Wars begin with a bang. They may not end with sudden quiet. Sudden quiet is most unlikely when one of the sides is not the disciplined army of a state, but a collection of organizations and gangs, competing with one another, with members intense to show their heroic loyalty to a cause. When the cause has all the drama and emotion of Islam, with patrons claiming theological and political leadership from across the world, the furies are considerable and expectations of quiet should be modest.
We are seeing this process playing itself out in the aftermath to last week's Gaza operation.
The United States and other western nations are also seeing the process in Iraq and Afghanistan. Claims of victory or success in dealing with those places should be viewed with a king-sized grain of salt.
Hamas and its competitors are claiming victory. Some of them fired off a few rockets after the agreed time of the cease fire. Some are asserting that they will rearm, in order to defend Palestine and to prepare for an eventual victory even greater than that of last week.
Lots of Israelis are unhappy. They object to the stopping of the operation before the Gaza problem was solved. Some advocate occupying Gaza. Some object to the benefits granted to Hamas, such as letting Gaza fisherman operate 6 kilometers from shore instead of 3 kilometers previously, and letting farmers work the fields closer to the border with Israel. Israelis from the middle of the country to the south, and further north, are sure that Hamas et al will acquire more powerful rockets, and that they will again be under constant threat of attack. Some object to the lack of a formal agreement that specifies the obligations of Hamas, other organizations, and Israel.
It is not possible to reject any of those concerns as being worthless.
However, total victory and unconditional surrender were justified in World War II, but seldom if ever in previous wars and in none since. Contenders operate with calculations of costs, benefits, and probabilities of achieving aims at costs they are willing to bear. The costs include the lives of their own soldiers and civilians, the expense to their economy, and the costs to their own moralities represented by the lives of soldiers and civilians on the other side. Each have their own rankings of the costs that are more and less important.
We can view Israel's concessions to Hamas, represented by ceasing the destruction, and allowing more extensive fishing and farming, as the incentives to bring Hamas to cease its own aggression, and to impose its discipline on rivals within Gaza.
Experience has shown that it would take a long time to reach a detailed agreement about each side's obligations, and that signed commitments would not be worth much once individuals or gangs feel an itch to kill Jews.. Easier is the Israeli declaration that quiet from Gaza will be matched by quiet from Israel. Nothing more is necessary, or would be more certain of assuring quiet.
Israel has released the 40,000 or so reservists that it enlisted for this operation, and returned regular troops to their training and other activities elsewhere. Many, as before, remain close to Gaza.
It will not be easy for Israel to do another call up in the near future, and to reposition soldiers in preparation for a ground assault. But it will be easy to stop the farming and fishing benefits, and to begin the air assault if the need arises. The goodies granted--with their implications for popular support for the Hamas region--are easy to take back.
Israel has warned Hamas about rearming, and has threatened action if that occurs.
Who knows how much of Hamas' claims of victory and intentions to rearm, and Israel's threats, are empty bluster?
We must rely on the political leadership, along with the army and the various security auxiliaries to ponder the possibilities and decide. For those unhappy with the results to date, and firm in their expectations, there is a national election in less than two months. This week the people who have registered as party members, and paid their nominal dues (equivalent to about $15 a year), can express themselves by voting to rank the candidates for the Knesset in the primaries of Likud and Labor.
Those who want to reoccupy Gaza ought to think again about the consequences and benefits. We've been there and done that, with high continuing costs of soldiers' lives and nothing approaching absolute quiet. The urban congestion of Gaza provides no end of places to hide fighters and munitions, launch rockets toward Israel, and to ambush Israeli soldiers on patrol. The appropriate object is not total control, but an overbalance of threat. Violate the quiet, and you will lose much more than we.
Those who want to rid Gaza of Hamas, or Palestinians, must ask, to where? and with what result? Such fanatics should take another look at the map, and see the potential sources of trouble. The list begins with Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, the West Bank, and extends to other countries dominated by Muslims, totalling about one billion people with substantial resources and weapons.
For the political and religious leaderships in those countries, Israel (along with the United States plus other countries of Western Europe) provide the list of heretics and enemies to justify repression at home. We do not like to hear their rants, but we do not expect them to stop. It's part of the atmosphere poisoned by religion and political cultures that have not progressed beyond the Middle Ages.
We regret the ignorance and suffering of the masses in Gaza and other Muslims, and we listen cynically to Americans and others who say that the problem is not Islam and that Arab spring signals the onset of democracy. Such claims may be the politically correct ways of avoiding a world war with Muslims. We may have to accept the blather as lip service, but not as accurate descriptions of reality. We should pity Westerners who actually believe them, just as we pity the Muslim masses convinced by their leaders that they will reach a paradise on earth without Jewish or Christian heretics.
Posted by Ira Sharkansky at November 25, 2012 12:46 AM
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem