The head of Israel military intelligence says that Hamas did not expect the severity of Israel's response to its rockets.
Hassan Nasrallah said that he did not expect the severity of Israel's response to Hizbollah's 2006 incursion into Israel.
I did not expect the severity of Israel's responses on either occasion. Israel had absorbed small losses with limited or no response.
Perhaps Hamas, Nasrallah, and I stumbled onto the nature of Israel's pursuit of security. It seldom uses much of its power, but when it decides to act, it moves with a strength designed to frighten its enemies. One should not expect surrender from religious fanatics. But there may be a reluctance to tweak the IDF again, in case the response will be apocalyptic.
This picture may be accurate in general, but it overlooks important particulars.
It is not the IDF that decides on a response. Israel's military is a tame tiger, fully committed to civilian control.
The civilians that decide represent different political factions, and they calculate the implications of the options. One can speculate into the wee hours as to how much the impending national election affected the individuals who decide at the present time. The prime minister was facing one or more indictments. Perhaps he was thinking of how to save himself. The defense minister was leading the Labor Party to the lowest point in its long history. Anything would have been better than continuing as he was. The foreign minister and head of the Kadima Party had a reputation as a wimp, not forceful enough to compete with Benyamin Netanyahu.
However, this war was not decided on the spur of the moment. Because rocket attacks have been a virtual constant for more than seven years, it was waiting to happen.. The IDF had been planning for a year or two. Officers were concerned to refurbish a reputation sullied by a notion--accurate or not--that Lebanon was less than an impressive victory. The end of a six month "quiet period", an upsurge in rocket attacks, and an army prepared for action made the war happen now. It helped that European and American governments were on extended holiday leave. There would be no effective American government until January 20th, and perhaps later while Senate committees were working their way through confirmation hearings.
Barack Obama is upset at the civilian casualties. He is intent on solving the crisis of Gaza, and will involve himself immediately in the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. He will also try something new for Iran.
The new president should be careful. There is a long history of proposals to solve the Israel-Palestinian impasse. Most presidents since Dwight Eisenhower have tried. Almost every day of this war, I find another bright idea in my inbox from lesser figures.
Martin Indyk and Dan Kurzur are prominent among those promoting a scheme that rests on increased presidential pressure on Israel to make concessions on West Bank settlements and other issues. "Tough love" is the motto meant to sound more supportive of Israel.
Bill Clinton tried the tactic. All those Clinton-era people being appointed to key positions can remind President Obama what happened.
One consequence was Intifada al-Aqsa, with at least 5,000 deaths. Another was the aging of the mantra, "If Israel dismantles Jewish settlements all will be well." The removal from Gaza in 2005 produced another three and one years of rocket attacks.
Israelis have signaled their willingness to accept several options. The impossible aspect of President Obama's mission is the number of extreme factions in the Palestinian community, the lack of a leadership that can impose peace among them, and deal seriously with Israel. Since 1948 there have been Muslim states stirring the Palestinian issue for their own purposes. Currently Iran and Syria support and encourage the extremists. Tough love may not work with them.
Palestinian unity, an essential prerequisite of any agreement, will not easily recover from the destruction of Gaza. Hamas' bloody nose will make the task harder. Hatred of Israel is bound to escalate, along with anger at extremists for pushing Israel to act as it did. Mahmoud Abbas and the aging crowd around him are not tough enough to control the chaos. Charges of collaborating with Israel come along with the continued smell of corruption. Abbas is serving beyond the official end of his term, which adds to the ridicule.
Concentrate on revitalizing the American economy, Mr. President. It is easier.
I welcome comments sent to my e-mail address below.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Dept of Political Science
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem