Israel confronts Hamas in Gaza

Israeli troops poured into the Gaza Strip this week after several days of aerial bombing aimed at neutralizing Hamas.

What happened

Israeli troops poured into the Gaza Strip this week after several days of aerial bombing aimed at neutralizing Hamas. The massive assault, which was launched in response to continued Hamas rocket attacks on Israeli civilians, is intended to “change the equation” in the region, said Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. More than 600 Palestinians have been killed in the operation, nearly half of them civilians, according to U.N. and Palestinian officials. Israel, which has lost at least six soldiers, disputes the number of civilian casualties. In one of the most deadly attacks, Israel launched mortars at two U.N. shelters where militants were “using civilians as human shields,” said the Israeli army; some 70 civilians were killed. U.N. officials called for an investigation.

Israeli officials agreed to discuss a cease-fire proposal from Egypt and France, but said any truce must guarantee a permanent halt to Hamas’ rocket attacks on Israeli towns and villages. The Bush administration strongly backed Israel, saying it had an obligation to defend its citizens from terrorism. “Any cease-fire must have the conditions in it so that Hamas does not use Gaza as a place from which to launch rockets,” said President Bush.

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What the editorials said

No nation would stand idly by while its population was bombarded daily by rockets, said The Economist. Still, “the scale and ferocity of the onslaught on Gaza have been shocking.” Israel’s massive military response has been disproportionate and unjustified, especially because it had another option. Hamas says its rocket attacks were a response to Israel’s longstanding economic blockade of Gaza, which has left the people impoverished and miserable.“ If Israel had ended the blockade,’’ Hamas may have stopped its attacks.

Nonsense, said the Chicago Tribune. Hamas wanted this war. Instead of using its time in charge of Gaza to rebuild society for the Palestinian people, it launched rockets and built tunnels to smuggle in weapons from Egypt. “What would be a proportionate response?’’ Military strikes that target civilians, as Hamas does as a matter of policy? Officially, Israel says it just wants to stop the rockets. Its real goal should be to eliminate Hamas, a blood-soaked terrorist organization whose ideology precludes peace and requires Israel’s destruction.

What the columnists said

Israel’s offensive will not bring the rocket attacks to a halt, said Max Boot in The Wall Street Journal. Sadly, there aren’t enough moderate Palestinians with the political clout to replace Hamas, and unlike its barbaric enemies, Israel will never embrace all-out annihilation as a goal. So to stop the rocket attacks, Israel will have to occupy and run Gaza as it did from 1967 to 1994. “If Israel is to continue to exist, it will have to continue to wage low-intensity war for a long time to come—possibly centuries.”

Killing Arab civilians won’t make Israel safer, said Gary Kamiya in Offensives such as this only deepen the “burning hatred” toward Israel felt throughout the Arab world, creating more jihadists. That’s why the Bush administration’s uncritical support of Israel has been so counterproductive. When Barack Obama takes office, “he must make it clear that the blank check is expired.”

This isn’t just another Israeli-Palestinian skirmish, said Robert D. Kaplan in The Atlantic Online. Over the past few years of Hamas rule, Gaza has become a de facto territory of Iran. “Israel has, in effect, launched the war on the Iranian empire that President Bush can only have contemplated.” If this fight ends with a truce that lets Hamas regroup, it will claim a moral victory that will make it hard for other regional powers to stand against further Iranian expansion, and harder for the U.S. to negotiate with Iran from a position of strength. “Now that Israel has launched a war, we need it to succeed.”

What next?

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice this week joined a meeting of the U.N. Security Council to craft a resolution on Gaza, a process that could take weeks. Officials said the U.S. would agree to a measure calling on Israel to cease its operations and open border crossings, as long as Hamas first halted all attacks and closed its smuggling tunnels. “There isn’t a whole lot of flexibility here,” said an official.

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