If there’s a theme emerging in the analysis of Israel’s ongoing bombing campaign in (and looming invasion of?) Gaza, it’s that Israel is anxious to show that the failed invasion of Lebanon in 2006 was an aberration. Writing in The Globe and Mail, Patrick Martin argues that, far from being humbled after the Lebanese exercise, Israel has instead adapted by lowering its threshold for success while leaving its basic, heavy-handed military strategy intact:
Since before the founding of the state in 1948, Israel’s military doctrine has been about deterrence, about striking fear in the hearts of its enemies whenever possible. Israel’s weekend attacks were as much about instilling awe in future enemies as they were about shocking the country’s current nemesis.
Now, that power of deterrence is in doubt. A poll released Sunday night in Israel showed that 81 per cent of Israelis favoured the action being taken against Hamas, but only 39 per cent thought it was likely to be effective. Even Israelis appear to have lost faith.
It prepared for declaring victory by setting a much more modest goal than Israel declared when it attacked Hezbollah two years ago. Israeli leaders said they only sought to restore “quiet” in the south of the country where rockets fired from Gaza have rained down daily – no mention of eradicating Hamas, or even of eliminating all the rockets.
The New York Times‘ Ethan Bonner suggests that while the mission’s vague goals hint at a willingness to negotiate a new cease-fire agreement with Hamas, “Israel has a larger concern — it worries that its enemies are less afraid of it than they once were, or should be. Israeli leaders are calculating that a display of power in Gaza could fix that.” According to Bonner, Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak’s political future could hinge on his ability to resurrect Israel’s status as a fearsome military presence in the region:
As chairman of the Labor Party, he is running for prime minister in the February elections and polls show him to be a distant third to the Likud leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the Kadima leader, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.
But if Hamas is driven to a kind of cease-fire and towns in Israel’s south no longer live in fear of constant rocket fire, he will certainly be seen as the kind of leader this country needs. If, on the other hand, the operation takes a disastrous turn or leads to a regional conflagration, his political future seems bleak and he will have given Hamas the kind of prestige it has long sought.
In the L.A. Times, Richard Boudreaux argues the mission has already partly succeeded at mitigating the perception Israel left its military mojo in Lebanon:
Although many risks and uncertainties lie ahead, in particular the specter of getting bogged down in a ground war, the offensive has brought Israel to a psychological turning point, restoring a measure of the country’s confidence in its capacity to confront armed adversaries.
“Hamas is dazed and confused and has no explanation to offer its people,” Amos Gilad, a senior Israeli Defense Ministry official, told Israel Radio on Sunday. “But we must refrain from bragging and marking dramatic objectives.”
Rather than remove Hamas from power, he and other Israeli officials say, the goal is to weaken the movement and demonstrate the price it would pay for continuing to launch rockets. Sooner or later, Israel hopes to restore and strengthen an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire that worked for nearly five months before it started to break down in November.
Meantime, the humanitarian situation in Gaza continues to deteriorate. The Washington Post reports that food and medical supplies are rapidly dwindling and a Palestinian psychiatrist working inside Gaza tells CTV, “The situation is so bad that doctors have made makeshift operating theatres in the corridors of the hospitals because there is no beds to treat patients.” Things might soon get much worse, too: according to Dr. Eyad El-Sarraj, the Israeli military has apparently warned officials at the main hospital in Gaza that it intends to bomb part of the facility.