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Israel’s Real Choices in Gaza

Thinking about this as Machiavelli might have or as modern Islamists do, rather than a post-secular, UN-sponsored, PC modern man, what could Israel do to win in Gaza? The options are:

  1. Siege Gaza. This is less dramatic than sending the army in. It also gives Israel's international enemies more time to marshal themselves. The advantage is that by seizing the Philadelphi strip (which is Hamas's supply route from Egypt) and stopping all land, sea, air and electronic communication, Israel would have finally isolated Hamas from its supporters abroad. Hamas could then be given the choice: surrender or die. As religious zealots, they could be expected to choose the latter. However, the same does not apply the rest of the 1.5 million inhabitants and they would probably choose life as soon as they genuinely believed there was no alternative. The process could be speeded up by continuing with Option 2, below, during the siege. Support for Hamas already seems wobbly and it would be a reasonable gamble to assume that the siege wouldn't last too long. In reality of course, Israel might settle for a conditional surrender but that would be a great improvement over where they are now.


  2. Deliberately kill more civilians. Hamas is democratically elected and clearly has popular support. There is therefore less of a problem with this than in, say, Iraq. Also as Hamas deliberately sites military installations in nursery schools etc, it is difficult to avoid anyway. The question is whether there is any real distinction between civilians and military in Gaza. Does avoiding killing civilians make any more sense in Gaza than it did in Nazi Germany? The biggest difference is hostile Western and Muslim powers who would seek to punish Israel for doing this. On the other hand, it may not be possible for Israel to win unless it starts to kill Gaza people in much larger numbers than it has so far. She must hurt them, not merely annoy them.


  3. Raze Gaza. Its advantage is that it would remove the problem for ever. The disadvantages are:
    1. Dead men don't pay taxes or otherwise contribute to the society of man. The world's best outcome is Palestinians and Israeli's living side by side in productive harmony.
    2. By destroying a city, Israel sets a precedent that would justify its own cities being destroyed in the future. Iran, for example, might feel less constrained by world public opinion. True, if Iran nuked Tel Aviv one morning then Tehran would probably be a car park by the afternoon courtesy of the Americans. (Historically, the only countries to get away with 'final solutions' are super-powers and then only occasionally – e.g. the U.S. in WWII against Japan and the Romans when the razed Jerusalem in the first century A.D.).


  4. Withdraw. The Jesus solution would be to turn the other cheek. This takes great courage and strength, however, and it's far from clear that any nation on earth has this degree of forbearance. Many Arab countries seem to agree and the Egyptian Foreign Minister recently criticised Hamas for its apparently senseless bombing of Israel say, "don't pull the wolf's tail if you cannot kill it". That we humans typically lack the strength doesn't make it stupid though. The casualties being caused by Hamas are trivial compared with Israel's population even including the odd "lucky shot" that hits a school or a busy market. Ultimately, Hamas would have to answer to its electorate and explain not only their military failure but also their failure to feed their people or provide them with jobs.

I remain far from confident that the Israeli Operation Cast Lead will work because it is based on a false, or at least unproved, premise. Their strategy at current is a watered down version of Option 2 above together with an incomplete Option 1. However, it will not be successful if it only achieves its stated aim of killing Hamas soldiers, as these can easily be replaced from a large population with little else to do. It will only be successful if it removes Gaza's appetite for the fight. Option 1 would be a gamble with world opinion. Israel has made Option 2 a gamble by, rather than going all-out to kill, trying to calibrate the exact level of death and destruction required to get Palestinians to abandon the fight. Have they guessed correctly?

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