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Israel is all tactics and no strategy

If there were any lingering doubt that peace between Israelis and the Palestinians is not in the offing in 2009, the recent eruption of war in Gaza has finally erased it. A lot has already been said about the fighting, and it’s all very predictable. Israel’s usual critics are critical of the operation; Israel’s usual ...

If there were any lingering doubt that peace between Israelis and the Palestinians is not in the offing in 2009, the recent eruption of war in Gaza has finally erased it.

A lot has already been said about the fighting, and it’s all very predictable. Israel’s usual critics are critical of the operation; Israel’s usual defenders in favor. Dust off the commentary from any number of depressingly similar situations over the past few decades, change the date and the particulars of today’s situation, cut, paste and you have yourself yet another debate over who the real terrorists are, who started the fighting, and what constitutes a "proportionate" response to assymetrical warfare.

Frankly, I’m not interested in all that.

One thing I’m struck by is just how little the Israeli government seems to have thought things through. Yes, we know that plans were in the works for something like six months. Yes, Hamas was clearly surprised on a tactical level, but the group must have been expecting to be hit sooner or later.

But what is the exit plan here? Pound Hamas until they cry uncle? And why would Israel be willing to trade some temporary advantages in Gaza for a number of strategic setbacks: the effective end of the Annapolis process, a possible collapse of the peace track with Syria, worldwide opprobrium, a reinvigorated radical camp in Iran, the further undermining of pro-Western regimes in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and a Hamas that may in fact emerge stronger vis-à-vis the ever-shrinking Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah faction?

Yes, as U.S. President-elect Barack Obama put it last summer during a visit to rocket-plagued Sderot, "If someone was sending rockets on my house where my daughters were sleeping at night, I would do everything to stop it, and I would expect Israelis to do the same thing." But how you choose to stop the rockets matters a great deal. Revenge is not a strategy for national success.

I watched Tzipi Livni, the Israeli foreign minister, explain to David Gregory on Meet the Press right after the operation began that its goal was not to achieve some kind of objective for Israel, but simply to send a message that Hamas’s rocket attacks won’t go unanswered.

Here’s the exchange:

MR. GREGORY: What is Israel’s goal right now? Is it to re-establish the cease-fire, or is it to invade Gaza and remove Hamas from power?

MS. LIVNI: Our goal is not to reoccupy Gaza Strip. We left Gaza Strip. We took off for the south. We dismantled all the settlements. But since Gaza Strip has been controlled by the extremists and since Gaza Strip has been controlled by Hamas and since Hamas is using Gaza Strip in order to target us, we need to give an answer to this.

MR. GREGORY: Foreign Minister, aren’t you making the case for pushing Hamas from power? The cease-fire, according to Israel, simply hasn’t worked. It hasn’t stopped the bombing of Sderot and Israel in the southern areas. So only the replacement of Hamas by Fatah, by more moderate leaders, appears to be the only answer.

MS. LIVNI: The goal is to give an answer to our citizens, to give them the possibility to live in peace like any other citizen in the world, and Hamas needs to understand it.

Or, as TNR’s Marty Peretz put it, the message was nothing more sophisticated than, "Do not fuck with the Jews."

Watch Livni here:

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