Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has arrived in Jerusalem (the capital of Israel, although the administration dare not say that aloud). Meanwhile, we continue to wait for news of a cease-fire. We’ve seen this before, haven’t we?
Israel has no desire to proceed with a land operation into Gaza; the relative benefits seems less than the costs at this point, if one considers the elimination of the Fajr-5 missiles to be of significant benefit and the additional damage to be done to Hamas not substantial enough to balance the human and other costs of a land attack.
Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi agree it is in everyone’s interest to declare “victory” (as victories go in the Middle East) and get a pledge (of questionable value) for Egypt to try to limit the smuggling into Gaza. Hamas continues firing an occasional medium-range missile, and the status quo, less those Fajr-5 missiles, returns.
Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies tells me: “Israel has hit all of its high-value targets, and Hamas has run out of most of its effective rockets. Beyond that, a ground war is risky for both side. It’s risky for Hamas because their grip on Gaza could erode quickly, and that would be Israel’s goal. It’s risky for Netanyahu with elections coming; Israelis won’t tolerate any failure on the battlefield, along the lines of what happened in Lebanon in 2006. It should also go without saying that this war is horrible for both Israelis and Palestinians under fire.”
Now it is not as if Israel was unaware of or didn’t try to cut off the missile-smuggling operation before the current escalation in hostilities. As this report explains:
Observers say the Fajr-5 has been smuggled to Gaza in the last 18 months, flown from Iran to Sudan and driven by trucks through the Egyptian desert to the border with Gaza. It seems inconceivable that this happened without the knowledge and tacit approval of Egyptian officials. The launchers are more than 10 meters long and the weapons system weighs 1.5 tons. Once they had arrived at the border, the rockets and launchers are believed to have been dismantled and brought to Gaza through tunnels. There are also reports that weapons from plundered arsenals of former Libyan dictator Muammar Ghadafi found their way into the Gaza strip.
Israel had tried to put a stop to the arms build-up before its current campaign. At the end of October, there was [a] mystery air raid on a weapons factory in Sudan that is believed to have been carried out by Israel. Before that in April 2011, an air raid killed a Palestinian man in Sudan. He is reported to have been the successor of the weapons procurer of Hamas, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, who was killed by Mossad in Dubai in early 2010.
In March 2011, Israel is also reported to have attacked a weapons convoy in Sudan. In addition, the Israeli air force has mounted repeated bombing raids against tunnels used to smuggle goods and weapons into Gaza. Rocket launch sites have also been repeatedly attacked in recent months. But Israel’s attacks have also targeted the men who procure and fire the rockets. . . .
There is no doubt that the military capabilities of Hamas have been severely curtailed. But the attacks haven’t broken the organization’s power. As long as the supply route Iran-Sudan-Egypt remains intact, the Islamists’ arsenals will soon be replenished.
So long as the Islamist revolutionary government remains in Iran, so long as its surrogates receive arms and so long as Egypt is at best an inept partner in trying to restrict the arms flow (and at worst a facilitator), the cycle of violence will repeat again and again.
Schanzer tells me that Morsi “looks both complicit in the smuggling of the Iranian long-range rockets that arrived Gaza via Sudan, and feckless because he is unable to rein in Hamas. The Obama administration now sees very plainly that he cannot be trusted to enforce calm in the region the way his predecessor could. It should also be noted that he is trying to appease a radical constituency that did not exist during the Mubarak era: Salafis. As a result, Morsi is trying to come off both tough and supportive of Hamas while also trying to bring an end to the violence. He’s floundering.”
It is hard to envision any other outcome. This is the dilemma of asymmetrical warfare waged by terrorists who are not dissuaded by casualties and who have no further objective other than to keep up the cult of death.
Israeli-based columnist Ruthie Blum sums up the futility of the “peace process” under these circumstances. The ongoing conflict (along with the repeated failure at negotiated settlements), she writes, has “nothing to do with the 1967 borders. Nor does it have to do with ‘occupation’; Israel withdrew completely from the Gaza Strip in 2005. Neither is it rooted in poor peace planning. It is an assertion of a religious imperative that Israel must be destroyed.” The problem has grown worse with a emboldened Iranian regime and the spread of Islamist regimes.
This is the Middle East in which Iran remains at war, via surrogates, with Israel and the United States, while the U.S. administration refuses to take actions that would threaten the existence of the regime.
Rather than wasting years on the “peace process,” the administration would have been far more effective working toward regime change in Iran, and it should have been more realistic about the nature of the Arab Spring.
It could start making amends by canceling the president’s trip to Turkey, which has been pouring fuel on the fire. The “peace process” will only be successful once Islamist governments stop aiding the terrorists or those governments are replaced by regimes of a different kind. The rest is simply marking time.