Ehud Olmert has done it again. Two years after the fiasco in Lebanon, he has once again committed Israeli forces on a fool’s errand. The target is different this time, but the one constant is the body count.
Unlike the humiliating outcome against Hezbollah, this time the opposition is much weaker. Hamas lacks the sophisticated weaponry that Hezbollah deployed against the IDF. Hamas lacks the large battlefield on which to use lethal guerilla tactics. Hamas does not appear to possess any weapons that would be effective against Israeli armor. The fight this time is between a powerful army and a lightly armed force equipped with small arms, rocket launchers and mortars. Israel has overwhelming military superiority.
The problem for Israel however is the goal of this campaign. Ostensibly, Israel is battling to stop Hamas from firing Kassam rockets over the wall into Israel. Even as Israeli armor pushes deeper into the Gaza strip, Hamas is continuing to fire its rockets. A continued campaign is not likely to end the rocket attacks. In a heavily urban territory with 1.5 million inhabitants, a military force is limited in its ability to stop the firing of home-made rockets.
To stop the rocket attacks, Israel will have to do one of two things. First, Israel may choose to push for a ceasefire with the condition that Hamas agree to stop firing rockets. It seems to me that this is the most likely outcome of this battle. To get agreement from Hamas, Israel will have to agree to lift the crippling blockade of Gaza. To save face, this deal will probably be worked out via third parties, but nonetheless, the deal will likely be cessation of rocket attacks for the lifting of the blockade. The lifting of the blockade is what Hamas had been demanding all along. So, after all the killing, we are likely to return to where we were before this latest attack.
The second option available to Israel is to reoccupy Gaza. This option will be bloody, and it will be long. Israel may, by sustained presence of boots on the ground and punitive measures, prevent – or at least reduce – the launching of rockets. But, in all likelihood, unless Israel lifts the blockade of Gaza, the rocket attacks will resume once the Israeli army withdraws.
Given the choice of reoccupying Gaza or cutting a ceasefire deal, one would assume Olmert would opt for the ceasefire. But, a ceasefire that creates an agreement that was available to Israel before the shooting began will be rightly questioned by the Israeli public. Someone will have to account for the hundreds of Palestinian civilian deaths and the IDF death toll that is bound to grow before the shooting stops. Like Lebanon, it will be asked, was it worth it?
After the shooting stops, the fallout from Ehud Olmert’s latest folly will fall upon the shoulders of his foreign minister and his defense minister – both of whom are vying for the job Olmert is leaving. The irony is that while Hamas is likely to emerge politically stronger after the battle, Olmert may have cost both Tzipi Livni and Ehud Barak the election. On the other hand, Bibi Netanyahu may be looking at another term as Israel’s prime minister.