Yesterday, I was driving through the north-west reaches of the region called Southern Israel and found myself, as expected, in the middle of a downpour. Sadly, I am not referring to water drops, but to rain of a more metallic nature.
Israel again finds itself in a military operation in the Gaza Strip intended at changing the rules of engagement for both sides. I say again because of a strong sense of Déjà vu and a nagging feeling of “haven’t we been here before?”.
Imagine a never ending boxing match. In the opposing corners stand tired boxers. Each round follows the same attack and counter-attack pattern: missiles are fired into Israel by Hamas or Islamic Jihad, and Israel retaliates. Depending on the force and results of this retaliation, more missiles are fired into Israel, which results in a stronger retaliation. And so forth. Until a cease fire of some sorts is declared, and the bell rings ending the round. Now and again, a round seems to result in a knockout (e.g., “Case Lead” 2009), but the stricken boxer again rises to his feet after a prolonged timeout.
Behind this analogy, of course, is an impossible reality involving the lives of millions. Unlike a real boxing match, the spectators in this case are also on the receiving end of the blows.
I don’t doubt the necessity on Israel’s side in starting “Pillar of Cloud”, though I have to bring up the million dollar question – where is it all leading to?
Israel started out with a master strike, simultaneously taking out the head of the military arm of the Hamas and a majority of the long range missiles threatening to target the center of Israel. Israel then proceeded to utilize its remarkable intelligence capabilities by hitting launching sites and personnel. But since then, and using another analogy, the operation has started to resemble a rolling snow ball, slowly gathering momentum towards a final crash at the bottom of the hill, i.e. an invasion into Gaza.
Hamas continues to fire dozens of rockets, Israel continues to recruit reservists, and the international community has begun to crawl out of its economic crisis to offer advice and criticism. Israel is running out of quality targets, and the public is beginning to pressure the decision makers.
There are many examples in world history that show that once mobilized, countries find it hard to come down from the high tree they have climbed (e.g. WWI).
A land invasion will most likely result in heavy losses on both sides, military and civilian. Any international legitimacy that Israel had until that point, will most likely dissipate as indigestible pictures begin to be uploaded to Facebook serves. Hamas may capitulate but no one knows what Gaza would look like without Hamas. You will not find a soul in the Middle East that seeks to reside or control the Gaza Strip, other than perhaps the Palestinians themselves, so Occupation 2.0 – not an option.
It seems to me that the only reasonable way out is an internationally brokered agreement, something along the lines of “I won’t if you won’t”, the only difference compared to former similar agreements being real international guarantees. No more side-room deals mediated by the Egyptian intelligence, but a proper institutionalized, internationally supervised regime with solidly placed guarantees for both sides.
Israel will have to be assured that missile launches and attacks on the border will stop, and the Hamas will want a stop to bombings, assassinations and an easing of the blockade.
Institutionalizing the conflict, starting with a ceasefire agreement, can lead to future talks. In the Middle East, the only thing that is constant is change itself. Who would have expected that Mohamed Morsi, the leader of the Islamic Brotherhood, would find himself mediating an agreement with Israel?
Everything changes, so I wouldn’t be surprised to find the Hamas at one end of a negotiation table somewhere in the future…