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Fighting and Defeating Hamas

In my previous op-ed of December 23, “Needed, A strategy against Hamas”, I advocated that Israel’s main strategic goal in a future military operation, should be the prevention of Hamas’ increased military and political strength and the shattering of the organization’s exclusive control of the Gaza Strip. 
A secondary critical goal of the operation should be to stop the shelling of citizens in southern Israel, which was potentially spreading from Shderot to Ashkelon, Ashdod, Beeer Sheva and threatening Tel Aviv and Israel’s most populated area. The bombing of our cities by Hamas rockets since the operation begun clearly show that this threat is immediate and was on the way to multiply

After almost three days of the military operation against Hamas in Gaza, the Israeli government has not made yet clear its final goal or exit strategy.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, speaking to the Israeli people stated that “we were compelled to take action in order to halt the aggression against our citizens..[that] the operation in the Gaza Strip is designed, first and foremost, to bring about an improvement in the security reality for the residents of the south of the country…. to restore the quiet and the tranquility.” Olmert made it clear to the residents of Gaza that Israel is not acting against them and has no intention of punishing them for the actions of Hamas.

Israel’s defense minister Ehud Barak declared the country is engaged in a “war to the bitter end” against Hamas in Gaza and that the operation’s goal is to force Hamas to stop its hostile actions directed at Israeli civilians. Barak warned that the offensive in the Gaza Strip would be further expanded and widened as much as required. 

Israeli Deputy Chief if Staff, Brig. Gen. Dan Harel said today that “this operation is different from previous ones…We have set a high goal and are hitting not only terrorists and launchers, but also the whole Hamas government and all its wings….After this operation there will not be one Hamas building left standing in Gaza, and we plan to change the rules of the game.” 

On the third day of the massive air campaign against Hamas’ military and civilian infrastructure and its leadership the results seem quite impressive: the surprise attack, the sheer magnitude of the human losses among its security personnel and the destruction of 40 – 50 missile pre-prepared positions have destabilized the organization’s command and control system and minimized the first “portion” of rockets ready to retaliate for an Israeli attack.

At this moment it seems that a ground military operation is on the move and practically inevitable, if Israel wants to ensure the attainment of its strategic goals. The question arises again, what kind of ground operation is necessary or feasible in the challenging operational conditions of the Gazan urban environment and the complex regional situation.

The destruction of Hamas’ infrastructure and even the successful targeting of its leaders in hiding, will not convince them to give up their goal to achieve a military balance of power and a deterrent capability in the future vis-à-vis Israel, even if they will be compelled to accept a shameful cease-fire. The example of Hizballah, which has tripled and enhanced its military arsenal since the Second Lebanon War of summer 2006, is speaking for itself.

This author’s opinion has not changed: in order to achieve its strategic goal, Israel should cut the oxygen pipeline – the tunnels permitting the smuggling of advanced rocket, anti-tank and other advanced weapons – by re-occupying and widening the Philadelphi Road on the Egyptian border.

Following the destruction of most of the arsenal in possession of Hamas during the present campaign, the control of a 1 km wide strip of land on the border will permit the progressive drying of the organization’s military capability, which has a direct influence on its ability to control politically Gaza. 

The control of the Rafah border passage should progressively return to the Palestinian Authority and the international European team and thus give the PA a foothold for future political comeback to Gaza.

The Israeli government has rightly acted by speaking directly to the Palestinian population in Gaza explaining the reasons of the military operation, and by continuing to provide it with the basic humanitarian needs. This policy should continue and even be expanded.

Some forgotten facts

Hamas is not responsible only for the present violence and destruction.

During the years 1994-96 its suicide bombings derailed the Oslo peace process and in the end changed the positive political mood of the Israeli society towards this process.

During the bloody years of the second intifadah (2000 – 2005), Hamas was responsible, together with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, for some 70% of the 150 suicide bombings which killed more than 1000 Israeli citizens, the great majority civilians.

During the military coup of June 2007 Hamas has assassinated in cold blood some 150 – 200 Fatah militants, while in the past the PA only arrested Hamas members for short periods of time.

Arab and Muslim protesters’ hypocrisy and double standard

Arab and Muslim movements in the Middle East are trying to subvert their regimes and compel them to act politically and diplomatically against Israel and even instigate to open war against the Jewish state.

Here are a series of violent events in the Muslim world in recent days: 

– in Mosul, Iraq, a suicide bomber targeted a manifestation of protest condemning Israeli air raids on the Gaza Strip, killing one civilian and wounding 16;
– in Afghanistan, the Taliban claimed responsibility for a weekend suicide car bombing that killed 14 children and two adults; 
– in Pakistan a suicide car bomber set off an explosion outside a polling station in northwest Pakistan, killing up to 30 people, including several children.

Where are the massive protests of Arabs and Muslims against these indicriminate killing of Muslims? Where are the Arab and Muslim protests against the Mumbai killings in November of this year? And where are the protests for the genocide in Darfour?

Hassan Nasrallah, the Secretary General of Hizballah, is now pushing Hamas, through his inflamatory speeches, to a brinkmanship strategy of martyrdom, ready to fight to the last Palestinian. He is also threatening the Egyptian government and President and other moderate Arab leaders.

This is the man responsible for the death of some 1000 Lebanese citizens and the destruction of the Dahya neighbourhood in Beirut and the villages in southern Lebanon during the Second Lebaneon War; the man who recognized that if he new the results of the kidnapping of the Israeli soldiers he woudn’t start the operation; the leader who solemnely promised never turn the weapons “of the Resistance” against his fellow citizens but is responsible for the killing of several dozen Lebanese during the bloody events in Beirut in May 2008; who two years and a half after the war with Israel is speaking to his followers and the the besieged Hamas leaders from his bunker in Beirut!

Hopefully, the moderate responsible leaders in the Middle East and the international community will understand that Hamas in power in Gaza will thwart any peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians and threaten the rule of the moderates in the West Bank and beyond.

Dr. Ely Karmon is Senior Research Scholar at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, The Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya.