To know where to stop

A more sober IDF has made an impressive start to Operation Pillar of Cloud. Let's hope the end is as impressive.

OC Southern Command General Tal Russo is considered one of the more belligerent officers on the IDF general staff of 2012. He is a graduate of the special units, and the only general in the IDF who never went through an officers training course. "If they don't stop Russo, he'll only finish in Cairo," his subordinates in Southern Command say of him with a smile. In private talk, however, even Russo has lately displayed a mature, sober, responsible approach, aware of the limitations of force, even with the unequal balance of forces in the Gaza Strip: there is no-one there at the moment to whom to hand over the keys.

Whoever doesn't want Hamas in the Gaza Strip will get Al Qaida, the Palestinian factions that want to set up an Al Qaida branch in Hamastan, the Gazan Emirate or Caliphate. Compared with them, Hamas is sane, vegetarian even.

The return of the Palestinian Authority and Abu Mazen to the Gaza Strip is the stuff of fantasy. A very dangerous fantasy. Even Abu Mazen knows that if he sets foot in the Gaza Strip, there's a fair chance that he won't leave on his feet.

The IDF of 2012 has grown out of the pretensions to change reality in the Middle East. It has grown out of the pretension to dictate to our neighbors who will rule their hearts, their minds, and their country. Even in the IDF, Hamas is perceived as an authentic movement, that isn't going to disappear.

That is precisely the reason that the order for the operation that the General Staff Operations Division handed down doesn't mention toppling Hamas's rule, and certainly not occupying Gaza. If one can try to formulate the aim, it looks something like this: to reach the achievement of Operation Cast Lead, without paying the price of Operation Cast Lead; to gain a long period of relative calm and relief for those living in the South from the threat of Kassams and Grads, if possible without a ground operation, and without hurting too many non-combatants, which would lead not only to Operation Cast Lead 2, but also to Goldstone Report 2.

Not only did Ahmed Jaberi pay the price of hubris; the entire Hamas movement has been suffering from severe amnesia in the past few months. Hamas forgot, or didn't remember clearly enough, the armored columns, the D9 bulldozers that caused havoc in the Gaza Strip four winters ago.

In recent months, Israeli intelligence discerned that Hamas was turning from a restraining factor in the Gaza Strip, sending its people time after time to rocket launching sites to stop the Islamic Jihad and the resistance committees from firing at the Israeli interior, to a different stance, one familiar to us: leading the rocket fire and attempted attacks on the IDF forces on the border fence.

This turn of events persuaded Minister of Defense Ehud Barak and Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, both of whom are well aware of the limits of any possible achievement in the Gaza Strip mire, that there was no avoiding action.

Will Israel be wise enough to get out in time? To take the money and leave the casino known as "an operation in Gaza"? In many ways, the first few minutes of Operation Pillar of Cloud put all the achievements of Operation Cast Lead into the shade: a surgical strike at the command level of Hamas, almost completely free of civilian casualties, and almost complete destruction of the array of Fajr 5 missiles aimed at Tel Aviv that were supposed to be Hamas's doomsday weapon, part of the capability built up over years, following the lessons learned from the obvious lack of capability they displayed four years ago.

The severe hit on Kiryat Malachi that caused the death of three civilians today reminded us all that even a fairly weak opponent like Hamas can circumvent the IDF's tanks and planes with primitive weaponry, and hurt.

Only recently, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu boasted from the Knesset podium that during his term Israel had not entered into any unnecessary wars. The opening of Operation Pillar of Cloud was impressive, precise, certainly justified.

It only remains to hope that the exit from it will look the same.

The writer is the military correspondent of Channel 10.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - - on November 15, 2012

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2012

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