How will this round of bloodshed between Israel and Hamas end?
In 2006, at the heat of the Second Lebanon War, I briefly met Anthony Cordesman, one of the most respected military strategists in the world. Visiting Israel on behalf of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), he told me how unimpressed he had been with the performance of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in that war. I told him that it was too early to make a judgment. We agreed to disagree.
Cordesman went home and wrote a report, which later developed into a book, in which he concluded that Israel failed in its strategic goals in that war — crippling the Iranian influence in Lebanon, ending Hezbollah’s status as a “state within a state” and liberating two captured Israeli soldiers.
I went home too, and wrote an oped piece in which I said that, “We don’t have a Six-Day War here, with Arab armies entirely defeated in a matter of hours, or an Entebbe raid, where a problem is swiftly and neatly solved. Israel didn’t score a knockout, as its leaders rashly promised at the outset of the war, but it definitely won a victory by points.”
Excuse the immodesty, but I’m pretty happy with that article. Fifteen years have passed, and Israel has enjoyed unprecedented peace on its border with Lebanon. I predicted then that Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, despite all his bumptious rhetoric, will keep hiding in his shelter, which he did. Furthermore, he admitted that he had miscalculated when he provoked the wrath of the IDF, not believing how harshly Israel would react.
Will history repeat itself in the current clash with Hamas? Israeli decision-makers surely hope so. When Hamas leader Yahya Sanwar comes out of his shelter, they believe, he will be so shocked by the destruction brought on Gaza because of his irresponsible decision to launch the vicious rocket attack on Israel cities, that he would think twice before doing it again.
This is quite reasonable, except that there is a major difference between the two cases. Hezbollah, while keeping its separate military apparatus, is still part and parcel of the Lebanese political system. In 2006, Nasrallah had to face the rage of the rest of the Lebanese, who were sick and tired of being dragged into a costly war with Israel against their will.
This is not the case with Gaza, where Hamas rules with an iron fist and where the people of Gaza have no voice. Furthermore, unlike in Lebanon, a country which has a lot to lose in a war with Israel, the people of Gaza have very little — or nothing — to lose. Poor, pressed between Israel and Egypt and crushed under Hamas’ tyrannical rule, they are indifferent and despairing.
Israelis, by the way, are not gloating when they see buildings in Gaza crumbling under Israeli air bombardment. But they stand by the right – indeed, the duty – to defend themselves when attacked.
The current operation, however, can open an opportunity to get out of the vicious cycle of violence with Gaza. Assuming that the current velocity of the Israeli response might generate some years of relative calm — maybe not 15 years like in the Lebanese case, but still – the world community must launch a Marshall Plan for Gaza, with Israel in the forefront. The wealthy Gulf States, which have just signed peace treaties with Israel, should join, too.
Needless to say, any assistance must be channeled toward Gaza’s reconstruction, not its rearmament.
When the people of Gaza have a lot to lose by fighting with Israel, and a lot to gain by living in peace with it, things will eventually change in our region.
Uri Dromi was the spokesman of the Rabin and Peres governments from 1992-1996.