In Cairo on Monday, Hamas leader Khaled Meshal mocked the 36-hour deadline Israel threatened before widening its actions against the terrorist group. “If you wanted to launch it, you would have done it,” he said, implying he believes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was bluffing. However, Mr. Netanyahu is not known for national security brinksmanship. If he sets a deadline, odds are he means it.
The White House supports Israel’s right to take defensive action against “missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders,” as President Obama put it Monday. Mr. Obama added it would be “preferable” to avoid a full-scale ground invasion of Gaza. “If we see a further escalation of the situation in Gaza,” he said, “then the likelihood of us getting back on any kind of peace track that leads to a two-state solution is going to be pushed off way into the future.”
Mr. Obama’s reticence to see Israel take more concerted action is understandable, but it probably would have little impact on the stalled peace process. Hamas is not a party to any negotiations with Israel and is pledged to the destruction of the Jewish state. As such, Hamas seeks a one-state solution. Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s three-week incursion into Gaza in the winter of 2008-09, also had no impact on subsequent peace talks. The Obama administration’s failure to broker meaningful progress between Israelis and Palestinians in its first term was due to maladroit diplomacy, not lingering anger over the rough treatment of Hamas.
Operation Cast Lead is a cautionary tale mainly because it failed to solve the problem. Hamas still rules in Gaza. Weapons smuggling continues — most significantly, weapons from Iran — and Israel has had to suffer a continuous barrage of mortars and rockets aimed at its cities. Recent attacks on suburbs of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem show that Hamas has new, longer-range weapons in its arsenal, and it is willing to use them. Whatever respite the previous invasion had brought is long gone. The lesson from the previous Gaza war is that half measures are not enough to bring about meaningful change. So long as Gaza is under the control of a terrorist group like Hamas, there can be no peace.
Israel may lack the political will to undertake the type of military operation necessary to drive Hamas out of Gaza. There would also be some question whether the Palestinian National Authority would be willing to reconstitute its government in Gaza following in the wake of Israeli tanks. However, assuming Israel takes the step of launching ground action in Gaza, it should find ways to have a more decisive impact than the last time around. Ultimately a second, limited invasion of Gaza may only achieve what the first invasion did, which is to buy time. Given the increasingly complex and unstable environment Israel faces in the Middle East, this may be the best that can be hoped for.
The Washington Times