Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Bret Stephens in WSJ: Hamas is a Hedgehog; Israel Must Become One

Normally I might take issue with Bret Stephens, a member of the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board and the former Editor-In-Chief of the Jerusalem Post, for appropriating the namesake and epigraph of the Hedgehog Blog for a column, but since (1) we are always linking to or quoting the Wall Street Journal opinion pages and (2) Mr. Stephens' insights are always incisive, he has my blessing. Lowell will have to speak for himself.

Mr. Stephens based his column, entitled "Hamas Knows One Big Thing," published yesterday in the Wall Street Journal, on the saying by the Greek poet Archilocus, "The fox knows many things, but the Hedgehog knows one big thing," which of course is the epigraph that appears in the upper left-hand column of our blog. According to Mr. Stephens, the reason why Hamas ignored warnings from Israel, Egypt, and even Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas not to renew the rocket barrages against Southern Israel, is that Hamas is a hedgehog:
But Hamas knows one big thing, which it labels "resistance" or, for Western audiences, "ending the occupation." Just what that means was made clear by Palestinian cleric Muhsen Abu 'Ita in a televised interview. "The annihilation of the Jews here in Palestine," he said, "is one of the most splendid blessings for Palestine."

Hamas will not be diverted from this genocidal program even when it means hurt and ruin for the Palestinian population it rules, Stephens writes. And, what is more, he explains, Hamas has a rational belief that its strategy will actually bring it a victory over Israel, because Israel is a fox that knows many things, but will not do the one thing it needs to do to defeat Hamas:
Hamas is also sustained by the insight that Israel's considerable military capabilities are unlikely to be matched by political will. It believes that whatever attacks come will be tempered by a host of humanitarian and diplomatic considerations. It believes that Israel wants to avoid a public relations debacle (so Hamas will do everything it can to engineer or fabricate one). It believes that the weight of international sympathy will be on its side. It believes, too, that the last thing Israel wants is to reoccupy Gaza, with all the costs and complications that entails.

Hamas believes, in short, that while Israel will do many things, and do them well, it will not do the main thing. And that, in turn, means that as Israel exhausts its target list, as eventually it will, the storm will pass. Then the green flag of the movement will fly defiantly over the tallest building left standing, its prestige hugely boosted -- and Israel's commensurately diminished -- throughout the Muslim world.

Unfortunately, Mr. Stephens may well be correct. This battle is quickly following the pattern set in the disastrous (for Israel) war with Hezbollah in Lebanon, in August 2006: The Israeli Air Force strikes tremendous blows against its enemy, initially with both moral justification and U.S. support. Then worldwide media begins to focus on the inevitable civilian casualties (inevitable because both Hezbollah and Hamas are careful to locate their military installations in civilian areas), followed by demonstrations on the streets of the U.S. and Europe. Then come the calls for restraint from European capitals, followed by pressure from the U.S. State Department for a quick ceasefire. Finally, Israel capitulates to the diplomatic pressure, and implements a ceasefire without accomplishing the objective that led it to war in the first place. All Israel will have accomplished is to its own international image while handing Hezbollah or Hamas (fill in the blank) a plausible argument that it has defeated Israel on the battlefield.

As Mr. Stephens notes, there is an answer for Israel, and that is for Israel to transform itself into a hedgehog that knows one big thing:
This is not a counsel of restraint, of which Israel has shown more than enough through years of provocation. It is merely to point out that no ingenious conceit can disguise the fact that war offers no outcome other than victory or defeat. This is one big thing that Hamas understands, and that Israel must as well. The fox cannot beat the hedgehog. But the bigger hedgehog can -- and in this case must -- defeat the smaller one.
Moshe Arens, a former Israeli Defense Minister, under the late and much missed Prime Minister Menachem Begin, agrees with Mr. Stephens and writes in Ha'Aretz that the only way to stop Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza is to conquer Gaza. In a column entitled "Seven ways (one effective) to stop the rockets," Arens writes:
Now that leaves the only effective alternative - for the Israel Defense Forces to take control of the rocket launching sites in the Gaza Strip. Over 60 years ago, in World War II, the Allies understood that the only way to put a stop to the shelling of London by German V2 rockets was for Allied armies to reach the launching sites in Western Europe.

Much has changed since then, but the rockets are essentially still the same (the Qassams and Grads fortunately have considerably less range than the V2s). So that leaves the job to the IDF ground forces.

Why has it been so difficult for our leaders - civilian and military - to understand this? The prospect of ground forces entering the Gaza Strip is not particularly attractive, especially after we have been told that "we have left the Gaza Strip forever." But nobody has yet found a way of defeating an enemy without invading their territory. Call it occupation or whatever else you like, but that is how wars have always been won, and if we are going to defeat Hamas and stop the rockets from raining on Israeli civilians that is what we will have to do.

Will Israel's leaders listen to the wise voices of Messrs. Stephens and Arens? Or, as Arab nations press the UN Security Council for an "enforceable" (meaning enforceable against Israel only)resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire, will Israel once again snatch defeat from the jaws of victory?


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