Author's note: I'm sorry for the Right-To-Left formatting of the blog. I generally type in Hebrew because I feel a blog that deals specifically with local subjects should be written in a local language. But this is, unfortunately, an international issue, and as such I opted to write my thoughts in English.
It's no surprise that the latest round of the ongoing Israel-Palestinian war, which began as a "regular" round of Palestinian rockets being shot at the civilian population centers in the south of Israel and culminating in operation "Pillar of Cloud", feels like a redundant stalemate which grants no one any gains and causes no one to gain any significant achievements.
During the course of the past few days of warfare, Hamas fired rockets directly at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem for the first time, crossing what many Israelis believe to be a bright "red line", to borrow terminology from our PM, and Israel killed many high-ranking officials and destroyed over 1500 Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip, causing a very large amount of collateral damage and destroying a great deal of property. And yet on a geopolitical level – very little, if anything, changed.
I do not intend to analyze who started the conflict. Such an effort is not only pointless, it's also moot and provides absolutely no contribution towards gaining a resolution. I intend, instead, to paint the picture of the Israeli "fork in the road", as of Nov. 21, 2012, a few hours before the supposed truce. To be clear – my analysis of the situation does not change in any way due to the fact a truce has actually been achieved, as it represents the dilemma faced by Policy makers before they reached whatever decision it is they reached.
The main problem with the situation, as I see it, is that Israel no longer has a single address in the Palestinian people that it can approach to reach a conclusive agreement which would apply both in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip. It hasn't had such an address since the Hamas toppled the PNA government by force, in fact.
This leads Israel to be placed in a diplomatic problem. Even assuming all parties were willing to talk – any and all temporary agreements made with the PNA without Hamas consent would apply only on what is currently controlled by the PNA (and vice-versa), and any and all permanent agreements made with the PNA would most likely involve concessions regarding the Gaza Strip which are not likely to be agreeable to Hamas (and vice-versa). In short – to solve the Palestinian problem diplomatically, Israel has to talk to two diametrically opposed groups of Palestinians.
One could argue that agreements with the PNA would pressure the Hamas into signing similar agreements with Israel and thus end the problem via diplomatic means, but this ignores the fact Hamas governs the Gaza strip not just through the force of its military might, but also through its extensive civilian infrastructure network and virtually limitless foreign-nation funds. An agreement with the PNA may pressure Hamas into trying to reach an agreement with Israel – but there is no guarantee Hamas will have other incentives to avoid precisely such an agreement given the organization's own goals and funding sources.
Even under the extremely unlikely event Israel and the PNA moderates reach a full agreement and Hamas does not assassinate the PNA leadership in a desperate attempt to thwart peace under terms it perceives as humiliating to the Palestinian people, the value of concessions made by the PNA and their applicability to Hamas-governed Gaza is questionable, at best.
As a result of this fact, even if the PNA may be a willing partner for negotiations – it is unclear of how much value any of the results of these talks will be. This leads me to believe the "Palestinian problem" is actually two separate yet related problems – one in the West Bank, which should be resolved by direct talks, and one in Gaza, which cannot be resolved by direct talks, given Hamas' declared stance that it reject the very existence of the State of Israel.
And so we return to the current warfare state in Gaza. The way I see it, Israel currently faces three, equally viable, options, with each of these options having a subset of variant scenarios. I shall perhaps note some of these subsets, but I do not intend to address them fully.
The first course of action, is to pursue a full scale, "Cast Lead"-type incursion into Gaza.
This will result inevitably in massive casualties to all sides, with a heavy slant towards more Palestinian casualties due to Israel's superior defensive technologies and prevalence of bomb shelters, early warning systems and its disciplined population.
Assuming the offensive is not halted mid-drive and if it is pursued until its logical conclusion, this course of action will at least cripple a large part of the Gaza strip and its infrastructure, but it is also likely to result in a return of Israeli occupation over the Gaza strip and the overthrowing of the Hamas government, an occupation which can be as short as a few weeks pending the formation of an interim government or as long as Israeli resolve allows. However, what is most likely to occur following an Israeli withdrawal, is that the power vacuum left by a strong military presence will most likely be filled by others – most likely, more violent and radical organizations, also funded by foreign, hostile governments.
It is worth noting that, as a subset of this scenario, that there is a possibility the PNA shall regain authority and assert its rule over the Gaza Strip, but I do not currently see this as a viable scenario, as the military infrastructure which shall restore the PNA rule will be Israeli, and history tends to show us that the Palestinians do not welcome Israel-backed rule.
As a result, an unimpeded, massive ground incursion will succeed in obtaining the primary objective of toppling the Hamas government and will likely secure a reduction in rocket and artillery fire from Gaza into Israel, but on a long-term analysis of the conflict, this accomplishes nothing.
The second course of action, is to continue the relentless air campaign and resume targeted killings. Under this course of action (as under the first, in most certainty), the rocket fire from Gaza to Israeli settlements will continue. As a nature of the type of conflict the Hamas and Israel are engaged in, Palestinian non-combatants will continue to die. Barring tragedies of an international scale, and assuming a continuation of the current combatant/non-combatant casualty ratio the IAF currently maintains, this campaign is likely to be protracted and likely to last a very, very long time.
Despite Israel's superior defensive technologies, the country's economy will suffer greatly. The last 8 days of war have cost the Israelis 750$ million in indirect damages, not counting the actual cost of warfare and direct damages. It is most probable that Hamas will remain in power despite the bombing campaign, and it is also likely the Israeli government will also remain in power. This is the closest option to the status quo, in so much as the result is that nothing will change, until the next round of bloody violence, which shall commence anywhere between one week and one year from the time this round peters out into a red mist.
The third course of action, the one currently being considered if the media is to be believed, is to ignore the events of the past two days, and to continue towards a cease fire.
It is evident that the result of such a course of action is that Hamas will remain in power, and that is shall even solidify its rule.
This will also result in Hamas having successfully brought Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and other cities of 1947, pre-partition plan Israel into effective firing range, without suffering any consequences graver than it would have suffered if it had continued firing at 1 million Israeli civilians in Beer Sheva, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Sderot and other cities.
Just to be perfectly clear: this means a total of around 5 million people are now within rocket range. Five. Million. People.
The cease fire may or may not include a cessation of the Israeli blockade of Gaza. If it does – prior experience indicates Hamas will not import (only) kittens, unicorns and chocolates, but also more advanced fighting technologies, skilled fighters, and possibly longer range rockets, or just a larger stockpile of rockets, which shall then promptly be dispersed and stowed in civilian buildings and hardened targets throughout the Gaza strip.
The cessation – or even the partial lifting – of the Israeli blockade, will give Gaza an open-sea port and allow it access to the world. For such as a thing to happen, it means that Hamas has effectively managed a military against a state actor, survived military retaliation, and successfully negotiated what amounts to de-facto recognition of Gaza as an independent strip of Palestinian land not controlled by the PNA. This means, effectively, that there are now three theoretical countries for two people.
As I see them – these were the three options handed to us by reality. I wonder – which option would you have chosen?