This is a War Israel Can’t WinRoundup
tags: Israel, Palestine, Gaza, Middle East history
Max Boot is a Washington Post columnist, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam.
The peace movement slogan “War is not the answer” is not always right. Sometimes — as in the struggle against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan — war is the only answer. But that bromide certainly applies to the current conflict between Israel and Hamas. However long Hamas continues rocketing Israel, and however long Israel continues bombing the Gaza Strip, this war will achieve nothing except a swift return to the status quo ante bellum.
That’s not a message that pro-Israel uber-hawks want to hear, but it’s the truth. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) claims that “handwringing calls for a ceasefire are tantamount to Hamas propaganda.” He wants Israel to “destroy Hamas’s war machine” and argues “the U.S. should provide it with the time, space, and resources to do so.”
How is that going to work exactly? Israel and Hamas are currently embroiled in their fourth major war since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007. Israel has not come close to destroying “Hamas’s war machine” in the previous three occasions, and it will not be any more successful now. Indeed, Hamas has already fired more than half as many rockets over the past week — more than 2,800 — than it did during the seven weeks of the 2014 conflict.
Israel cannot possibly defeat Hamas from the air, but it has no desire to risk another ground incursion into the Gaza Strip like the one in 2014. That operation sent casualties soaring on both sides — 2,251 Palestinians were killed (1,462 of them civilians) along with 67 Israeli soldiers and six civilians — but did not achieve any lasting strategic gains. Israel has even less desire to reoccupy the Gaza Strip, which would involve fighting an even more costly and protracted counterinsurgency against Hamas.
At most, Israel is trying to temporarily degrade Hamas and deter it from further hostilities for a few years. Israel may have no other choice when its cities are under rocket attack, but it is an entirely arbitrary judgment to decide how many Palestinians have to die and how many buildings have to be blown up to make Israel’s point: Don’t mess with us.
Likewise, Hamas is not trying to defeat Israel. Its rocket salvos are designed to increase its political standing among West Bank Palestinians at the expense of the lives and livelihoods of Gaza Strip Palestinians. Hamas will agree to a cease-fire once it has made its point: Don’t mess with us either.
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