What goal is Israel pursuing in its latest war in Gaza? That has been a hard question to answer, as Israel expanded its war aims from seeking “quiet” from Hamas rocket attacks to closing tunnels to destroying rocket-launch sites in northern Gaza.
The tragedy of this approach is that it brings death and destruction without a change in the status quo. Israel fights now, knowing that it’s likely to have to come back again in a few years to degrade Hamas’s military capability once more. Some Israelis are said to describe this recurring process as “mowing the lawn,” according to an article last week in The Post.
I heard a more ambitious strategy for Gaza Monday from Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin, a retired chief of Israeli military intelligence who now heads the country’s leading think tank, the Institute for National Security Studies. He spoke by telephone from his home in Israel as he watched Hamas rockets flare toward Tel Aviv only to be destroyed by the Iron Dome anti-missile system.
The essence of Yadlin’s proposal is to capitalize on the extreme weakness of Hamas by letting the Palestinians go forward with a “unity government” under a reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah announced in April. At the time, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced the idea, but Yadlin argues that taking a performance-based approach to this united government is the best way to move forward and break Hamas’s stranglehold on Gaza.
The core of Yadlin’s argument is that Hamas has never been weaker than now. Its own war strategy is a shambles: Its missiles aren’t hitting Israeli cities; its fighters aren’t able to sneak through tunnels and perform suicide missions or conduct kidnapping operations. Its base in Syria is lost and its patrons in the Muslim Brotherhood have been toppled from power in Egypt.
Hamas’s biggest weakness of all is its unpopularity among Palestinians in Gaza now. A poll taken in June, before the latest fighting began, showed that 70 percent of Gazans wanted a continuing cease-fire with Israel; 57 percent wanted a Fatah-Hamas unity government to renounce violence against Israel; 73 percent thought nonviolent resistance had a positive impact, and large majority thought Hamas had failed to deal with crime and corruption.
The future? Asked if Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas should send security personel and other officials to take over administration of Gaza, 65 percent said yes. The poll was published in July by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and its senior fellow, David Pollock.
Yadlin argues that Israel should encourage what the Palestinians say they want. Specifically, Israel should halt its attack on Gaza if Hamas agrees to accept an Egypt-brokered cease-fire that would install a unity government, schedule early elections and commit to a demilitarization of rockets and other heavy weapons in Gaza. My colleague Jackson Diehl made a similar argument in an important piece in The Post this morning.
Yadlin lists three basic elements of this strategy: An Israeli decision that Hamas must go and its military capability must not be rebuilt; an Israeli rejection of a limited strategy of trading “quiet for quiet”; and an endorsement of the Palestinian Authority’s return to power in Gaza. With this kind of framework, he argues, it might be possible to gain European, Arab and American support for a Marshall Plan-style effort to rebuild poor, tragic, devastated Gaza after so many years of intermittent war.