Now or later

If Israel relaunches its invasion of Gaza, no one should blame it. A country must do everything it can to protect its citizens from constant attack. I know it’s been said, but it bears repeating: No other country in the world would countenance even a single missile crossing its borders and landing on its citizens. Much less 7,000 missiles.

Last week the Israeli Consulate held a concert in Los Angeles to raise money and awareness for the victims of the barrage. As I sat in the auditorium I thought of an even better way to get people to understand: Explode a single Qassam missile somewhere in Los Angeles sometime during the day, with the press watching and the cameras rolling. That’s at least 20 pounds of explosives going off somewhere, anywhere, as people go about their day, as kids play in schoolyards. Then pose a question to the viewers of that evening’s news: How would they like 50 of those falling from the sky every day? And what would they expect their government to do about it?

But the fact that Israel didn’t continue its ground and air counterattack in Gaza this past week underscores the tough choices it faces.

“It’s very easy to go in, but very hard to get out,” David Kimche, the former Israeli intelligence officer, diplomat and writer, told me in a phone interview Monday that was arranged through the Israel Policy Forum. There would be many Israeli and Palestinian casualties, he said, it would spell the end of the Annapolis, and there is every reason to believe that as soon as Israeli forces did pull out, the rocket fire would resume.

In fact, said Kimche, the death and destruction a military action would wreak on Gaza would only strengthen Hamas. The organization grows in stature among Palestinians for facing the Israelis, the dead become martyrs, and the Iranian puppetmasters, who thrive on Middle East chaos, just pump more money into the organization.

Kimche pointed to a recent Ha’aretz poll that showed 63 percent of Israelis are willing to speak to Hamas in order to secure a cease-fire. Again, this is not a simple solution. On the one hand, it would put an end to the rockets; Kimche pointed out that Hamas has a good record on maintaining truces. It has broken them in the past only after Israel initiated military actions in the West Bank, according to Kimche.

“Hamas kept them way better than we did,” he said.

A truce would also allow the Annapolis talks to go forward and perhaps bring an international force into Gaza to quell the violence.

The downside of this strategy is that it would strengthen Hamas, weaken Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas — if it were possible to weaken him more — enable Hamas to build up better stores of missiles and give the impression of a Hamas victory.

Kimche proposed three-way talks between Israel, Abbas and Hamas, perhaps with Egypt involved.

“We should be talking to them, but with conditions that it’s a threesome,” Kimche said.

As he was talking, a report came from the Israeli news that Abbas had agreed to talks with Hamas — making me think Kimche is either prescient or still very well connected.

Hamas is “desperate” for a cease-fire, Kimche said, as the Gazans are increasingly hemmed in and unhappy. But as he and others point out, Israel can’t have any illusions about how much progress it can expect from Hamas.

“What they write about Jews could have been taken right out of Mein Kampf,” he said. “It will be a long, long time before they loosen up.”

Political analyst Gidi Grinstein of the Reut Institute has long argued that Hamas seeks the destruction of Israel through endless military conflict or demographic “implosion.” Israel’s best option then is to strengthen those within Hamas “who promote a long-term interim arrangement with Israel.” By doing this, Israel strengthens those Palestinian voices that favor historic compromise.

Kimche seems to concur.

“If we do have a cease-fire it would be kept, and that will enable us to go forward with Annapolis,” he said. “Annapolis will strengthen [Abbas] very, very much. But there’s not a chance in heaven of reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians if you don’t include Hamas.”

But, I asked Kimche, what if the next Hamas missile lands on a kindergarten or a school bus — won’t Israel have to go in?

“Yes,” he said. “Then all bets are off. In a way we’re living on miracles.”

I’m praying for those miracles, and for one other: that if Israel goes in, the world will understand.

If the past decades have taught the world anything, it’s that Israel is the lab where terror is refined for export. Hijackings and suicide bombings were perfected there and made their way to England, Europe and the rest of the Middle East. If the world doesn’t stand up to cheap, stealth rocket attacks on civilians in Sderot and Ashkelon, you can bet they’ll be landing on heads from Baghdad to Europe soon enough.

The time for the world to stand up against suicide attacks was in 1972 in Lod Airport in Tel Aviv, when terrorists used grenades and machine guns to kill 26 tourists. But the world thought it was just Israel’s problem. Since the 1980s, the number of suicide attacks has gone from an average of 4.7 per year to 180 per year, with 460 in 2005. If terrorists see that rockets “work” in Israel, it won’t be long until they expand the franchise.

You can alert people to what it’s like to be an Israeli in Sderot by holding concerts or even exploding dummy rockets, but nothing will compare to the real thing.