December 30, 2008

What doesn’t kill Hamas makes it stronger

By: David Donadio

Benny Morris writes as follows on Israel’s predicament:

To the north, the Lebanese fundamentalist organization Hezbollah, which also vows to destroy Israel and functions as an Iranian proxy, has thoroughly rearmed since its war with Israel in 2006. According to Israeli intelligence estimates, Hezbollah now has an arsenal of 30,000 to 40,000 Russian-made rockets, supplied by Syria and Iran — twice the number it possessed in 2006. Some of the rockets can reach Tel Aviv and Dimona, where Israel’s nuclear production facility is located. If there is war between Israel and Iran, Hezbollah can be expected to join in. (It may well join in the renewed Israeli-Palestinian conflict, too.)

To the south, Israel faces the Islamist Hamas movement, which controls the Gaza Strip and whose charter promises to destroy Israel and bring every inch of Palestine under Islamic rule and law. Hamas today has an army of thousands. It also has a large arsenal of rockets — home-made Qassams and Russian-made, Iranian-financed Katyushas and Grads smuggled, with the Egyptians largely turning a blind eye, through tunnels from Sinai. . . .

But the [Israeli] attack will not solve the basic problem posed by a Gaza Strip populated by 1.5 million impoverished, desperate Palestinians who are ruled by a fanatic regime and are tightly hemmed in by fences and by border crossings controlled by Israel and Egypt.

An enormous Israeli ground operation aimed at conquering the Gaza Strip and destroying Hamas would probably bog down in the alleyways of refugee camps before achieving its goal. (And even if these goals were somehow achieved, renewed and indefinite Israeli rule over Gaza would prove unpalatable to all concerned.)

More likely are small, limited armored incursions, intended to curtail missile launches and kill Hamas fighters. But these are also unlikely to bring the organization to heel — though they may exercise sufficient pressure eventually to achieve, with the mediation of Turkey or Egypt, a renewed temporary truce. That seems to be the most that can be hoped for, though a renewal of rocket attacks on southern Israel, once Hamas recovers, is as certain as day follows night.

In other words, as in 2006, things aren’t likely to be any better for Israel after this war than they were before it, because the military action has no clearly defined or attainable political objective. With a war of total annihilation followed by an untenable, open-ended occupation of Gaza off the table, Israel’s only long-term option is some sort of political solution, brokered with powers that can pressure Hamas to accept its terms. That’s not fair, it’s not fun, and it’s not pretty, but it’s probably the best Israel is going to get.

That’s where the bitching ends and the strategizing begins.

Addendum: I should mention that I disagree with Morris’ argument, but this is the evidence, as he presents it, and that’s where it leads.