So what if political considerations had an impact on the Gaza operation?
Nine months ago, I posted a short article entitled “Four short questions about Gaza”. It begins thus:
Is there a better option for Israel than the one it is using now – namely, to defend Israel’s citizens with the Iron Dome system (quite successfully), shoot suspected terrorists, and work through third parties (Egypt, Europe) to end yet another cycle of violence with yet another fragile cease-fire?
Not much has changed since I wrote this, but more time has elapsed in which Hamas has shown little tendency for restraint. The vicious cycle of violence is never static – now it is on the ascent, and we hope that after reaching a certain crescendo it will go down. The only question of course is how many people – Israelis and Palestinians – must get hurt before the violence subsides. With that in mind, I’ll comment on some of the common reactions to the Israeli operation.
1. Israel has no strategy, it is all tactical
I heard this one from Fareed Zakaria, whom – as you might know – I’ve criticized more than once in the past. Zakaria, appearing on Anderson Cooper’s CNN show Wed. evening, gave Israel a pass on justification, admitting that Hamas had provoked the Israeli counterattack (PBS coverage from an hour earlier was suspiciously vague in that regard, reporting “that it all began” with the Israeli assassination – choosing a point in time from which one might suspect that Israel launched this assassination without much reason).
But then Zakaria explained that the Israeli move is “tactical” and doesn’t provide for “strategic” solution for the Gaza problem. That is obviously true. Does he or anyone else have such a strategic solution to share with the viewers? We don’t know since Zakaria was never asked – but I suspect, until I get some proof to the contrary, that he doesn’t. Nor does anyone else. Gaza is a problem that cannot be solved at this time; it can only be “tactically” contained.
2. Israel killed the wrong man
Aluf Benn of Haaretz was one of a number of people saying that, “Ahmed Jabari was a subcontractor, in charge of maintaining Israel's security in Gaza”. Peace activist Gershon Baskin wrote yesterday that Israel’s “decision to kill Ahmed Jaabri was total insanity”. I don’t know if Jabari was the right target, or the best target, but I do know that in most cases when critics claim to know that the wrong target was chosen and killed, those critics tend not to offer an alternative.
In other words, those critics don’t have a problem with the killing of Jabari, they have a problem with Israel’s decision to kill any Hamas leader period. Of course, a case could be made against any such killings – maybe even a strong case based on moral, legal, tactical or other reasons. But it is best to be honest when about one's true feelings: It is about Jabari, it is about assassinations as a tool in Israel’s war against Hamas.
3. Netanyahu is doing it for electoral reasons
One must admit that the timing is suspicious. Previous rounds of fire from Gaza (such as the one that prompted the article to which I linked in the opening paragraph above) didn’t prompt such a severe response from Israel. So let’s consider the possibility that electoral considerations were also on the minds of decision makers as they opted to escalate Israel’s response – is that really bad? Consider the following:
A. The fire from Gaza was becoming intolerable.
B. The Israeli public was frustrated with Israel’s tame response.
C. When elections are looming, political leaders become more sensitive to public demands.
D. Making leaders sensitive to what the public wants is the reason why democracies have elections.
E. So in fact, when the Israeli government comes to understand that the public is tired of excuses – that more excuses with no action might have a political price, that elections will provide an opportunity for the public to express its unhappiness with timid policies, that elections are barely two months away – it is doing exactly what a government is supposed to do.
4. Stunning success
I had to read this article a couple of times to make sure it really says – as the headline says – that the IDF had “an initial stunning success” and then (in the article itself) that operation “Pillar of Defense, from a military perspective, has begun with a resounding success”. Lowering the bar on cases deserving excessive praise is one problem that Israel – and the IDF – should refrain from doing. Killing a Hamas leader is not such huge success, and not such great achievement. Not one deserving a description that befitting the Entebbe operation (the assassination “required both terrific intelligence work and incredibly fast cooperation”… “Such a strike requires enormous amounts of accurate intelligence, painstakingly assembled and verified”). While critics might be wrong to dismiss the operation for lack of “strategic” ability to end the Gaza problem once and for all, that is not reason enough to overhype it achievements.