Analysis: Operation Cast Lead extends a war doomed to fail

Ma’an News Editorial
January 3, 2009

Bethlehem – Ma’an Editorial – Israel’s offensive in Gaza has not, and will not, achieve its stated goals. Either the goals are different from what has been stated publically, or the military establishment has backed itself into a corner and has no option other than proceeding with a course doomed to failure.

Israel is losing at a game for which it wrote the rules. It started when Israel closed the borders to the Gaza Strip; the rules were that inhuman treatment could lead to Gaza calm. Any expectation that inhuman treatment, that direct provocation from regular incursions during the so-called truce would lead to a Gaza friendly to Israel is asinine. Israel changed hands-on occupation to asserting control from the borders and the tactics amounted to the same thing.

The current action in Gaza is an indication that Israel’s “hands off” war against Gaza was a failure, and it appears that the current Operation Cast Lead is an escalation of the war game Israel began in 2005. It too will fail.

Days before the Israeli Air Force launched its first missile at Gaza, Defense Minister Ehud Barak announced that the goal of an Israeli operation would be root out faction leaders responsible for launching projectiles into southern Israel.

This appears to have been a long-time goal for the Israeli forces. In his first security briefing Israeli army Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi said airstrikes and artillery fire on Gaza targets could only decrease the number of projectiles launched from the Strip. If Israel wants to stop the rockets completely, he said, Israel would have to launch a ground invasion. That was in early 2007, but the country decided to first try the “hands off” war of crossing closures.

Since Israel escalated its tactics over 700 separate airstrikes, constant tank fire and the pounding of the warships lining the Gaza shore. This first stage meant to slow the projectile fire has not come close to achieving its goal.

Despite having killed close to 450 Gazans, Israel’s Operation Cast Lead has managed to increase the number of projectiles fired on southern Israel. Every day since the bloodshed in the Gaza Strip began between 18 and 150 projectiles have been launched from Gaza at Israeli targets. Notwithstanding this first failure Israel is poised to enter a third and even more gruesome phase, ensuring massive loss of life and utter chaos on the ground in Gaza.

If Israel upgrades the assaults on Gaza to a ground war they will not root out projectile launchers.

The resulting chaos in Gaza will lead to one of three outcomes in Gaza:

1) Anarchy
2) Total Israeli re-occupation of Gaza
3) Israel handing the Gaza Strip over to the Palestinian Authority (PA)

None of these scenarios are real options for Israel, or any other party.

A power vacuum benefits no one and will certainly not result in a halt to the projectiles. The Israeli government is unlikely, with an election looming, to commit to the huge numbers of Israeli casualties it would take to put troops back on the streets of Gaza’s population centers. Finally, the PA is unlikely to accept overt Israeli assistance in retaking Gaza, a step that would deal a death blow to the Authority’s already fragile legitimacy.

So far Israel has targeted “Hamas assets” that have ensured the destruction of the de facto government. This includes the death of ministry workers, including all manner of civil servants from the party leadership to accountants and support staff. They have also ensured the death of huge numbers from the de facto government police force. Some of these dead may have doubled as fighters, but many were mere government employees.

If Israeli troops enter Gaza it will become even more clear that fighters and ministry workers and farmers and metal workers are indistinguishable from one another; as much on the ground as from a hundred feet above it. The aim of rooting out those launching the projectiles will be no less difficult to achieve and no less costly in terms of Palestinian and Israeli lives.

When speaking to the specifics of the current attack on Gaza, Israeli officials consistently deny that their intention was to topple the Hamas government in Gaza as opposed to the party’s military wing. And while uttering these words, the Israeli fighter jets targeted the very apparatus of Hamas’ control of the Gaza Strip: police, prisons, the interior ministry. This was

Though Israel never stated that the goal of the operation was to topple the Hamas government -as opposed to the party’s military wing – they have destroyed all elements of the government and left only independent factional groups including Hamas’ Al-Qassam Brigades, with no central power or infrastructure to control them.

Israel has not conducted an operation that will stop the launch of projectiles, and it is not prepared to face any of the possible outcomes of its current path.

With tanks massed at the Gaza border and 11,000 Israeli reservists called up for duty, however, it seems Israel will push forward with the ground invasion, following a track to a goal that either never existed or was never made public. From its crossing closures to its airstrikes to a ground invasion Israel has either misread Palestinian politics in Gaza or are fulfilling a long-range and unstated agenda.

Whatever the goal, the only instance of de-escalation between Israel and Gaza factions was through the deeply-flawed truce that lasted until Israeli provocation destroyed it.

It is time for all parties to realize that if a deeply flawed truce can achieve results, a real truce could actually create change.

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