U.S. and Israeli officials have been working hard in recent days to ease the deeply bruised feelings on both sides after Secretary of State John Kerry’s proposed cease-fire conditions appeared more sympathetic to the cause of Hamas, a declared terrorist organization, than to Israel, America’s greatest ally.
The editor of The Times of Israel, a well-respected news website in Jerusalem, labeled Kerry’s proposal a “betrayal,” and other Israeli media, including Haaretz, the dovish daily, seemed to agree. Administration officials, in turn, said the criticism of Kerry was personal and unwarranted.
The Israeli media based its sense of national shock, hurt and anger over Kerry seeking mediation between Hamas and Israel from Qatar and Turkey, both strong supporters of Hamas and critics of Israel, rather than Egypt, the traditional go-between in these matters and a foe of Hamas. (The administration maintained that Qatar and Turkey needed to be consulted because they were interlocutors with Hamas, and that what was discussed with the two countries was not a formal proposal.)
Further, the proposition called for addressing Hamas demands for open borders and urging an immediate cease-fire, preventing Israel from continuing its effort to destroy the extensive tunnels that, to its surprise, were far more in number, far deeper and far longer than imagined, with some that would reach into kibbutzim in the south. So now we know how the thousands of tons of concrete delivered to Gaza were used — not to build but to kill.
“We need more time and space,” former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren told The Jewish Week on Tuesday, noting that it took Israel two weeks to destroy about 60 percent of what Prime Minister Netanyahu calls the “death tunnels.” He said additional time is needed to finish the job. “Israel is trying to deliver a crushing blow to Hamas and it appears that the U.S. is focused on trying to stop the fighting,” he said.
The immediate U.S.-Israel disagreement is part of what Oren called “a more fundamental difference of world views,” like the fact that Qatar and Turkey are allies of the U.S. and hostile toward Israel. Also, the U.S. is trying mightily to avoid becoming engaged in further overseas military operations, in the wake of its experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, while Israel does not have the option of enduring hostile attacks on its population without striking back.
“Israel needs a Kissingerian view that military actions are sometimes an important ancillary to diplomacy,” according to Oren, currently a fellow at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya and the Atlantic Council.
In other words, give war a chance.
Based on previous inconclusive battles between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, and Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon, a key problem is that rather than allowing Jerusalem to defeat its terrorist attackers, the international community steps in when civilian casualties increase — part of the enemies’ strategy — and insists that Israel back off. The result is a diplomatic and psychological victory for the terrorists, who are allowed to champion their resistance to the IDF and re-arm, planning for the next attack.
Israelis are overwhelmingly in favor of the current operation — 95 percent according to a poll this week by the Israeli Democracy Institute — even as they mourn the relatively heavy losses of IDF soldiers and the deaths and extensive suffering among Gazan civilians.
John Kerry, having walked back his initial cease-fire proposal, has now joined the proper call for demilitarizing Hamas as a prelude to diplomacy. But who will step in and disarm Hamas? Not the U.S. And the UN can’t be trusted, having proved ineffectual in the past. So the job falls on Israel, which would like to see the Palestinian Authority govern Gaza, with Hamas declawed. In the meantime, though, the IDF needs to be allowed to break the status quo and put an end to the incessant efforts of Hamas to destroy Israel, from the sky and from underground.
Will the world allow Israel to win this war?