Friday, January 9, 2009

Why Israel is Losing In Gaza

    REUTERS/Nikola Solic (GAZA)
    AP Photo/Bernat Armangue

Both photos are from the always fantastic Big Picture .
Update: I picked the first photo to show the amount of damage created by dropping an aerial bomb in an urban area.  The Economist was interested in the same thing and picked the same photo for this week's cover.

Its hard to know where to start.  Israeli politicians, the Israeli military, Hamas, Fatah, the Egyptians and the Americans all have blood on their hands.  The whole thing is a mess.  Nobody knows what they want to achieve, and if they did, nobody is capable of achieving it.  At this point, both Hamas and Israel are content to inflict, or have inflicted, civilian casualties.  Indeed, in the war of attrition that seems to be developing, Hamas wins with more civilian and Israeli casualties.  More Palestinian civilian casualties creates more public opinion pressure on the US, Egypt and the Israeli government.  More Israeli military casualties creates incredible domestic pressure inside Israel.  The longer this goes on and Hamas survives, the more its going to look like an Israeli defeat.

The Israelis have run out of targets, and are now bouncing the rubble.  Any Hamas fighters dumb enough to come out with their guns died in the first 48 hours of the Israeli ground invasion.  The Hamas leadership flew the coop as soon as it became apparent the Israelis were going to systematically bomb their homes.  As a result, Israel is now dropping 500 lb bombs on apartment buildings that contain only civilians unlucky enough to live in the same building as a now fugitive Hamas leader but have nowhere else to hide.

What Israel intends to achieve is unclear to even the Israelis.  Haaretz reports strong divisions between Omert, Livni, Barak and the military over what should happen next.  Each favours a different approach.  So much for the lessons of 2006.  The most unforgivable sin in war is to not have a clear idea of what the end looks like.  Without that, you are throwing away people's lives for nothing.  Israel may have had a causus belli, but it looks thin when compared on the one hand with the Israeli military's ability to stop the rocket fire, and the inevitable humanitarian catastrophe on the other.  Let's be clear, the Israeli military cannot stop rockets from being fired.  As long as Hamas has rockets and is willing to take civilian casualties, they will keep launching.  I guess the plan is to have them use up their stockpiles and ply the Egyptians to prevent re-armament.  Good luck.  Both Egyptian public opinion and local economic advantage favour supporting Hamas.

The necessity of self-defense is an important principal, but more Israelis probably die in car accidents each year.  The real target of Hamas is the IDF itself.  If the IDF can't stop daily attacks on Israel from known enemies, then what good is it?  The rockets have made that question so urgent that the IDF is willing to gamble on a war to settle the matter.  War, even against the hapless Palestinians, is not taken lightly by the IDF.  But, as shown by the photo above, dropping aerial bombs in a crowded urban area is guaranteed to kill civilians.  The second photo above shows the damage from a Hamas rocket.  Compare the two photographs for a compelling story.  A Hamas rocket landing anywhere in Israel is a victory for Hamas, no matter how little damage it does.  Each Israeli bomb no matter how well targeted is not going to stop Hamas, no matter how much damage it does.

What's effectively happened is that Hamas has drawn Israel into the low-intensity Palestinian civil war between Hamas and Fatah. The IDF can hurt Hamas, but can't kill it.   Each blow Israel lands strengthens Hamas politically and damages Fatah.  Like 2006, Israel has been tricked into a war it can't win.  Like 2006, it can't stop the rockets. Like 2006, it has no viable exit strategy.  Like 2006, the math is working against them.  Like 2006, innocent civilians are having their homes, infrastructure and lives destroyed.  Like 2006, war it was easier to start the war than to end it.  Like 2006, the Israelis are losing.  Each day, each dead civilian, each bomb, exacerbates that defeat.  One of the primary goals in this operation was to restore Israeli deterrence.  But just the opposite has happened.  Even the hapless Palestinians have figured out the formula pioneered by Hezbollah, how to beat the Israelis by having them attack you.  As a result, this war is worse than lost, its a waste.  Israel is rapidly digging a hole for itself strategically.  The Israeli government, and especially the IDF, need to stop digging.