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Why Israel Cant Win

Why Israel Cant Win

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Published by: beMuslim on Jan 10, 2009
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Thursday, Jan. 08, 2009
Can Israel Survive Its Assault onGaza?
By Tim McGirk / Jerusalem
 As Israeli troops encircle Gaza City, their commanders are faced with a painful dilemma: How far must they advance into the deadly labyrinth of slums and refugee camps where Hamas militants await with booby-trapped houses and snipers? With each passing day,Israel's war against Hamas grows riskier and morepunishing, with the gains appearing to diminish compared to the spiraling costs — to Israel's moral stature,to the lives of Palestinian civilians and to the world's hopes that an ancient conflict can ever be resolved.Ideally, in a war shaped by television images, Israelis would like a tableau of surrender: grimy Hamascommanders crawling from underground bunkers with their hands up. Instead,the deaths of at least 40civilians taking shelter at a United Nations[EN]run schoolnorth of Gaza City are more likely to become thedominant image of the war. Israeli politicians and generals know that the total elimination of Hamas'entrenched military command could take weeks; it might be altogether impossible. The more realisticoutcome is an unsatisfactory, brokered truce that leaves Hamas wounded but alive and able to regenerate —and Israel only temporarily safe from attack.Israel's Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, has promised a "war to the bitter end." But after 60 years of struggleto defend their existence against foreign threats and enemies within, many Israelis may be wondering, Where does that end lie? The threat posed by Hamas is only the most immediate of the many interlockingchallenges facing Israel, some of which cast dark shadows over the long-term viability of a democraticJewish state.The offensive in Gaza may degrade Hamas' ability to menace southern Israel with rocket fire, but, as with Israel's 2006 war against Hizballah, the application of force won't extinguish the militants'ideological fervor. The anti-Israeli anger swelling in the region has made it more difficult for Arabgovernments to join Israel in its efforts to deal with Iran, the patron of both Hamas and Hizballah and astate whose leaders have sworn to eliminate Israel and appear determined to acquire nuclear weapons. (Seepictures of grief in the Middle East.)Just as ominous for many Israelis is a ticking demographic time bomb: the likelihood that Arabs will vastly outnumber Jews in the land stretching from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean is a catastrophicprospect for a nation that defines itself by its faith. At some point, Israelis will have to choose between living with an independent Palestinian state or watching Jews become a minority in their own land. As much as any other nation on earth, Israel is based on a dream: the aspiration to establish a home for theJews in the birthplace of their ancestors. To a remarkable extent, that dream has been fulfilled, as Israel hasgrown into the most modern and democratic country in the Middle East and a dependable American ally. A strong, confident Israel is in America's interest, but so is one that can find peace with its neighbors,cooperate with the Arabs to contain common threats and, most important, reach a just and lasting solution with the Palestinians. But accomplishing all that will require Israel and its defenders to confrontexcruciating dilemmas: How do you make peace with those who don't seem to want it? How do you win a war when the other side believes time is on its side? And what would true security, in a hostileneighborhood populated with enemies, actually look like? As is always true in the Middle East, there are no
easy answers. But it's never been more vital that Israel start looking for them.
How to Deal with Hamas
The most immediate challenge facing Israel is that posed by Hamas. Gaza's tragedy has for days beenplaying out on the world's TV sets. By Jan. 7, more than 700 Palestinians, many of them noncombatants,had been killed. But there's something tragic, too, in Israel's predicament: in any confrontation with itsenemies, it is damned if it does and doomed if it doesn't. Across Israel's political spectrum there seems to bea consensus that Hamas' provocative rocket barrages could not go unanswered — though whether Israel'sresponse has been proportional to the threat is, at the least, questionable.See pictures of Israeli soldiers sweeping into Gaza.See pictures of Israel's deadly assault on Gaza.Perhaps more threatening than the rockets themselves was the doubt they cast over Israel's vaunted powerof deterrence, which is key to keeping its hostile neighbors at bay. That power was badly eroded in 2006, when Hizballah was able to withstand the Israeli onslaught, force a cease-fire and claim victory in theprocess. That surely emboldened Hamas, which intermittently sent rockets into southern Israel and finally prompted Israel to respond in force. As respected Israeli columnist Nahum Barnea wrote in the Hebrew daily 
Yedioth Ahronoth
, "A country that is afraid to deal with Hamas won't be able either to deter Iran or tosafeguard its interests in dealing with Syria, Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority."But the cold reality is that eventually Israel may need to look not to "deal" with Hamas so much as do a deal with it. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said he doesn't intend to topple Hamas; he knows Israel can't fillthe vacuum of leadership that its elimination would produce in Gaza. Neither can Mahmoud Abbas, Israel'spreferred Palestinian leader, who is fading into the background in the West Bank. So Israel has said it will be satisfied if Hamas stops shooting rockets and an international force polices the Egyptian border to keepthe militants from re-arming themselves with weapons smuggled through tunnels.Hamas says it will agree to a truce if Israel retreats from Gaza and loosens the economic choke hold that hasstrangled the 1.5 million Palestinians who live on the sliver of land along the Mediterranean. After weeks of global outrage over the unfolding humanitarian disaster in Gaza, any mediator — France, the EuropeanUnion, Turkey and Egypt are all auditioning for the role — will insist that Israel end its 18-month blockade. What then? Like Hizballah, Hamas will declare itself victorious: not only will it have survived a directassault by a far superior military force, but it will also have freed Gazans from Israeli tyranny. As an added bonus, any economic revival of Gaza would put money into Hamas' coffers. But Israel would gain some breathing space and force Hamas to prove it can actually govern and maintain stability in Gaza rather thanheap blame entirely on Israel.
The Specter of Iran
One indirect objective of the Gaza offensive might have been to warn off Israel's other nonstate militant foe:Hizballah. While the Lebanese group has been cheering on Hamas from the sidelines, it has refrained fromentering the fray. Hizballah may have a stockpile of new rockets, but Israeli generals hope Gaza will serve asa cautionary example of what would happen if it used them. This is a reassuring thought, but it remains to

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