A few days ago I wondered what Israel was hoping to accomplish with its assault on Gaza. Today's it's still not clear, not even to Israel's government which is still debating whether to make a total push into Gaza's cities, a move which would signal an attempt to destroy Hamas as a governing body. Meanwhile, as people warn that Israel's attack on Hamas will only result in strengthening the group, rocket attacks from Lebanon into northern Israel seem to confirm that warning as many see the rockets as a message from a Hezbollah that emerged from its own war with Israel stronger than it was before.
But not so fast.
Hezbollah is adamantly denying that it has anything to do with the rockets being launched from Lebanon. That's not the move of an empowered nationalistic militia; that's the move of a group that, despite its propaganda claims to the contrary, suffered a massive beating in its war with Israel. Hezbollah likely lost more than 500 soldiers in ground fighting with Israel while Israel lost 30 soldiers (Israel lost about 10o total soldiers). Furthermore, Hezbollah's rocket attacks, in which Hezbollah launched around 4,000 rockets into Israel, killed 43 Israelis civilians and wounded more than 4,000. While it's true that the impact of the rocket attacks cannot be measured purely in casualties, it's also true that 5-1 loss ratios and the use of a large part of its arsenal to kill 40 civilians cannot really be seen as a military victory in any sense. Furthermore, the political fallout borne by Hezbollah for antagonizing Israel and endangering Lebanon seems to have been very heavy. And now we're seeing the results of the Israeli operation, as Hezbollah despites its blustery claims of Palestinian solidarity is not only NOT opening a second front, it is taking great pains to ensure that Israel does not turn its might against Lebanon again.
If the invasion of Lebanon was enough to reestablish a modicum of deterrence against Hezbollah, can the Gaza campaign do the same vis-a-vis Hamas? A wide campaign against Hamas's strategic assets, government facilities, and underground tunnels may very well cripple Hamas's ability to not only attack Israel but to provide the services for Gaza that have advanced Hamas's political agenda and brought it to power as a viable alternative to Fatah. Hamas's victory in Gaza was not only a result of its aggressive stance against Israel but also a rejection of the corruption and ineffectiveness of Fatah. But if Hamas loses the capability to threaten Israel, cannot effectively defend itself or the people of Gaza, and sees its ability to govern destroyed, the Palestinian people very well may turn back to Fatah.
It is for this reason that it is imperative, as I wrote in my last post, for Israel to make clear the benefits that can be had for adhereing to the path that Fatah has chosen. As I wrote, "Israel should immediately announce a halt to all funding for settlement building in the West Bank, dismantle all illegal settlements, and lift all but the most necessary checkpoints and roadblocks that have made life in the West Bank so difficult." Doing so in the midst of the war against Hamas will announce in no uncertain terms Israel's commitment to a peaceful, two-state solution so long as there is a willing and able partner among the Palestinians.
In an article in today's Wall Street Journal, Edward Luttwak writes "Hamas will claim a win no matter what happens, but then so did Hezbollah in 2006. And yet, for the most part, Hezbollah remains immobile and the Israeli northern border with Lebanon remains quiet. If Israel can achieve the same with Hamas in Gaza, it would be a significant victory." But we must not be fooled by rhetoric and propaganda. Israel's invasion of Lebanon was definitely a success, and whether Gaza is as well will not be judged by Hamas's empty claims of victory.