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The war in Gaza in less than 1,000 words

by Shmuel Rosner

July 21, 2014 | 4:12 am



Smoke and flames are seen following an Israeli air strike in Rafah on July 8. Photo by Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters

With so many words being written daily on the operation in Gaza, I've decided to make my contribution by attempting to concisely sum up the main important trends, and by identifying the noise that can be ignored.

Support for the operation

The more Israel sees, the more it becomes clear that the operation was essential. The discovery of the extensive network of tunnels through which Hamas terrorists can infiltrate Israel has had a shocking effect on the Israeli public. Not that the tunnels were a big secret. They weren't. But looking at the images of terrorists popping out of the ground in close proximity to Israeli communities, RPG launchers in hand, has made a difference. Naturally, the loss of the lives of so many soldiers is heartbreaking to Israelis. Yet, thus far, I get the impression that in recent days Israelis, amid the loss, have become even more adamant in their belief that the status quo ante can no longer work and that Israel has to make an effort to change it even at a relatively high cost.

The tunnels

Forget rockets. Israel has an answer to the rockets – at least for now. Of course, that doesn't make them agreeable to anyone, but it makes them less scary and less intimidating than they once were. All in all, the battle of rockets was won, by Israel. The real problem is the tunnels. Just imagine the horror of having to lead a life near the Gaza border, knowing that someone might be crawling under your home with explosives or a hand grenade. Just imagine the bloodbath if one group of infiltrators will be successful in its attempt to attack a Kibbutz or an Israeli neighborhood. How many lives of civilians do you expect those Hamas infiltrators to spare?

The operation’s goals

I no longer think Israel wants an immediate cease-fire if this means going back to the status quo. Israel wants to be able to find and destroy more tunnels before the operation's end. It also wants a new arrangement in Gaza that puts into place a mechanism that dismantles future threats. It wants to find a way to gradually reduce the ability of Hamas to attack Israel (the Egyptians seem to see things in similar way). Here is one example of the problem with the status quo (besides the obvious need to get rid of Hamas' arsenal of rockets): Last year, Israel removed a restriction on imports of building materials into the Gaza Strip. The decision allowed Palestinians an import of 70 trucks a day of gravel, metal bars and cement for construction projects. This gravel and cement is found below ground level now, in the tunnels, and thus, Israel is unlikely to go back to letting such material go in, without having in place a way of verifying that the material will only be used for construction of, well, things that Gaza truly needs, such as houses and roads.

Loss of life

It is terrible that so many people have to lose their lives in this operation. It is also, unfortunately, unavoidable. Israel is doing a lot to reduce the number of civilian casualties. How much? As much as letting its own soldiers die for this purpose. When the Americans decided to tame Kosovo, they only sent airplanes. Israel has sent its troops into Gaza because it doesn't want to only send airplanes and reduce whole neighborhoods into rubble. Of course, if someone believes that there is a better and more peaceful solution to the whole situation – a solution that only depends on Israel's good will – then he'd be justified in contending that the loss of life is unnecessary. I've yet to hear of any serious solutions of this kind.

Public discourse

The brutality and bluntness of the public debate within Israel is troubling. Some demonstrators of the radical left were beaten, words are flying, threats are being made. This is ugly. Surely, better education is needed to make people more tolerant of dissenting views. Yet it is also important to say that responsibility for having a civilized discourse does not solely lie with the conforming majority. Provocations in a time of war should be carefully considered. Let me make it simple: you wouldn’t send a fanatic fan of one European soccer club to provoke a group of another club during a very tense game – because you know what is going to happen next. Avoiding such provocation is not surrendering to violence - cautioning about the result of such provocation is not condoning violence; it is just a wiser policy.  

Things to ignore

Demonstrations in Europe: Not because they are not troubling, but rather because it is a problem that Israel can't solve. The demonstrators want Israel to implement a policy that would essentially mean an inability of the country to defend itself against attacks. That is advice no country would follow.

What-American-Jews-think debates: I tend to believe that most American Jews understand and support the Israeli operation. Some aren't supportive, and are loudly voicing their dissent. Honestly, I don't think they will get much attention from Israelis at the moment – and their dissent is likely to decrease their ability to get the attention of Israelis later. If that's their choice, so be it.

Annoying columnists: Israelis or non-Israelis. Instead of reading and getting angry, don't read the ones that only aim to anger you (do read the ones with which you don't agree but aim to inform and provoke thought).

Proportional response discussions: This is a form of anti-Israel propaganda, no more, no less. Let the PR professionals deal with it, and don't bother yourself with discussions that have no meaning in real life.

John Kerry hot mic gaffes: In recent months we've seen Kerry's (and the Obama administrations') limited ability to have a real impact on developments in this region. If Kerry knows how to stop this war, let him try. But don't lose sleep as you wait for this to happen.

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