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The Unlearned Lessons of Gaza By: P. David Hornik
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, March 06, 2009


This week Israel’s UN ambassador Gabriela Shalev sent a complaint to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon about the rain of rockets that keep falling on Israel from Gaza. She stated that “These ongoing attacks not only hinder efforts to reach a stable and durable ceasefire, but they represent an ongoing threat to the peace and security of Israel, as well as the people of Gaza,” and warned that “Israel will not tolerate, and will respond accordingly to attacks against its citizens.”

This was no attempt to lay diplomatic groundwork for a serious Israeli military response to the rocket fire; the outgoing, internally bickering Olmert government is hardly capable of that at this point. Instead Shalev’s complaint had the character of a pathetic gesture.

Yet it wasn’t long ago that this government—with the winding-down of Operation Cast Lead, which formally ended on January 18—was engaged in seemingly dramatic diplomatic activity signaling important gains from the war. On January 16, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was in Washington where, at a joint press conference, she and then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced a rapidly-concocted Memorandum of Understanding under which the United States was supposed to work together with the international community to halt the smuggling of Iranian weapons into Gaza.

And on January 18 itself, the heads of state of Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the Czech Republic—both at a gathering along with Arab leaders in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, and in a meeting with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Jerusalem—“pledged to work to prevent Hamas from rearming” as a Haaretz report put it at the time.

And the words were followed by actions. On January 22 the U.S. Navy intercepted a ship—a Cypriot-flagged Russian one leased to Iran—in the Red Sea on suspicion that it was carrying arms to Hamas; the ship was eventually detained, and the arms unloaded, in Limassol, Cyprus. And on January 23 a French frigate sailed for waters off the Gaza coast to take part in stopping the smuggling.

Seemingly, then, the Israeli government with its two main components, the Kadima and Labor parties, could claim that its approach—which involved ending the war before Hamas had been defeated, focusing world attention on the arms-smuggling problem, and relying on the world community to stop Hamas from rebuilding its arsenal—had succeeded.

What happened, then, in the six weeks from those optimistic days to the rather abject sending of Shalev’s complaint to Ban? What happened was that another 50 rockets and 40 mortar shells were fired at Israel from Gaza; already by February 15 two security chiefs told the Israeli cabinet that the smuggling had resumed with Egypt once again doing little to stop it, and meanwhile the Western naval activity against the smuggling seemed to have stopped as the worldwide financial crisis and Iranian nuclearization trumped little Israel and its border problems.

Indeed, Shalev in her letter to Ban specifically mentioned two recent attacks that bring back the days before Cast Lead was launched: a Kassam rocket that landed in a yard and set a home on fire in Sderot, and a Grad rocket that destroyed several classrooms in a school in Ashkelon—a hit that would have been much worse had the school not been closed for the Sabbath.

Also on Tuesday the new U.S. secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, was in Israel, and she stressed America’s “unrelenting” commitment to Israel’s security and said the rocket attacks had to stop. Yet a day earlier Clinton had been at another gathering in Sharm el-Sheikh where the world community had—ongoing smuggling, resumed rocket attacks, and all—pledged to pour $4.4 billion into Hamas-ruled Gaza, with the U.S. contributing $300 million directly and another $600 million to the West Bank Palestinian Authority, which also transfers large sums to Gaza.

Seemingly, then, the Kadima and Labor parties—if they were interested in learning from experience and not just in upholding a capitulationist worldview that, they think, puts them in the Americans’ and Europeans’ good graces—should by now already be drawing different conclusions from Cast Lead than the ones that seemed, to them, warranted in the heady days after it ended.

Sober, accurate conclusions from this final failure of an outgoing, unpopular government would be that:

* There is, as always, no substitute for defeating an enemy on the ground.

* There is no force on earth that will stop arms smuggling into Gaza, or armed aggression against Israel from Gaza, except Israel itself.

* It is much easier for Western leaders to make grand gestures of supporting Israel than to act on them; the Europeans, as always, see their interests as lying with the Arabs, and the United States has way too much on its plate to worry about Grad rockets traversing the Sinai.

* Support for “the Palestinians,” even when they constitute a Hamas entity, is reflexive and unrelated to Israel’s real needs and the situation on the ground.

* For Israel to win any of its wars in the future will require, to a considerable extent, defying the West and the world community rather than pretending to work in concert with them.

Because of its failure—among other things—either to apply or learn these principles in the Second Lebanon War or Operation Cast Lead, on February 10 the current Kadima- and Labor-led government lost the Israeli elections. The incoming prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has a deeper grasp of reality but faces formidable challenges of balancing Israel’s real security needs with its relations with the West.


P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator living in Beersheva. He blogs at http://pdavidhornik.typepad.com/. He can be reached at pdavidh2001@yahoo.com.


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