Yoel Marcus
Haaretz (Opinion)
December 23, 2008 - 1:00am

As of writing these lines, no one had been killed by the rocket barrages after the official end of the cease-fire. This doesn't mean the situation is possible to live with, but it appears the hysterical reaction by the public as a whole and politicians in particular stems mainly from the fact that the country is in an election period. And when elections are in the offing people speak from the gut rather than the brain and demagoguery is rampant. While the public is nervous enough about the situation and is repeating the mantra that things can't go on like this, the candidates for power add fuel to the fire out of cynical personal considerations.

The demands by the cabinet and Knesset members of the defense minister and Israel Defense Forces to go into the Gaza Strip look like campaign oratory. Most infuriating of all is Deputy Prime Minister Eli Yishai of Shas, who represents a party most of whose healthy sons claim their Torah as their craft rather than serve in the military. But they're more eager for battle than anyone. It appears that above all, Yishai is busy preparing the ground for joining a coalition with opposition leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu of Likud.

Since the general public does not have the information or tools necessary to decide whether to go to war, there is no one to rely on these days apart from the defense establishment. You hear war cries from people who don't live in the range of Hamas rockets and you don't understand on what basis they're suddenly strutting their macho stuff. Have they forgotten the Second Lebanon War and its devastating results caused by hasty and poor judgment?

A strange situation has developed here in which the key candidates are evading responsibility and palming it off to the defense establishment. For two years now Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has been a member of the government trio that decides on matters of life and death. But she and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert aren't saying what the government should do, but are pointing at Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

Barak himself is in a political dilemma. Ostensibly he has not yet decided whether he is more of a peace-seeker than Meretz or whether he is a defense minister with a reputation. Hamas sees the hesitations here and that it would be convenient to continue the cease-fire on beneficial conditions; that is, opening fire occasionally while enjoying open border crossings. A kind of hot truce in luxurious conditions. A situation that is unimaginable as a permanent arrangement.

It is possible to guess that Barak, too, has political considerations to weigh before a military operation in Gaza of any magnitude, as he already knows more or less that he isn't going to be the next prime minister. But if he continues to hesitate and behave as he's behaving now, Barak is liable to lose the defense portfolio as well. Netanyahu and Livni have alternative defense ministers: Moshe Ya'alon for Likud and Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz for Kadima. After the elections, pressure might build for Barak to relinquish his services in an area where he is unparalleled.

If there is a solution to the Gaza problem, it is not going to come from hysteria and pressure, but through brainpower and deliberation. With respect to these, no one can compete with Barak and his cold, razor-sharp judgment. Going into Gaza is not an action of the wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am sort. There are different notches on the scale of responses, whose outcomes must be considered at every stage.

Some people say Israel should first turn to Egypt, Jordan and Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), tell them the current situation cannot continue, and ask them which recipe they would suggest or support. It is untenable that they would stand off to the side or even condemn Israel if the latter puts into operation the levels of responses it has ready on the shelf.

It is also important that Israel have international support for any action it decides on - experience, after all, shows that an operation in the midst of a civilian population can bring the world's wrath down on us if women and children are killed.

Anyone who thinks it is possible to topple the Hamas regime - if this is at all possible without occupying Gaza - either does not want to listen to the IDF's assessments or is deluding himself. Have the Americans already succeeded in uprooting the Taliban?

Anyone who believes that going into Gaza for a limited operation is a trivial matter is deceiving himself and the public. Especially in light of Hamas' long-range rockets, which are capable of reaching Yavneh and the outskirts of Be'er Sheva. However, there are many degrees on Israel's scale of responses, and in my opinion the decision to act has already been taken.

The Hebrew word for lightning is Barak, and where there is lightning there will also be thunder. Depending on the weather.


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