December 30, 2008
Why Israel must take advantage of this historic opportunity to put Hamas out of business
Dear Friend of FLAME:
Israel's forceful, if belated response to more than 6,000 Hamas rocket attacks on its civilians over the last three years should be cheered by every nation. Good news: One by one, we're seeing support seeping at least from some of them. Because make no mistake, Hamas's unremitting attacks are not just a life-threatening encroachment on Israel's sovereignty. Hamas represents the global Islamic jihad---what Hamas wants to do to Israel is what all jihadis want to do the U.S., Europe and every Arab and Muslim state: Take it over and impose fundamentalist Islamic rule.
No wonder Egypt and Saudi Arabia have found it in their best interests to condemn Hamas for its recalcitrance in refusing to agree to a ceasefire. The last thing these "moderate" Arab states want is an ascendant Islamic terrorist neighbor. Iran is plenty bad enough for them. What's more gratifying is the public support Israel's incursion into Gaza has received from the Prime Minister of Denmark, the general manager of al-Arabiya television, the Czech foreign minister, German PM Angela Merkel, U.S. president George Bush and even California Governor Arnold Schwartzenegger.
Now that Israeli troops are on the ground in Gaza, it's our job to keep that momentum flowing in support of Israel. You can be sure that the more effective Israel is in incapacitating Hamas, the louder will be the protests from leftists in world capitals. I predicted this in last week's Hotline, and you've no doubt already seen op-eds in your local newspapers condemning Israel for a "disproportionate use of force." Of course the Arab "street" is in a veritable frenzy because Israel has finally decided to protect its citizens.
Let me ask you this: In the face of someone obsessed with trying to kill you, how can any response be disproportionate? After all, the U.S. flattened the cities of Dresden and Hiroshima in response to German and Japanese aggression. (We can only hope that type of action won't be necessary in Gaza before Hamas gets the message.)
With an outspokenly supportive U.S. president still in office and rational voices around the world beginning to appreciate Israel's plight and the virtue of its response, now is the time to put Hamas out of business. As David Hornik's article below attests, the time is ripe for Israel to proceed aggressively to achieve a definitive result. While Israel claims publicly to wish only to stop Hamas rocket fire, today's news reports indicate that Hamas's command and control structure has been so seriously damaged as to be dysfunctional, at least temporarily.
We can only hope that Israeli soldiers succeed in so seriously damaging Hamas that it loses credibility and capability as a governing organization among Gaza's citizens. This is not the time to make the same mistake with Hamas that Israel made with Hizbollah. I encourage you to vocally support Israel's bold and courageous actions---among your friends and colleagues and in letters to the editor. David Hornik's excellent article, "Hamas in the Crosshairs," will inform and fortify your position.
in the Crosshairs
On Saturday, Israel began its much-anticipated ground offensive in Gaza amid a climate of uncertainty. By Sunday afternoon, less than 24 hours into the invasion, there was evidence that the mission was succeeding.
Two of Israel's intelligence chiefs gave upbeat assessments of the general situation. Amos Yadlin, the head of Israel's military intelligence, said that "Hundreds of terrorists have been killed and weapons and ammunition stocks have been destroyed." Moreover, according to Yadlin, "the Hamas government isn't functioning."
Yuval Diskin, the head of the General Security Service, was also upbeat. He told the Israeli cabinet that Hamas was nearing the point of suing for a ceasefire as a result of Israel's military pressure. "A real threat exists today against the Hamas enterprise in the Gaza Strip," Diskin said. "The [Hamas] leaderships in Gaza and abroad feel an existential threat."
There's no question that Israel's war effort so far looks much better than the one against Hezbollah in the summer of 2006. The one-week bombing campaign that preceded this weekend's ground invasion was carried out without grandiose claims that Hamas had been smashed. It was well-calibrated, effective, and diverse, targeting everything from smuggling tunnels and munitions stocks, to government buildings and top Hamas leaders.
Israel has also benefited from much-improved military leadership. In 2006, then-Defense Minister Amir Peretz – a small-time, far-Left union boss – proved grossly inadequate to the task of directing Israel's armed forces. At the military helm this time is Peretz's far more suitable replacement, Defense Minister Ehud Barak. A decorated soldier, Barak now has a chance to atone for the severe blunders he made as prime minister back in 1999-2001, when he unwisely ordered the withdrawal from Lebanon and then involved Israel in the destined-to-fail summit with Yasir Arafat at Camp David.
The early successes of Israel's current offensive are a testament to its new and improved military strategy and leadership. For instance, the ground invasion began with impressive coordination between infantry, artillery, tank, air, and naval forces, reflecting careful planning and solid intelligence on the crowded, difficult Gazan terrain. By Sunday evening IDF forces had cut off northern Gaza from the south. Israeli naval craft had also reportedly brought forces to the strategic Philadelphia Corridor between Gaza and Sinai, where Israeli warplanes have already destroyed dozens of smuggling tunnels but many still remain.
In contrast to the Lebanon war, now widely judged a strategic debacle, Israel's aims in the current offensive are specifically defined. These include taking control of rocket-launching sites in the north of Gaza and isolating Gaza City, where most of Hamas's top leadership is believed to be hiding among a population of 800,000.
One reason Israel tried to put off the ground invasion is that it entails casualties. On Sunday, Israel suffered its first military fatality of the war when Staff Sergeant Dvir Emanuelof, 22, died of wounds sustained in a mortar shell attack earlier in the day that injured 28 other soldiers, one of them critically. But it is Hamas that has paid the higher price. Dozens of Hamas terrorists were reported killed in the day's fighting. The loss of young soldiers in the battle against terror is a recurrent Israeli tragedy, but high morale among the troops belies claims that the IDF's prestige had sagged since the failed 2006 war.
Despite the difficult urban combat that likely lies ahead, particularly in Gaza City, the military picture warrants cautious optimism. However, political clouds still hang over the Israeli military response. On Sunday, the Israeli government announced that it had no intention to reoccupy Gaza, a statement that seemed aimed at appeasing critical international opinion. Left unanswered, though, is the question of what, absent a renewed IDF presence in at least northern Gaza and the Philadelphi Corridor, is supposed to prevent Gaza—with or without Hamas at the helm—from rearming and resuming its aggression.
Political—rather than military—objectives also seem to inform the rushed timeline for the Gaza offensive. In what sounds ominously like a replay of the summer of 2006, even the most optimistic Israeli assessments give the ground invasion a maximum of two weeks to accomplish its objectives before the next U.S. president, Barack Obama, takes office. More pessimistic assessments speak of far less—a few more days—before international political pressures get overwhelming. The Israeli army's determined effort to eliminate the terrorist threat in Gaza deserves better than these artificial deadlines.
Equally misguided is talk in American and Israeli quarters of international monitors or, worse yet, of replacing Hamas with Fatah—an organization that shares Hamas's goal of destroying Israel. Such proposals bespeak an ongoing refusal to learn lessons about the abject impotence of such monitors (the Philadelphi Corridor from 2005 to 2007; southern Lebanon since 2006) or the depth of Palestinian enmity to Israel after fifteen years of disastrously failed efforts at peacemaking.
Despite the Israeli invasion, Hamas was still able to fire another 45 rockets and mortars at beleaguered southern Israel on Sunday, taking a toll in injuries and shock victims. For those willing to see, the costs of failure in Gaza are tragically apparent.
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