Sunday, January 11, 2009

If Hamas survives, Israel has lost

To adapt an old joke about lawyers:

Q: What do you call 300 killed Hamas "operatives"?

A: A drop in the bucket.

With all due gratitude and admiration for the IDF, it's becoming increasingly clear that the current operation is running out of steam. If it ends now without advancing to the next stage - apparently entry into urban areas, with all the risk that entails - it will have failed to achieve any long-term goals.

Killing hundreds of Hamas terrorists, including a handful of senior officers, is welcome. So is destroying tunnels, blowing up offices and command centers, and just plain frightening them into thinking hard before assaulting us in the future.

(Though I wonder if those 300 include the Hamas police cadets killed at their graduation on the first day of the airstrikes? And if the total death toll is over 600, who were the rest of them - we've been told the vast majority of the dead have been combatants?)

But as long as Hamas leaders continue to issue threats and set conditions for a truce, they have not been defeated. And unlike Hizbullah, which is a Lebanese political party and bears some public responsibility for bringing down Israeli wrath on Beirut, Hamas is itself the government in Gaza and faces no apparent public pressure to desist, to say the least.

No, the only way to deter Hamas is to depose them. Whether that means wreaking such havoc on its ranks that there's no Hamas left to govern, or moving in and occupying their seats of power, is secondary. If this campaign ends with Hamas in charge of Gaza it's hard to see how it will be considered a success.

I don't see Hamas budging from its positions as long as it still breathes. If we're afraid to remove them from power for fear of what comes next, then they hold the winning hand in any confrontation with Israel. The only conceivably effective deterrence against a militantly ideological terrorist enemy is to demonstrate that if they attack us they won't survive to tell the tale. Not as individuals, but as a movement.

We're presented with nightmare scenarios of "Somalia in Gaza", a chaos of warring factions with no central government or effective regime. This would be less than ideal, no doubt. But it takes an effective central administration to gather international funds, import heavy weaponry, organize a military, launch an information effort. Gaza has countless long-range rockets because it has an effective central regime - one hostile to Israel and devoted to fighting us. A chaos of warring factions would not yield security for Israel, but it would be a far less potent threat.

Fear of "what if" must not deter us from fighting "what is". Whatever that demands.

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