Sunday, January 25, 2009

What Hath Gaza Wrought?

According to Brett Stevens in the January 19th Wall Street Journal:
[W]hy are the top echelons of Israel's political and military establishment delighted by the war's result? . . . [A] senior military official offers perhaps the most authoritative explanation of his government's war aims and his interpretation of its effects. "We have no desire to go back into Gaza," he says. "We decided we're not going to spend five years [in Gaza] like the five years Americans spent in Iraq."

On the contrary: Far from seeking regime change in Gaza, the official seems at ease that the Palestinians will remain bifurcated between Hamastan and Fatahland for many years more, the way Germany was divided during the Cold War. The idea is that a Hamas state in Gaza -- somehow deterred from mischief -- could become a kind of useful negative example to the Palestinians of the West Bank, somewhat in the way East Germany served West Germany as a monument to everything that was wrong with communism.

This leads the official to his second remarkable comment, after I ask whether Israel deliberately chose not to kill Ismail Haniyeh, the elected Palestinian prime minister and Hamas's political leader in Gaza. "Israel tried to target people from the security apparatus and military wing," he answers. "At this moment, we prefer that the less-radical wing will take over."

The current divisions within Hamas are not the only ones the official sees as a consequence of the war. Palestinians, he says, no longer look to Hamas as the party of clean and competent government. Instead, they see a group whose leaders needlessly provoked a ruinous war they didn't have the courage to fight themselves. No wonder the third intifada in the West Bank, on which Hamas had counted, never materialized.

Elsewhere, Hamas's former patrons in the Arab world have split with the group ever since it became a client of Tehran. A dozen Arab states, along with the Palestinian Authority, boycotted an emergency summit of the Arab League, which had been intended as a show of support for Hamas supremo Khaled Mashal.

Then there is Egypt. For years, it took an ambivalent view of Hamas: partly worried by the threat it poses to its own secular regime, partly delighted by the trouble it causes Israel. Now the Mubarak government at last understands that Hamas is also a strategic threat to Egypt. "An Iranian base can play against Egypt the same way it played against Israel," says the official. Almost as an aside, he adds that the timing of Israel's operation in Gaza was dictated in part by the assessment that Hamas was just months away from obtaining longer-range missiles that could reach Cairo as easily as Tel Aviv.

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