Monday, December 22, 2008

Livni and Netanyahu vow to oust Hamas after Gaza rocket strikes.

With the end of the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas and rockets beginning to hit Israel once more, Tzipi Livni and Benjamin Netanyahu have got themselves tied up in a war of words over who will do the most to tackle Hamas.

The Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, who hastily led Israel into war with Hizbollah in Lebanon in 2006, suggested a wait and see approach to Gaza, saying that "a responsible government doesn't rush into battle, neither does it shy away". He called on his fellow ministers to avoid "bold statements" about the crisis. But the Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, who is vying with the hard-line Likud party leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, in the February election, vowed that her government's "strategic objective" would be to "topple the Hamas regime" using military, economic and diplomatic means.

Mr Netanyahu visited the Sderot house and called for tough military steps against Hamas, whose defeat he said was "inevitable". He added: "In the long-term, we will have to topple the Hamas regime. In the short-term ... there are a wide range of possibilities, from doing nothing to doing everything, meaning to conquer Gaza."

So now both Livni and Netanyahu are threatening to retake Gaza should they be elected, which will do nothing to stop the rocket attacks but will put a major spanner in the works regarding any plans Barack Obama has to restart the peace process, which in the case of Netanyahu is probably the whole point of the exercise.

The cabinet meeting heard from Yuval Diskin, the head of the Shin Bet domestic intelligence agency, that Hamas has rockets that could strike the city of Beersheva, a major population centre about 40km from the Gaza Strip. But the Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, the Labour leader, warned that even an incursion involving two to three divisions, or more than 20,000 troops, may not be enough to stop rocket fire. Government ministers promising to topple Hamas "do not know what they are talking about," Mr Barak said.

Lieutenant General Moshe Yaalon, a former chief of staff who is now Likud's security expert, recommended the assassinations of Hamas leaders and "in and out" military incursions to stop the rockets. However, a leading analyst, Yossi Alpher, said it is time for Israel to admit that it does not have a "workable strategy" for dealing with Hamas.

Mr Alpher suggests considering informal, non-governmental contacts with the group to examine possible political options. "We want Hamas to disappear, but we can't make them disappear. We've tried economic warfare, ceasefire, and limited military responses with a price tag. A fully-fledged invasion hasn't been tried because the costs are too high, there is no exit strategy, there could be heavy casualties, there could be [negative] international focus, and there is no guarantee it will stamp out Hamas. I would counsel trying to encourage them [Hamas] politically in a limited way, perhaps through Israelis having informal contacts with them."

Of course, politicians fighting for election cannot bog themselves down with such realities, so they make promises which even they must know that they cannot keep.

But Alpher and Barak are correct. There is no military solution which has not already been tried. The only solution is negotiation, which someone like Netanyahu will be vehemently opposed to.

If only the US and Israel had recognised the wishes of the Palestinian people to have Hamas as their democratically elected representatives then we wouldn't be in this position in the first place.

I said at the time that Israel had the chance to negotiate with the organ grinder rather than the monkey, but that opportunity was squandered.

And now we are back to talking about invading Gaza and defeating Hamas, both of which sound "strong" but, in reality, are word games to please the Israeli electorate. If that was the solution then this problem would have disappeared a long time ago. It's not, and both Livni and Netanyahu surely know this as they spout this nonsense.

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