What Does the Gaza Attack Mean?

By Jeffrey Goldberg

So, weirdly, my advice to the Israelis to take a deep breath before taking a big swing at Gaza again was not heeded.

I'm on the road again -- I just got into a fight with a former head of the Pakistani ISI at a security conference here in Istanbul (the moderator of our panel was surprised, I think, that we got into a fight) that I can't tell you about because the aforementioned ISI chief declared that most of his remarks would be off the record. Suffice it to say I won the argument.

But I digress, and I don't have much time to post, but let me just ask one question: What is this Gaza conflagration about, exactly? Or let me rephrase the question: What are the goals of the Israeli counter-attack on Hamas? Right now, we're seeing, once again, a tactical response, provoked by a vile Hamas policy of acquiescing to, or even helping to launch, rocket attacks on Israeli civilian targets. But what is the strategy? The fact remains that there is no long-term military solution to the challenge posed by Gaza, but the Israeli government doesn't want to acknowledge this.

There are enough weapons, and enough young men in Gaza ready to use those weapons, to make life miserable for millions of Israelis for years to come, barring a full-scale invasion by the IDF of Gaza that wipes out the entire military structure of Hamas. And good luck with that, by the way -- good luck to Bibi getting the world to acquiesce. Netanyahu's failure to convince the world that he is serious about compromise (he might have succeeded, given his Palestinian counterpart's own alternately lackadaisical and obstreperous approach to peace talks, if he wasn't hell-bent on growing settlements) means that he has no political capital to spend.

This operation will put President Obama in a tough spot, and remember, Netanyahu needs Obama for what he allegedly believes is the most important threat facing Israel. This operation also drives Egypt's president even further away from Israel (he wasn't close before but, like the Qataris, he might have been encouraged to to talk some sense to Hamas).

But it does help Netanyahu's reelection campaign, and, it must be acknowledged, it might set back Hamas in some ways, but only temporarily. Another big question, of course, is, will Hamas use its longer-range rockets to bring Tel Aviv into the fight? I don't think this is overly likely, because this would put immense pressure on Netanyahu to launch a massive retaliation, even invasion. Hamas doesn't want an Israeli invasion of Gaza right now. Its leaders are already surprised by the Israeli response, though I don't know why; have they not been paying attention?

Meanwhile, this gives Bashar al-Assad sufficient cover to kill even more of his citizens over the coming days. Keep an eye out for that. 

More coming....

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/11/what-does-the-gaza-attack-mean/265240/