I’ve already commented briefly on Operation Cast Lead. Looking at the entire picture, though, there are four significant considerations. Here are the first two.
Military - The aerial campaign has been, thus far, a success, killing hundreds of Hamas members, including one very senior leader, and a relatively low number of civilian deaths. The big question now is what is the likelihood of a ground incursion, and how successful such an incursion will be – both in terms of Hamas’ condition post-incursion, and in terms of Israeli losses. Future success will be measured by the damage done to Hamas’ ability to continue to launch rockets at civilians. Such a victory is not yet imminent, and the campaign, whether aerial or on the ground, does seem to end anytime soon. Thorough military analysis of the operation is, unfortunately, beyond, my purview, and I am only able to analyze the operation in terms of reports of the degree to which Hamas has been harmed, and after the operation, reports on Hamas’ capabilities and the condition of the organization overall. Recent history has not inspired much confidence in me, as the last IDF operation that was even moderately successful in achieving its goals, was Defensive Shield in 2002.
Another military-legal consideration is the oft-used accusation that Israel is using “disproportional force.” This accusation is ridiculous. IAF has been targeting Hamas, not carpet-bombing Gaza, attacking the threat against Israel, making every effort to minimize civilian deaths. And the threat is precisely what needs to be measured when appraising the operation from a legal perspective. As Michael Walzer wrote in 2006, about the war at the time, “proportionality must be measured not only against what Hamas and Hezbollah have already done, but also against what they are (and what they say they are) trying to do.” In other words, Israel is right, insofar as it acts against the threat against it, not simply actions taken against it. As many others have pointed out already, a strict proportional response would be to “[launch] thousands of air strikes against targets in Gaza to match the thousands of Qassam rockets fired.” The problem is, that those who make this accusation do not have an issue with Israel’s proportionality – but with its success. For a more comprehensive analysis of the legality of Operation Cast Lead, read this from the JCPA.
Political - Israel has been blamed for planning such an attack for over 6 months, intending to attack at the slightest provocation when the “ceasefire” (tahadiyeh) would expire, and detractors are using this to portray Israel as anti-”ceasefire”, as an incredulous actor. I find this accusation unbelievable. Every prepared military in the world is prepared for military campaigns against its neighbors. To be unprepared would be wholly irresponsible.
Nevertheless, the question to be asked is why now? The campaign Israel is waging, while just, is confusing in its timing. Rocket attacks from Gaza are nothing new, and the Olmert administration has not done anything significant in the past, so why now? I take a view some would call cynical, and I believe the reason is that with elections in under two months, Barak and Kadima’s interests have merged. Up until recently, Likud was the clear front runner, and taking such a populist course of action would increase Kadima and Labor’s support.
This consideration is also important when examining the likelihood of the participation of ground troops in Cast Lead. Such an operation would almost certainly cost the lives of Israeli soldiers, and would therefore present a political risk for the government. I am not suggesting the administration does not care about soldiers’ lives, only that the government’s moves over the past few years shows that their view is heavily clouded by political considerations.
NEXT: The Western, Arab and Jewish Worlds’ Opinions
UPDATE: Latest poll (Hebrew) shows Labor gains 5 seats since start of operation, Kadima hovers around the same figure, and Likud, surprisingly, gains two seats.