It was slightly under a year ago that the not-real peace process, the one driven by the U.S. administration and especially Secretary of State John Kerry, got under way.
In that “process,” Israel and the ostensibly moderate Fatah wing of the Palestinians, led by Mahmoud Abbas, were supposed to negotiate for nine months and reach a conflict-ending two-state solution.
There was a hitch: to reach that pot of gold, Israel would have to release 104 Palestinian prisoners in phased batches. They could not be car thieves and the like; they had to be terrorist murderers. Sometimes the road to peace has strange bumps in it.
That peace process ended with something less than a bang in April. Even though Kerry’s envoy Martin Indyk admitted that Abbas—insufficiently appeased by the prisoner releases—had “shut down” and stopped talking with Israel by December, both Kerry and Indyk managed to blame Israeli building in “settlements,” primarily Jerusalem, for the talks’ failure.
Now, three months since those talks wound down, Israel is at war. It’s been a fierce war, but it offers more hope of peace than Kerry and Indyk’s “process” ever did.
It offers such hope because, after two days, Israel in Operation Protective Edge is displaying even more stunning capabilities than in its previous war against Gaza-based, mainly Hamas terror, the eight-day-long Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012.
As a “senior security official” told the Jerusalem Post on Wednesday evening:
Hamas has been surprised by Israel’s response. We systematically struck operational infrastructure… In the past 36 hours we destroyed more than what was destroyed during all of Operation Pillar of Defense, and many targets were areas where senior Hamas commanders operate….
There’s not a single Hamas brigade commander that has a home to go back to….
So much for offense. On defense, Israel’s Iron Dome antimissile system has been doing even better than in Pillar of Defense, downing over 90% of rockets headed for populated areas.
Iron Dome has been doing so even though, in the year and a half since Pillar of Defense, Hamas has not only upped its supply of rockets but also their ranges. During Pillar of Defense, Hamas celebrated wildly when a handful of rockets reached as far as Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. In this new round they’ve reached considerably farther, all the way to Haifa—but, thanks mainly to Iron Dome, to no avail.
As of Wednesday evening, the casualty count was: on the Hamas side, about 50 dead and a few hundred wounded; on the Israeli side, no dead and no wounded.
The questions for Israel concern how far to take this war, whether or not to launch a ground invasion in addition to the aerial assault, and how the final outcome should look. Israeli higher-ups consider Hamas a lesser evil than the global-jihad groups likely to replace it; they want to damage and deter Hamas but probably not destroy it. Israel does not want to return to ruling well over a million hostile Muslims in Gaza, and if it goes in, it will need an exit strategy.
There is, however, no question about who will win this war, and the early indications are that it will be an even more decisive win than Pillar of Defense, which in turn was a more decisive win than Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009. That’s where hope for the future, and even for peace, comes in.
In Israel’s first 25 years, from 1948 to 1973, it fought five wars against Arab states and (except for the inconclusive 1967-1970 War of Attrition with Egypt) won them decisively. Since 1973, Israel has had no wars against Arab states. It’s not that Egypt and Jordan, and certainly not Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and so on, came to love Israel. But, generally speaking, they came to realize that fighting it was a losing proposition.
True, those were relatively rational states with nationalist leaders. The enemies Israel faces today—the religious radicals of Hamas, Hizballah, the jihadi groups now crowding into Syria, and the Iranian regime—are of a different ilk. But it turns out that even these warriors of God prefer to remain intact. With all the bungling and poor planning that Israel displayed in its war against Hizballah in 2006, Hizballah sustained major damage and has not fired a missile at Israel since.
Operation Protective Edge still has a long way to go. The Palestinian casualties inevitably include civilians, and it is only a matter of time before the U.S., EU, and UN start weighing in on that. What has seemed so far like understanding that Israel is fighting another vicious Middle Eastern terror organization will probably deteriorate into harsh diplomatic pressure for a ceasefire. Optimism has to be tempered with caution.
Even so, it is not too early to say that Israel’s growing prowess as a high-tech military powerhouse, now on display to the Middle East in Gaza, augurs better for its future than phony peace talks.
Reprinted with author’s permission