found.
Michael B. Oren sees both A Crisis And An Opportunity
CNN International's coverage of yesterday's fighting in Gaza concluded at midnight with a rush of images: mangled civilians writhing in the rubble, primitive hospitals overflowing with the wounded, fireballs mushrooming between apartment complexes, the funeral of a Palestinian child. Missing from the montage, however, was even a fleeting glimpse of the tens of thousands of Israelis who spent last night and much of last week in bomb shelters; of the house in Netivot, where a man was killed by a Grad missile; or indeed any of the hundreds of rockets, mortar shells, and other projectiles fired by Hamas since the breakdown of the so-called ceasefire. This was CNN at its unprincipled worst, grossly skewering its coverage of a complex event and deceiving its viewers. Yet Israel should not have been surprised.
... Nevertheless, the current round of fighting provides Israel with an opportunity to end its painful chronicle of indecision on Gaza and to embark on a lucid and realizable policy. Can Israel co-exist with a Hamas-dominated Gaza? What are the alternatives (the reintroduction of Egyptian forces, for example) to a renewed Israeli occupation of the area? To what degree will the international community accept a zero-tolerance approach to rocket attacks against Israel, and, more crucially, will the incoming Obama administration publicly endorse that stance? These and other questions might be answered in the coming days if Israel, withstanding the media backlash, dares to ask them.
I've also been checking Israellycool for updates on the situation.