As they prepared for lightning airstrikes on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, Israel's leaders drew sobering lessons from their stalemate against another Islamic paramilitary force, Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrillas.The 2006 war was not just a loss of confidence for Israel, it was a victory for the arc of terrorism that sweeps across the Persian plains to the Arabian sands, from Tehran to Damascus and beyond. For Israel to lose was a slap at Western resolve as well. Darkness creeps ahead when disarrary, timidity, and restraint overwhelm the Jewish state.
In that setback in the summer of 2006, Israel rushed to battle without a detailed plan or realistic goals, and was handed its first failure to vanquish an Arab foe in war. Hezbollah not only withstood the 34-day offensive, but it also emerged stronger politically.
Faced with frequent Hamas rocket fire across its southern border, Israel planned its Gaza operation more meticulously, over nearly two years. As a result, Israeli officials said Sunday, their intelligence services developed a longer list of targets to bomb, enabling the air force to inflict more damage on the militant Palestinian group before Israel contemplates a risky ground assault.
And instead of boasting that they would "destroy" the enemy, as they did in the case of Lebanon, Israeli leaders set the more modest aim of "improving the security" of terrorized Israeli communities.
That less ambitious approach could make it easier for Israel to withdraw from the conflict on its terms, avoiding the kind of demoralizing stalemate that developed in Lebanon.
So far, Israel considers its Gaza offensive a success. Since it began Saturday, waves of airstrikes have destroyed dozens of Hamas paramilitary facilities, weapons-smuggling tunnels from Egypt and underground rocket-launching sites. Rocket fire from Gaza has diminished well below what was once considered Hamas' capacity.
Although many risks and uncertainties lie ahead, in particular the specter of getting bogged down in a ground war, the offensive has brought Israel to a psychological turning point, restoring a measure of the country's confidence in its capacity to confront armed adversaries.
"Hamas is dazed and confused and has no explanation to offer its people," Amos Gilad, a senior Israeli Defense Ministry official, told Israel Radio on Sunday. "But we must refrain from bragging and marking dramatic objectives."
Rather than remove Hamas from power, he and other Israeli officials say, the goal is to weaken the movement and demonstrate the price it would pay for continuing to launch rockets. Sooner or later, Israel hopes to restore and strengthen an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire that worked for nearly five months before it started to break down in November.
Be sure to read Yossi Klein Halevi's comprehensive essay on the entire military, political, and strategic implications of Israel's airstikes. This part is a nice follow-up to the Los Angeles Times' reporting:
The future of the West Bank may well be resolved in Gaza. If the international community forces the IDF to end the operation before the missile threat against southern Israel is resolved, Israelis will inevitably conclude that, even when we withdraw to the 1967 borders, as we did on the Gaza front in 2005, the international community will not allow us to protect ourselves. And the likelihood then of convincing a majority of Israelis to withdraw from the West Bank - within easy rocket distance from our major population centers - will be close to non-existent. Ultimately, then, the creation of an independent Palestine depends on neutralizing Hamas.Photo Credit: "METICULOUS PLANNING: Israeli army special forces are deployed at the Gaza Strip border. Israel mapped out the operation for nearly two years," Los Angeles Times.