Monday, January 05, 2009

Israel's Gaza Surge

Obama's Iran diplomacy needs a Hamas defeat. Israel's ground incursion into Gaza raises the strategic stakes for the Jewish state, for its moderate Arab neighbors, and also for Barack Obama's looming Presidency. Having committed to disarming Hamas, Israel can't now afford to lose its second war in two years. AP Israeli troops survey northern Gaza. Though the analogy isn't perfect, in some sense this Hamas exercise can be understood as Israel's version of the U.S.-Iraqi "surge" in Iraq. The year 2006 was the worst in more than a generation for Western interests in the Middle East, with al Qaeda and Iran's proxies advancing in Iraq, Hezbollah fighting Israel to a draw in Lebanon, and Hamas rising in Palestine. The 2007-2008 surge reclaimed the advantage in Iraq, and now Israel is attempting to do the same against Hamas. The strategic question is larger than merely stopping Hamas missiles from landing in Israeli cities, though that is justification enough for Israel's bombing and the ground operation. A nation like Israel, with enemies on all sides, must maintain an aura of invincibility if it is to have any chance at peaceful co-existence. It was that aura after two wars that induced Egypt to agree to peace with Israel in the 1970s. By contrast, the 2006 Lebanon campaign convinced radical Arabs and Persians that Israel had grown soft and could be beaten. Israel can't let Hamas maintain a similar mythology at the end of this operation, or the costs will be far higher down the road. The Opinion Journal Widget Download Opinion Journal's widget and link to the most important editorials and op-eds of the day from your blog or Web page. Israeli leaders are talking as if they realize this strategic reality, though it's hard to know for sure because their war aims remain publicly ill-defined. Haim Ramon, the Israeli vice premier, says the goal is nothing short of the elimination of Hamas rule in Gaza, though that hasn't been repeated by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert or other senior war leaders. Defense Minister Ehud Barak has said the operation "won't be easy or short," though understandably without much elaboration given the need to keep Hamas in the dark. We don't agree with those who claim that Israel faces only two bad options: either a limited campaign that scores a tactical victory while allowing Hamas to survive as a military force; or a return to the full-scale occupation that Israel abandoned in 2005. Israel could re-occupy some parts of Gaza, this time without Israeli settlements to defend. More realistically, given Israel's domestic reluctance for such a presence, it could fight long enough to eliminate Hamas as a military threat, then announce a policy that every rocket fired at Israel in the future would be met by a "proportionate" airstrike or other reprisal. This would allow Israel to claim military victory in the short term, while creating a deterrent going forward. The costs of either operation will be high. But the costs of inaction since Israel abandoned Gaza in 2005 have also been high, especially in allowing Hamas to build an army of some 15,000 men. Hamas now has missiles that can hit targets 20 miles inside Israel, leaving the entire south of the country vulnerable, and on present course longer-range missiles will eventually hit Tel Aviv. Whether or not Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is willing to reassert control of Gaza, Hamas has to be destroyed as a military force. In Today's Opinion Journal REVIEW & OUTLOOK Israel's Gaza SurgeFunny Business in Minnesota TODAY'S COLUMNIST Information Age: Consumer Choice Saves 'Dora the Explorer' – L. Gordon CrovitzThe Americas: Argentina Is Short of Cash – Literally – George Selgin COMMENTARY Israel's Gaza Dilemma – Max BootToyota Isn't Immune From the Recession – Paul IngrassiaHow the SEC Can Prevent More Madoffs – Arthur Levitt Jr.How to Make Sure the Stimulus Works – Judd GreggFor the broader Middle East, the issue is the expansion of Iranian influence and terror. Like Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Sadrist "special groups" in Iraq, Hamas has become part of Tehran's bid for regional hegemony. The Bush Administration's regional setbacks in 2006 went far to encourage that Iranian ambition, though the surge has contained it in Iraq. Hezbollah remains stronger than ever in Lebanon, however, and Hamas has been pressing to humble Israel with an eye to deposing Mr. Abbas's Palestinian Authority on the West Bank as it has in Gaza. This is where Mr. Obama comes in. The Bush Administration has rightly given Israel the diplomatic cover it needs to pursue its war aims, amid the usual Arab, European and U.N. denunciations. Similar denunciations were of course never aimed at Hamas missiles fired at Israeli civilians. As Israel's operation continues, the clamor will build for the U.S. to force Israel to stop short of defeating Hamas. Such an intervention by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice allowed Hezbollah to claim victory in 2006, and Mr. Obama should not repeat the same mistake. Much as Mr. Obama takes office in a stronger position thanks to the Iraq surge, his foreign policy would also benefit from Israeli success in Gaza. The President-elect says he intends to pursue a grand bargain with Iran, and the mullahs are going to be more interested in diplomacy if their military proxies have been defeated. A Hamas humiliation would also show Tehran that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's regional militarism has more costs than benefits. The Israelis have done Mr. Obama a favor by striking back at Hamas before he takes office so President Bush can endure the usual global denunciations for U.S. support for Israel. But Mr. Obama will soon need to return the favor by showing Israel -- and Iran -- that the new President understands the U.S. stake in the success of Israel's Gaza surge.

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