The Boston Globe (Editorial)
March 7, 2008 - 6:20pm

IF ISRAEL'S aims in striking at Hamas forces in Gaza this past week were to weaken the Islamist movement politically and deter it from continuing to launch rockets into Israel, early signs suggest the operation did not succeed. Before contemplating another such attack against Hamas fighters embedded among civilians in tightly packed urban locations, Israeli leaders ought to ask themselves whether tactics such as these stand any chance of achieving the desired goals.

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If not - if the carnage in Gaza has only served to strengthen Hamas politically and raise new questions about Israel's deterrence capability - Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak would be wise to reconsider their options.

Televised images of Palestinian children and women buried under the rubble from Israeli missiles are used by Hamas to justify its methods and objectives. Those gruesome scenes serve Hamas's argument against the peace talks that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has been conducting with Israel, and justify what Hamas figures have been calling the Hezbollah strategy - a military war of attrition against Israel.

Israeli leaders must consider the possibility that they have fallen into a Hamas trap, one that Iran had a hand in springing. Hezbollah and Hamas differ in significant ways. Iran has older and closer ties to the Lebanese Shi'ite movement Hezbollah than to Hamas, but what they have in common is that both are now receiving money, weapons, and training from Iran.

Israel, the Arab states, and the United States share an interest in depriving Iran of Arab proxies that it can use for its own purposes. So Israel should seek to remove Hamas from the Iranian orbit. This was the aim of Saudi Arabia's short-lived initiative last summer to shepherd Hamas and Abbas's Fatah movement into a Palestinian unity government.

There are risks in all Israel's options. But if their decision-making could be insulated from domestic politics, it would make sense for Olmert and Barak to revisit previous Hamas proposals for a cease-fire. Palestinians and Israelis who have had contact with Hamas leaders say there are differences, at least on the level of tactics, between the more pragmatic and the more hardline currents in the movement. Whatever those differences, it would be nearly impossible politically for Hamas to reject a cease-fire that is certain to be welcomed by the Palestinian public, particularly by Gazans living under Hamas rule.

Once a cease-fire is in place, Israel should do everything it can to reach a negotiated two-state peace agreement with Abbas. If put to a referendum, any such agreement is bound to be approved by majorities of Israelis and Palestinians alike. This would be the soundest way to stop the rockets and missiles.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017