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Hamas Wants Israel to Invade

Ha’aretz correspondents Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff think Israel, despite the apocalyptic rhetoric, is actually prepared to pull back when the Air Force exhausts its bombing targets. (They name Ehud Barak as an advocate of “caution.”) That’s because if Israel doesn’t accept a ceasefire soon, it will have no choice but to invade, which Hamas hopes it will:

But Hamas officials and analysts said Monday that the organization would actually like Israel to launch a ground operation; it hopes this would let it inflict such heavy losses on Israeli tanks and infantry that Israel would flee with its tail between its legs.

First off, to define the goal of the campaign in metaphysical terms — how do you know when Hamas’ “will” is broken? — while acknowledging that destroying Hamas’ capability to attack is unrealistic is nothing short of foolish. Second, the Ha’aretz writers note that no matter what Hamas will claim victory as long as there’s one member of Hamas left alive. How do we know that? Because Hamas saw that it worked for Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006.

And that leads to the third point. How and why was Hezbollah able to claim victory in Lebanon? Because Israel invaded with the exact same kind of all-out-war and final-battle and once-and-for-all rhetoric. When you do that, you give your enemy the means to win: his unbroken will. That’s why the rhetoric out of Israel is counterproductive — in these types of wars, it’s never just rhetoric. It’s the definition of the strategic terms.

Now, given that initial blunder, is it better for Israel to simply accept a ceasefire and accept the taunts of Hamas that Israel couldn’t defeat the people of Gaza, etc? Absolutely. Perhaps it will get a better ceasefire than the status quo ante, with reduced Hamas capabilities, and if there’s still a Hamas, there’s still a Hamas — after all, it was never realistic that Israel would actually destroy Hamas. If the Israelis really do fear that the Lebanon War diminished their deterrent capability — which is kind of chimerical; Israel is the regional superpower, and it says a lot that Hamas’s rockets are crude Qassams — then stopping now might play into the same psychodrama. But it would still be strategically better for Israel.

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