Ehud Barak expands war aims

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has significantly escalated the level of the political goals that he publicly says his government is seeking with its assault on Gaza. Today, he told the Knesset that “We have an all-out war against Hamas and its kind.”
He also vowed that the Israeli military actions in Gaza would be “widened and deepened as is necessary.”
On Saturday, the first day of the current Israeli assault, Israeli government officials were careful to say in public that their aim was merely to hurt Hamas badly enough that the organization– which won Palestine’s legislative elections in 2006– would bow to Israel’s demands regarding renewal of the six-month-long ceasefire the two sides had observed, largely though not perfectly, until it expired last week.
I’m assuming that that earlier goal of “hurt Hamas in order to win a better ceasefire” was the one that Israeli leaders had described, in broad terms, to allies like the US, Egypt, the Europeans, and so on prior to the assault. It would have made Israel’s leaders look tough but realistic and diplomatically “flexible.”
But it seems that once the bombs started flying into Gaza, Ehud Barak’s bloodlust (or hubris) kicked in, and he escalated Israel’s war goals. Whether he had won the full backing of Israel’s whole cabinet for the expanded goal-set is still unknown. But with PM Olmert very much a political dead duck at this point, it seems that Barak is increasingly in the driving seat. I wrote something about the high personal stakes he has in this war, here, yesterday.
Escalating the goal-set in this way is not trivial. If the political-strategic goal had been to bloody Hamas but bring it back into another negotiation, you would not aim to decapitate it, since you’d need to have a leadership body to negotiate with that would subsequently be strong enough to enforce the terms of the ceasefire. But once you have an “all-out war against Hamas” you raise the stakes of the conflict considerably.
For the Hamas leadership and their many followers– who are becoming more numerous with every day the assault continues– the conflict becomes literally existential.
(Also, the Palestinians of Gaza have very little stake in any restoration of the status-quo-ante, anyway, since it provided nothing like an acceptable way of life for them. The same is also true for most Palestinians in the West Bank.)
If Ehud Barak is correct in stating that Israel is now engaged in an “all-out war against Hamas and its kind”, then that almost literally mandates that Israeli ground forces will have to go in and seek to exercise their control over the whole of the Gaza Strip. There is no other way they could even hope to “eradicate” Hamas. But the occupation mission that would be required after this ground incursion would be– as most Israelis know very well– quite devastating for Israel from many points of view.
So now, we need to watch carefully to see whether Barak will (a) back down from his bellicose rhetoric and take up one of the many offers that are being held out to him– by Turkey, Egypt, and others– for de-escalation. Or whether (b) he will continue the preparations already underway for a ground incursion and follow through and launch that operation.
It is quite notable in Israel’s present war of choice– as in 2006– that Washington, which in earlier bouts of Israeli-Arab fighting would have intervened early on to try to limit the human and political damage from Israel’s actions, is currently doing nothing of the sort. President Bush seems to have completely checked out of any desire to assert “US leadership” of any kind during the current crisis.
Thus, if Ehud Barak is trying, with his bellicosity, to send a message to Washington with the sub-text “Stop me before I bomb again!”, then he should understand that no-one there is in a mood to listen to that sub-text.
Notable, too, that in his speech to the Knesset, Ehud Barak explicitly quoted the words of President-elect Barack Obama last July, when Obama in effect gave Israel carte blanche to act against Hamas in any way it chose.
Ehud Barak is evidently trying to hold Barack Obama to that promise.
(Of course, once Obama is president, he does not have to keep all the many promises he made in the heat of his election campaign, as anyone who’s watched the performance of newly elected presidents regarding all the campaign-era promises they’d made on moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem should well understand. But still, that little “daughters” quote from the July-era Obama is being well manipulated by Ehud Barak right now…)
There are no adults around, anywhere in the top echelons of the international system, who can rein in Ehud Barak at this time. In the second echelon, Britain’s Miliband and France’s Sarkozy, have both said generally helpful things about the need for proportionality and restraint. And I suppose we could say that Ban Ki-Moon’s calls for an immediate ceasefire– as mandated by the latest Security Council resolution– have been helpful.
But now, those calls for a ceasefire need to get some real muscle behind them. And soon. It’s time for the Security Council to re-convene and pass a new, much stiffer resolution. And for all the world’s governments to cease all shipments of military goods to both the warring parties and start to hold them to account in other ways, immediately.
Memo to Ehud Barak and the leaders of major world governments: There is no purely “military” victory attainable in this possibly expanded war that Israel has now chosen to launch. The least-bad outcome now foreseeable for Israel and the rest of the region is one that involves a comprehensive, politically-enhanced ceasefire and peace negotiation between Israel and all its Palestinian neighbors. And yes, that certainly includes Hamas.

