Former Mossad Head: “Talk to the Enemy”


1-5-2009-4-41-21-pm-4553124The Guardian reports: Israel has been here before – and the failure of its strategy in the past is why its soldiers are back in Gaza.As tanks and troops once again carve up the Gaza Strip, Israel is talking of “applying pressure” to force Hamas to agree to another, more durable ceasefire on Israel’s terms and of “dismantling the infrastructure of terror” to prevent the   Islamist group from launching rockets into the Jewish state. The assault will “punish” not only Hamas but Gazans who, the Israelis argue, will then put pressure on the Islamist party to behave.

The invaders are following a well-worn military and political blueprint that has guided numerous Israeli incursions over recent years. But after each invasion, the rocket fire resumed – it was even continuing yesterday as Israeli troops rolled through Gaza, with Hamas still firmly in control. Israel says it will continue the assault until Hamas bows to its central demands to end the rocket attacks, to disarm, and to release the soldier it captured in 2006, Gilad Shalit.

Yossi Alpher, a former adviser on peace negotiations to the then prime minister, Ehud Barak, supports military action, but questions whether Israel’s strategy will be any more successful now than previously. “I’m concerned because the logic of this operation is if we hurt them hard enough they will agree to a new ceasefire on terms acceptable to us,” he said. “The way for them to foil this strategy is for them simply to refuse to accept a ceasefire on terms acceptable to us, no matter how much pain we’re inflicting. This is a movement which glories in martyrdom and victimhood.”

A Hamas condition for a ceasefire is that Israel lift its three-year blockade of Gaza that has helped wreck the economy and left many of its 1.5 million residents hungry, poor and trapped.

The former head of the Mossad intelligence service, Ephraim Halevy, argues that ultimately it may be in Israel’s interest to negotiate with Hamas if it helps to curb Hamas’s political influence.

Alpher agrees that Israel should talk to Hamas. “Hamas doesn’t want to talk to us … just as Hezbollah doesn’t want to talk to us, they don’t recognise us. But as a strategic approach to Hamas, the offer to talk and recognise is another viable option which we have not taken.”

But there is an election looming in Israel – with, until now, the disastrous 2006 invasion of Lebanon as its main backdrop – that is expected to return the hardline Binyamin Netanyahu for a second stint as prime minister.

Netanyahu says that not only will he not talk to Hamas, but that the present military operation should be expanded to wipe it out of existence.

That is also just about the only political strategy he can use to keep his Likud party to the fore as his principal opponents, the foreign minister and Kadima party leader, Tzipi Livni, and defense minister and Labor leader, Ehud Barak, ride the wave of public support for the war. Barak in particular is drawing the political benefit of being the defense minister in charge. A week ago, opinion polls showed his Labour party winning just 11 knesset seats in the 10 February election. The latest survey gives it 16 seats. Livni and Netanyahu are neck and neck with 28 seats. Until now, Likud has appeared the more likely to be able to put together a governing coalition of parties even further to the right. But if Labor’s fortunes continue to rise, Barak and Livni have a fighting chance of putting together a new administration.

Much will depend on how the war goes. Nearly 80% of Israelis “very much support” the week-long air attack on Gaza, with less than 4% opposed. However, opinion is more evenly divided over the ground assault, with only 42% of Israelis backing it. Nearly 40% said the military action should be restricted to attacks from the air.

Those numbers suggest that a large number of dead soldiers or the failure to stop the Hamas rocket fire could see Barak’s support slump again. Netanyahu will be waiting in the wings to press his case to dismantle Hamas. He is unlikely to be able to do it, but he will certainly win support on the right by trying.

{The Guardian/ Newscenter}


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