Saturday, January 3, 2009

Israel Launches Ground Invasion: To Topple Or Not?

Now that Israel has launched a ground invasion of Gaza, questions remain regarding its ultimate strategic goals. The main issue is whether Israel intends to topple Hamas, and the ramifications of whether or not it does so. It is possible that Israel doesn't know what it intends, and that the entire operation may be subject to "mission creep," with the goals becoming more ambitious–and possibly grandiose–as the war continues. Larry Cohler-Esses and Nathan Guttman analyzed the confusing picture in The Forward

The apparently contradictory developments starkly highlighted the question of Israel’s war aims. One path could take Israel toward a limited end that garnered international support and a greater chance of achievement. The second — regime change — could plunge Israel into an abyss.

...A wide spectrum of policy and military analysts in Washington and Jerusalem warned the Israeli government against taking a path leading to regime change in Gaza. Many pointed to grandiose Israeli declarations in 2006 about destroying the Shi’ite group Hezbollah, which had kidnapped two Israeli soldiers, touching off a war. But the goal of destroying Hezbollah proved unachievable, handing the Islamic group a propaganda victory.

...there was no guarantee that Israel could completely stop rocket launches without militarily retaking Gaza. Israel directly controlled the district from 1967 until its unilateral withdrawal in 2005. The military and diplomatic costs of that control have left Israeli leaders almost viscerally opposed to trying to govern Gaza again.

...“I think there is a heavy tactical quality to Israeli policy,” said Phillip Wilcox, a former State Department Middle East specialist who is now president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, a group critical of Israeli settlement policies. “I don’t think over the years there has been a lot of attention to strategy — that is, what’s going to happen after the war? I don’t think they thought about it in Lebanon. And I don’t think they’ve thought about it in this war.”

Anthony Zinni, a retired American four-star general, agreed.

“I think they are trying to either eliminate or severely damage Hamas and to find a way to drive them out of power, but unfortunately, at the end, it will only strengthen them,” said Zinni, who was appointed President Bush’s special envoy to Israel and the P.A. in 2002. “It creates another generation of supporters for the Hamas and also increases pressure on the Arab governments."

The New York Times also outlined Israel's dilemma:

“If the war ends in a draw, as expected, and Israel refrains from re-occupying Gaza, Hamas will gain diplomatic recognition,” wrote Aluf Benn, a political analyst, in the newspaper Haaretz on Friday. “No matter what you call it,” he added, “Hamas will obtain legitimacy.”

...Implicit in Mr. Benn’s argument, however, is that the only way to stop Hamas from gaining legitimacy is for Israel to fully occupy Gaza again, more than three years after removing its soldiers and settlers. That is a prospect practically no one in Israel or abroad is advocating.

Moreover, while it may sound decisive to speak of taking Hamas out of power, almost no one familiar with Gaza and Palestinian politics considers it realistic. Hamas legislators won a democratic majority in elections four years ago, and the group has 15,000 to 20,000 men under arms...

...The likelier result of a destruction of the Hamas infrastructure, then, would be chaos, anathema not only to the people of Gaza but also to those hoping for peace in southern Israel.

The ground invasion, as it continues, will force Israel to choose between two undesirable alternatives. If Hamas remains in power, it, like Hizbullah in Lebanon, will claim victory through survival and gain in political power. If Israel topples Hamas, it will have to reoccupy a hostile, chaotic area. The United States has provided an example of the difficulties of declaring "mission accomplished" following a regime change. In this case, who would be in charge of the new regime?

No comments: