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Hamas and Israel: Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off

So, Hamas has decided that a few months’ respite from resistance was too great a betrayal of the cause, and has decided to end its cease-fire with Israel. Fusillades of rockets are falling once again on southern Israel. What should … Read More

By / December 22, 2008

So, Hamas has decided that a few months’ respite from resistance was too great a betrayal of the cause, and has decided to end its cease-fire with Israel. Fusillades of rockets are falling once again on southern Israel. What should Israel do? For starters, Egypt, which has been almost completely ineffective as a mediator between Israel and Hamas, should be ignored. Egypt’s priority throughout the crisis has been to insulate itself from the chaos emanating from Gaza. The Mubarak regime is weak and its competence limited; it asks Hamas to stop firing rockets, but demands that Israel not respond to such provocations. Egypt prefers quiet but will settle for low-level conflict — anything to keep the Gaza cauldron from spilling into its territory or inciting its own radicals. Israel is in a different kind of predicament. Invading Gaza and sending the Hamas leadership to the grave, along with many of the group’s fighters, is perfectly warranted — but such a strategy contains serious downside risks. The Fatah party is too weak, incompetent, and estranged from Gaza to replace a toppled Hamas regime. This effectively leaves Israel without an exit strategy. And should Israel invade, the "international community" would descend into hysterics almost as fast as Khaled Mashaal can denounce the Zionist devils. A major military operation would be met with shrill media condemnations and allegations of civilian massacres not seen since the Hezbollah war in 2006, and right now the Olmert government is not strong or popular enough to weather such a storm. The Palestinians learned a valuable lesson in 2002 when for a few weeks they convinced the world that Israel had perpetrated the mass-murder of civilians in Jenin: next time, produce some bodies. Hamas will make sure that any Israeli incursion is accompanied by as many dead civilians (preferably children) as possible. Already, Hamas has been documented using kids to retrieve rocket launchers off the battlefield, hoping that they will be cut down by Israeli return fire. Nobody wants to instigate what will undoubtedly be a series of international crises two months before a national election. Which brings up the electoral dynamic. The outgoing Olmert government is focused on the easy pursuit of largely meaningless peace negotiations with Syria. The minister of defense, Ehud Barak, is attempting (however implausibly) to become Prime Minister, and does not want his electoral fortunes to be afflicted by a military operation that will be a going concern on election day. And none of the contenders — Barak, Livni, and Bibi — wish to make promises about Gaza that will be attacked by their rivals, and which they might have to either keep or abandon later. There is a policy that Israel should pursue in the interim, however: targeted killings of Hamas leaders. For one, the leadership deserves to die far more than do the brainwashed teenaged minions sent into battle on their behalf. Targeted killings keep the IDF off the battlefield in Gaza, reducing the likelihood fabricated massacre claims. And most importantly, targeted killings strike Hamas at their most vulnerable point: the leadership wishes to protect its rule over the mini-Iran that it has established on the Mediterranean. The IDF could establish meaningful short-term deterrence by killing as many Hamas leaders and commanders as possible, and make the group fear for its existence. It wouldn’t be such a bad idea to kill Khaled Mashaal in Damascus as well. Targeted killings are both the most morally defensible way to wage war, and among a host of bad options, will probably be the most successful.

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