Imagine that at the outbreak of World War II RAF bombers had managed to bomb Berlin by surprise and inflict enormous material damage, but had deliberately refused to hit sites that housed top Nazi brass. Imagine that only after several days of bombing, the British finally attacked the German headquarters, after warning of the impending attack.
How would the British public have reacted?
How would it have reacted if its government willfully missed the chance to kill many Nazi leaders? Would it have accepted the explanation that every leader can be replaced, that one must warn enemy leaders of a planned attack to prevent hitting innocent neighbors? Wouldn't the killing of many Nazi leaders shorten the war, it would probably ask. Is it not moral to save hundreds of thousands of lives and prevent the terrible suffering of a prolonged war even if this requires hurting some innocent civilians?
Such questions were not raised in Israel. Only after three days of bombing did the IAF finally bomb Hamas headquarters, and it took 16 days before it bombed the residence of Hamas's top commander. This country did not exploit the surprise it achieved to kill as many top Hamas commanders as possible (just as in the past it has neglected to do so) - even though this would have most likely led to the collapse of its war machine and shortened the war.
Exploiting the surprise of the attack to the fullest would have also made unnecessary the land incursion and the many casualties it involves. Hamas could be destroyed as an effective war machine by simply killing or chasing away, in short order, many of those who operate its war machine. When we forgo such effective action, we are forced to take other, less effective actions, such as massive closures and bombardments and prolonged land incursions. These cause much greater humanitarian damage without securing victory.
SO WHY is our government so reluctant to win? Some claim that politicians become more risk averse on the eve of elections. Others blame sharp internal divisions, confusion and lack of determination that inflict the unholy trinity governing the country. Still others claim that leaders who believe that "peace must be made with enemies" make sure they survive so as to have "partners" for a deal after "teaching them a lesson." Finally there are those who claim that a crushing victory will be a great embarrassment to our leaders. "If victory was possible," the public will say, "why did you wait almost eight years before liberating us from Hamas's terror?"
There is a kernel of truth in these explanations. But every terrible mess in Israel originates in "a conception." Against all historical evidence, and against common sense, most leaders, egged on by the media, have sold themselves on the conception that "there are no wars in existence anymore that can be won like the wars of yore" (as stated by a headline to a special Ma'ariv supplement "Not By Force" preaching against seeking victory); in other words that "terror cannot be vanquished by force."
This is nonsense, of course. Almost every terrorist movement was vanquished by force, from the 11th century Assassins to the 1936 Arab Revolt, from the post World War II communist insurrections in Greece or Malaya to terrors groups in Italy, Germany, Japan, etc.
It is also absurd to claim that the IDF, which is supposed to fight several Arab armies simultaneously, cannot vanquish a ragtag guerrilla force of 20,000 fighters lacking armor or airpower. The IDF cannot win only if - like in Lebanon - it fights without a clear plan for victory and under a leadership that does not enable it to win.
The goal of the "plan" annunciated by the Olmert-Barak-Livni government is "to stop the firing of Kassams from Gaza and to stop the smuggling of war materiel into it" (not, God forbid, to win a decisive victory over Hamas). It is based on relying on the Egyptians to stop the huge volume of arms smuggled from the Sinai into Gaza.
IT SEEMS likely that Egypt does not want an Iranian- controlled Hamas, and that it therefore welcomed Israel's beating Hamas enough to make it seek Egyptian protection again. But Egypt will do all it can to prevent us from finally vanquishing Hamas. Since Egypt has realized that its chances of beating us by direct military confrontation are not great, it has used Hamas for a proxy war of attrition, as the Syrians do with Hizbullah. Egypt hopes to gradually bleed us to death and then get rid of us when an opportunity arises.
This is why Egypt resisted all efforts to make it stop the massive arming of Hamas (does anyone still believe that moving thousands of tons of war material and digging hundreds of smuggling tunnels could take place without Egyptian cooperation?) and this is why it will rehabilitate Hamas once Israel accepts a truce, so that Hamas will be able to resume bleeding us, albeit more cautiously.
Since our war against Hamas - an Iranian proxy - is part of the worldwide war against terror, our failure to vanquish Hamas will also have grave repercussions for the stability of Egypt and Jordan, besides negatively affecting our deterrent capacity and international standing.
The upshot is that if you do not seek victory in war you become the loser, even if the spin doctors convince you, like they did during the Lebanon war, that defeat is actually victory.
Gerardo Joffe, President