6 thoughts on “Ehud Barak expands war aims”

  1. BBC news reports noises being made about a humanitarian pause to allow evacuation of the wounded.

  2. BBC news reports noises being made about a humanitarian pause to allow evacuation of the wounded.

  3. Bush has been vigorous —
    The Bush administration said Monday it is working vigorously to try to restore a durable and sustainable cease-fire between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza strip. The White House said President Bush spoke early Monday with King Abdullah of Jordan, where pro-Hamas demonstrations have been held, and had a conversation Saturday with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. [I hope he has enough energy left to make a phone call EVERY day.]
    and don’t forget the money angle —
    Crude oil rose above $40 a barrel after Israeli air strikes in the Gaza Strip raised concern that supply from the Middle East, the world’s largest producing region, may be disrupted.

  4. It’s time for the Security Council to re-convene and pass a new, much stiffer resolution.
    news report:
    The UN Security Council has been unable to force an end to Israeli attacks against Gaza due to the intervention of the United States. Washington once again used its veto powers on Sunday to block a resolution calling for an end to the massive ongoing Israeli attacks against the Gaza Strip. US representative to the UNSC, Zalmay Khalilzad, defended the Israeli move, saying Tel Aviv has the right to self-defense.

  5. “Of course, once Obama is president, he does not have to keep all the many promises he made in the heat of his election”
    Dream on Helena.
    As has been well demonstrated Barack Obama is pragmatic, rational, non ideological and not prone to emotional outbursts – the result of a privileged upbringing at the hands of loving women where he never faced persecution, vicious discrimination or deprivation, and yet by being half Afro was able to embody the hopes of those who have so suffered.
    One imagines he will expect Hamas, and particularly its military wing, to start acting like grown ups living in the 21st century and not like AK 47 dick waving testorone-fuelled thugs getting their jollies off on macho mano a manos with Israel.
    He will give them the courtesy of treating them as rational adults. If they choose not to respond in kind, then one expects he’ll just get on with other business?
    Whatever, somehow I can’t see him doing kissy kissies and cuddles on the White House lawn with Palestinian and Israeli leadership al la Clinton & W.
    If Hamas wants to get anywhere with O their rockets will have to be put into detumescence while they work how what they REALLY want, Helena. Starting with their covenant.

  6. An article by security analyst Aluf Benn in Haaretz today makes it clear that much of what is going on in Gaza, and how long it will last, is the product of domestic political calculation by the major contenders for the post of Prime Minister. In the absence of any international pressure, except perhaps to allow in “humanitarian aid” (which was restricted even during the halcyon days of the ceasefire during the past six months) from France, what Hamas says or does is almost irrelevant to this calculus:
    “It was said in the Knesset Monday that the political winner of the fighting in Gaza was clearly Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Meanwhile, he is growing stronger at the expense of Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, but senior Likud figures said that if this trend continued Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu would have to end his cease-fire with Barak and begin seeing him as a threat.
    “A better showing in the polls is exactly Barak’s problem: He will have to have very strong nerves to know when the right time is to stop the
    operation and not to try to achieve one more small gain. After having been taunted for a long time that he has no courage, Barak proved he was not afraid to pit the IDF against Hamas. Now he has to be careful of those who will say he lacks character because he called for a cease-fire.

    “It can be assumed that the longer the fighting continues, the more trouble Israel’s quarrelling leadership will have staying unified. In the end, as in every war, the defense establishment will argue that it was stopped a moment before it destroyed the enemy while the diplomats will say the fighting went on too long, until Israel lost international support.”

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