A lot of people have asked the purpose of Israel’s defensive war against Hamas. Some, including those supposedly expert on the region, have been mystified. They cannot seem to figure out what is going on or what the goal of this Israeli operation could be.
The answer is simple. Given the premise that Hamas is in a permanent state of war with Israel and will attack Israel whenever it can get away with it, Israel needed to do three things.
First, Israel had to show Hamas that it cannot daily attack Israel and Israeli civilians without a cost.
Second, Israel had to show Hamas that the cost is unsustainable and that it needs to keep the peace or suffer massive losses to its governmental, economic, and military infrastructure. This includes a personal cost to those who have taken the lead in attacking Israel and especially to those who have organized terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians.
Third, Israel had to remove from Hamas the means of making war by destroying its rockets, missiles, and other weaponry. Of course, they will rebuild, but it is better to have an enemy that must start over again from near-zero than one that is adding thousands of weapons onto the thousands it already possesses, including the addition of more advanced arms and especially longer-range missiles.
Ending the current fighting in the Gaza Strip is also simple. There are two requirements: an international willingness to do it and an important decision from the new Egyptian government.
Ideally, the world would help overthrow the illegal Hamas regime that represses people in the Gaza Strip and repeatedly drags them into costly and losing wars with their stronger neighbor. But that’s not going to happen. So the next best thing is a ceasefire that will last several years at least. While Hamas still has ties with Iran, and some factions are closer to Tehran, the Gaza regime’s real patron is Egypt. Both places are ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood.
We have been constantly told that the Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt is really moderate. The Obama administration helped put that government into power. Yes, the Muslim Brotherhood won elections, but from January 2011 onward, Washington basically backed the Brotherhood in a number of ways. The U.S. government has constantly defended the Brotherhood as being moderate and criticized the Egyptian military when it tried to keep that group out of power.
So the Egypt government supposedly wants to focus on domestic affairs and doesn’t want to be dragged into war with Israel. It is being given huge amounts of goodies without any apparent conditions. This includes a staggering $6.4 billion in loans from the European Union; $4.5 billion from the International Monetary Fund; and $450 million from the United States, plus another $1 billion plus in U.S. military aid.
Perhaps Egypt can do something in exchange for all of this political support and money, including loans that will never be repaid. Let Cairo make clear to its Hamas clients that it wants a real ceasefire and does not accept Hamas periodically firing large numbers of rockets, missiles, and mortars on Israel, in addition to instigating cross-border attacks. Egypt wants quiet in order to deal with its tremendous problems of poverty, pending bankruptcy, and also the regime’s program to turn Egypt into an Islamist state.
I could add cynically—but accurately—that it also wants time to lower the status of women, install ever-larger amounts of Sharia law, and intimidate Christians into servitude. But these things apparently don’t really bother the West so they are going to happen anyway without real leverage being applied.
Egypt can let all the food and goods anyone wants to enter the Gaza Strip across their mutual border. It can at the same time prevent the crossing of weapons, including motors for rockets and Iranian-made missiles. The Cairo government can help Hamas raise the living standards in the Gaza Strip as high as it wants without helping it destroy them by going to war. The truth is that the Egyptian government may issue statements to a credulous Western media from time to time that it’s cracking down on the smuggling of arms into the Gaza Strip but that regime actually needs to do something real.