Again we mourn the loss of loved ones. Again we are confronted with the vicious cycle of violence. And again we must emotionally detach ourselves in order to face the harsh reality. To carefully calculate a way out of the dark and deep tunnel we now find ourselves in, we must wipe the tears away and forge ahead. And dark and deep this tunnel is. For Hamas has finally managed to achieve what it wanted all along – to drag Israel into a dirty street fight. The logic behind Hamas’ reasoning is not unsound. Bogging down a conventional army in a guerrilla war is Hamas’ only chance to successfully confront the most advanced military in the Middle East. Whatever advantage Israel had from the Iron Dome defense system means little in the streets of Shejaiya. From a political point of view, Hamas assumes the carnage resulting from a conventional army trudging its way through the most populated area on the planet will take away any international legitimacy Israel had for the operation. Hamas also assumes that eventually the political climate in Israel will pressure the Israeli government to stop the operation. The weak Israeli society – so Hamas believes – will cave in as soon as the bodies of IDF soldiers begin to pile up. As things stand now, Hamas is in for an unpleasant surprise. From a military perspective, the IDF has the means to continue its missions as defined by the Israeli decision makers. Yes, the IEDs, tunnels, booby-traps, anti-tank missiles and of course rockets pose a serious challenge. But the good news is that there are no special surprises here. The IDF knew about the various threats soldiers would encounter on the streets of Gaza, and is well trained in how to counter them. An entire city was constructed in one of the training facilities in the south to simulate exactly the kind of challenges soldiers would have to face if and when a ground offensive was initiated in Gaza. More importantly, Hamas’ assumptions regarding the international community and the steadfastness of the Israeli society have been proven wrong. The anti-Israel demonstrations all over the world do not represent the official stance of the respective governments. Unlike in previous operations, Israel seems to enjoy the backing of the leaders of most major powers. The reasons for this abound: a) Israel’s restraint during the first 10 days of the operation; b) Better advocacy work by Israel’s diplomatic service, especially when compared with the 2008 Cast Lead operation; c) The ISIS and Al Qaeda threat – though unrelated, Hamas’ belligerency is perceived as part and parcel of the Islamist threat; and d.) Changes in the Arab world – many Arab states (Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia) see Hamas (and the Muslim Brotherhood) as a threat to the stability of their rule. In Israel, there is an unprecedented common understanding that we are at war, and a necessary war at that. The tragic deaths of Israeli soldiers (and of innocent Palestinians I may add) is currently seen as a terrible yet necessary cost. Like never before, Israelis appear to be ready to bare the costs. The fact that almost the entire country found itself under the threat of rockets this time seems to have contributed to this willingness. Hamas’ brutal behavior towards its very own people has managed to marginalize most of the radical left and human rights groups in Israel, giving the decision makers plenty of room for maneuvering. This political leeway results in confidence. This is apparent when listening to the words of Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ya’alon and it is even apparent from reading their body language. The willingness to go all the way is there. The plans are ready. The public is ready. Israel may very well go the whole nine yards this time. But this can all change. The appalling images coming out of Gaza now are the images Hamas wants the world to see. Charles Krauthammer of the Washington Post, put it thus:
…the whole point is to draw Israeli counter-fire. This produces dead Palestinians for international television. Which is why Hamas perversely urges its own people not to seek safety when Israel drops leaflets warning of an imminent attack. To deliberately wage war so that your own people can be telegenically killed is indeed moral and tactical insanity. But it rests on a very rational premise: Given the Orwellian state of the world’s treatment of Israel (see: the U.N.’s grotesque Human Rights Council), fueled by a mix of classic anti-Semitism, near-total historical ignorance and reflexive sympathy for the ostensible Third World underdog, these eruptions featuring Palestinian casualties ultimately undermine support for Israel’s legitimacy and right to self-defense. In a world of such Kafkaesque ethical inversions, the depravity of Hamas begins to make sense. This is a world in which the Munich massacre is a movie and the murder of Klinghoffer is an opera — both deeply sympathetic to the killers. This is a world in which the U.N. ignores humanity’s worst war criminals while incessantly condemning Israel, a state warred upon for 66 years that nonetheless goes to extraordinary lengths to avoid harming the very innocents its enemies use as shields.
Support for Israel’s position, tenuous from the start, is slowly being eroded. As the anti-Israel sentiment intensifies, the leaders will eventually have to follow suit. This is extremely relevant in Egypt, where President Sisi may have to alter his tough stance towards Hamas against his will following internal dissension towards the official policy. This means Israel must do all it can to avoid a protracted war. It has to be on the move all the time and not be static. It must lead the confrontation and not be led. And it must do this as quickly a possible since the political window of opportunity is rapidly closing.