Analysis: 'I Don't See How This Ends Well' in Gaza

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McClatchy Newspapers

Analysis: 'I Don't See How This Ends Well' in Gaza

by
Dion Nissenbaum

The bodies of five Palestinian siblings lie at a hospital morgue following an Israeli air strike overnight in the Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza. Israel is bombing Gaza for a third day in an "all-out war" on Hamas, as tanks mass along the border and the Islamists fire deadly rockets to retaliate for a blitz which has killed nearly 320. (AFP/Mohammed Abed)

JERUSALEM - As Israel clamps down on the Gaza Strip and prepares for
the possibility of sending thousands of soldiers into the Palestinian
area controlled by the militant Islamic group Hamas, its leaders are
facing a diplomatic conundrum: They have clear military goals but no
political vision for how to end the confrontation.

"I
don't see how this ends well, even if, in two weeks time, it looks like
it ends well," said Daniel Levy, a political analyst who once served as
an adviser to Ehud Barak, the former Israeli prime minister who's now
leading the military campaign against Hamas as Israel's defense
minister.

Israel's expanding air strikes already have
delivered a costly blow to the Hamas rulers in Gaza by killing hundreds
of the group's soldiers and decimating its network of government
security compounds.

Beyond that, though, Israeli leaders
haven't explained what could bring the violence to a halt. Once the
smoke clears, the rubble is removed and the dead are buried, Hamas is
still almost certain to remain in control of the Gaza Strip, and its
hard-line leaders are already vowing to strike back.

"To
the extent to which there's a scenario where Israel wins a tactical
round, it will again lose a strategic round," said Levy, a senior
fellow at The New America Foundation, a liberal policy institute in
Washington, D.C. that's providing ideas and personnel to the incoming
administration of President-elect Barack Obama.

Israel's
ongoing campaign is already creating an early foreign policy test for
Obama, who's pledged to make Middle East diplomacy an early priority
when he takes office next month.

On Sunday, Obama chief
lieutenant David Axelrod offered tacit backing for Israel, blaming
Hamas for sparking the conflict as the Bush administration also has
done. If Obama continues to offer similar unqualified support for
Israeli military action, it could make it harder for him to demonstrate
to the Arab world that he's a more even-handed middleman than Bush has
been.

Israeli officials Sunday said their top priority is
to destabilize Hamas and cripple its ability to keep firing the crude
rockets into southern Israel that have killed seven Israelis in the
last two years.

Here the Israeli government appears to
have learned a lesson from its bungled 2006 war in Lebanon against
fighters from Hezbollah, another militant Islamic group. There, Israeli
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert failed to achieve his main goals: Forcing
Hezbollah to return the two Israeli soldiers whose capture sparked the
34-day war and silencing rocket fire from Shiite Muslim militants in
southern Lebanon.

"What we want to do is significantly
reduce the rocket fire," said Miri Eisin, a reserve colonel in the
Israeli Army and spokeswoman for the Israeli government. "If Hamas says
no more rocket fire, then we'll see where that goes."

Olmert
and his government, however, refuse to negotiate directly with Hamas
until the group, which is supported by Iran and Syria, renounces its
goal of destroying Israel.

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The standoff worsened last year
when, after winning 2006 democratic elections that were backed by the
Bush administration, Hamas seized military control of Gaza in a
humiliating rout of forces loyal to pragmatic Palestinian Authority
President Mahmoud Abbas.

Since then, Israel and the U.S.
have been trying to provide political support to Abbas by trying to
revive stagnant peace talks and helping to rebuild his security forces
in the West Bank, between Israel and Jordan.

The goal is
to show the Palestinian voters who propelled Hamas to political power
in 2006 that Abbas and his pro-Western government are a better
alternative.

"We have a dialogue with the Palestinian Authority," said Eisin. "You don't have an alternative to that at the end of the day."

If
anything, however, the U.S.-Israeli effort has pushed Abbas and Hamas
farther apart and made re-uniting the rival Palestinian factions more
difficult.

That leaves Israel, the United States and Abbas
with few diplomatic options: Hamas refuses to abandon its pledge to
destroy Israel while Israel and the U.S. refuse to talk to Hamas until
the group does. Abbas, meanwhile, refuses to reconcile with Hamas until
the group surrenders control of Gaza.

 

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