At the birth of Israel, there were 87 million Arabs. Today, there are 320 million. In 2020, which would encompass that same time period that has elapsed since 1998, Arabs will number half a billion. Gaining time and pushing back are the ingredients of Israeli strategy.
The immediate objective against Hamas in Gaza is to restore Israel's image of military invincibility, badly damaged two and a half years ago when a punitive raid into south Lebanon triggered a hail of Hezbollah rockets and missiles that forced the population of northern Israel into underground shelters. A botched Israelilitary operation gave the Israel Defense Forces a black eye — and invincible Israel, in the eyes of its enemies, became vincible.
Hezbollah on Israel's northern border and Hamas to its south are seen in Israel as extensions of Iran's asymmetrical terrorist capabilities. Given Iran's nuclear ambitions, it became imperative to demonstrate to Iran's strategic planners that Hamas never would be allowed to act as a surrogate for those who plan Israel's destruction. So far, the only demonstration in Gaza is that Hamas now has 1 million Israelis within range of its missiles.
Four Israelis killed by Hamas' unguided rockets provoked a massive retaliation that killed more than 500 and wounded 2,500, left 1.5 million Palestinians without power or running water, short of food, overflowing hospitals, and too few doctors — and triggered anti-Israel demonstrations throughout the world. The mobilization of IDF reservists and a massive eight-day aerial bombardment were followed by a tank-led ground invasion of Gaza.
IDF reservists also were needed to reinforce the northern front in Lebanon, should Hezbollah decide to open a second front in solidarity with Hamas. In the south, the Israelis estimate that 400 to 600 tunnels run along Gaza's "Philadelphia Corridor," the strip of land along the Egyptian border. Mossad, the Israeli CIA, estimates the amount of explosives smuggled in via tunnels, courtesy of Iran, at 4 tons. Iran's Revolutionary Guard trained about 950 Hamas volunteers, according to Mossad, in building rockets and bombs and in guerrilla warfare tactics. Iran's secret aid to Hamas is estimated at $30 million a year.
Since neither Hamas nor Hezbollah can be eliminated, what is Israel's endgame?
For two of Israel's three principal contenders in the Feb. 10 elections, Defense Minister (and former Prime Minister) Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, hundreds of airstrikes, a massive artillery barrage and a ground offensive against Hamas targets demonstrated they could be just as tough as the challenger, superhawk and former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. It was yet another setback for those whose priority objective is the creation of a viable Palestinian state — the United States, the European Union, 22 Arab countries.
The geopolitical can named "Palestinian state" has been kicked down the road one more time.
Slowly working its way back center stage was the 2002 Saudi plan that called for the recognition of Israel by all 22 Arab states in return for the territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War (with minor adjustments in Israel's favor to be negotiated). Saudi King Abdullah’s plan seven years ago gained the endorsement of the entire Arab world, and moderate Arab leaders have been hinting President-elect Obama would adopt it for his new Middle East road map.
Hezbollah in 2006 and Hamas in 2008/09 have convinced an overwhelming majority of Israelis that a Palestinian state cannot coexist peacefully with the Jewish state. The 260,000 Jewish settlers in 140 settlements in the West Bank are not about to pull up stakes to make room for a revanchist Palestinian state. The lessons of Hezbollah's missiles in 2006 and Hamas' in 2008 have convinced most Israelis a Palestinian nation in the West Bank, even if demilitarized under U.N. or even U.S. control, would not give up the dream of recovering the homes their fathers and grandfathers lost 62 years ago.
A month after Israel forced 8,500 Jewish settlers out of Gaza in December 2005, Hamas defeated the corrupt and ineffective Fattah movement in parliamentary elections. By 2007, a civil war drove Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his government out of Gaza to the West Bank, now under Israeli control.
Another showstopper for a Palestinian state is Jerusalem, specifically Arab East Jerusalem, where several thousand Israelis have moved in piecemeal during the past four decades. No Palestinian leader could accept anything less than a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem, which no Israeli leader, expecting to stay alive politically, could endorse.
Meanwhile, Israel's rekindled status as invincible carried the day, aided and assisted in the midst of the Gaza offensive by the IDF's new YouTube channel, using the blogosphere as another war zone. Israeli politicians, drowned out by the voices of Hezbollah during the 2006 Lebanon war, dominated news networks with footage from unmanned drones and fighter-bombers that showed Hamas loading rockets onto a pickup truck to be driven closer to the border — but hit by an IAF airstrike almost immediately.
Writing in the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper just before Israel's air raids against Hamas targets, former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy said: "What is changing before our eyes is a clear process of recognition by Hamas leaders that their ideological aspiration is unattainable, and will remain in the foreseeable future. Therefore, its leaders in Damascus take the trouble to say to the many interlocutors who visit their offices, including in the past week, that they are willing or want the establishment of a Palestinian state within the provisional 1967 borders. Provisional until when? They do not say, and they do not know."
Provisional or permanent, that's precisely where Israel's leaders are determined not to go.
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