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Anyone who values civilisation – from its music and museums, to its cinemas and nightclubs – will have been sympathetic to Israel’s plight over the past two weeks. It is being attacked by another century, and cannot respond except by striking (as surgically as possible) one of the most densely populated territories in the world.
Faced with these odds, Israel has inevitably lost. As I said a fortnight ago, the only way Operation Protective Edge could succeed (or be worth the ocean of negative publicity arising from the project) is if Hamas was knocked conclusively out of history. I’m far from alone in holding this view. Many a patriot in Israel has been exasperated by this war and its apparent lack of direction.
Hamas – in contrast to Netanyahu’s ambiguity – is working with a clear and intelligent strategy:
1. Provoke Israel into bombarding Gaza.
2. Fire missiles from hospitals, schools and (for added propaganda effect) UN-affiliated buildings in order to maximise foreign and civilian casualties – human lives being cheaply expendable given the local birth-rate.
3. Mobilise Left-wing and Pro-Palestinian media around the world with photos of dead women and children. Gain as many young and naïve adherents to the Palestinian cause as possible.
4. Allow the war to die down. Re-arm and await next operation.
As you can see, there is little room for failure here. One can also see how Israel’s response has fed directly into it. The intensity of Pro-Palestinian information-flow since the start of the war has been staggering. And it hasn’t been limited to the closed world of the political Left either. Here are some of the hundreds of anti-Zionist comments left on the centre-right Daily Mail website (all of which were given hundreds of ‘green arrows’ by its readership) –
“Israel would like nothing more than to destroy all Palestinian settlements. The ‘excuse’ of defending its people is a smokescreen. If this campaign somehow stops they’ll find another excuse to attack and kill thousands of innocent people. Israel are mass murderers.”
“Israel is an apartheid state gone wild and it’s unfair to expect their neighbours to sit there defenceless without the weapons and military to defend themselves.”
“Israel wants the land for its natural gas, it’s as simple as that. It won’t stop and is behaving in an appalling manner.”
“The whole world knows what a terrorist state Israel is-you can sit here all day trying to defend it-it won’t work.”
Elsewhere, the Telegraph (arguably the most reliably pro-Israel news source in the UK) has run numerous reports on the bombings of Hamas targets near schools and hospitals with the (rather important) Hamas element unmentioned anywhere in the text. It used to be the case that only the BBC was capable of this wilful propaganda. This time around, were it not for the middle-ground politeness of the BBC, the Israeli side would have no media voice in the UK outside the Jewish Chronicle.
Its inherent evil aside, Hamas is reaping the crop from a well-thought out and devilishly clever tactic. Now let’s look at what a comparably clear Israeli response would have looked like:
1. Delay retaliation to Gaza rocket fire. Instead make clear to Hamas and international community that living next to a terrorist group has become intolerable (i.e. make the case for the action before the action). Issue final warning to Hamas and make clear that it will be removed if rocket fire continues. The longer the period between the ultimatum and military action, the less the power of criticism will be when the latter is underway.
2. If rocket fire continues, launch air and ground strikes against all known Hamas sites. Occupy Gaza for as long as it takes to arrest or kill Hamas leadership and its supporters. After the occupation, make clear that the same routine will be repeated if any comparable terrorist group emerges there.
By way of conclusion, Protective Edge has been a disaster for Israel, a windfall for the Palestinian cause, and it raises serious questions about Israel’s long term planning. Let’s hope lessons have been learned.