Friday, January 9, 2009

Peace Through Victory

JERUSALEM -- Israel’s determination to continue its military campaign against Hamas terrorists in Gaza, despite tragic civilian losses, serves as a reminder that peace is the second-most important goal of geopolitics. Only freedom – which for Israelis means the elemental liberty to exist – matters more.

Ideally, of course, Israel would like to have both. Decent folks yearn for peace just as all people thirst for freedom, and it is truly tragic when leaders are forced to choose between them.

Over more than six decades of conflict with murderous neighbours, Israel has tried numerous tacks, from bursts of astounding force, to occupation, to land-for-peace, to humanitarian aid, to total withdrawal, in its quest for peace.

With this history in mind, observers may ask, isn’t this recent war in Gaza just another chapter in the apocryphal “cycle of violence”? What can Israel do differently? What is it about this conflict with this particular enemy that presents the potential for peace, at last?

For Israel, a prerequisite to peace is victory. And in achieving it, they must make an example of terrorist thugs who menace Jews and Muslims alike, including their own, long-suffering people.

In Canadian parlance, Israel must expose Hamas like a weak goaltender. Show them and their would-be recruits, as well as those of Hezbollah in the north, that the job satisfaction and benefits package for Iranian dupes are thin. Changing hearts isn't always about holding hands. Sometimes, it means extreme attitude realignment, accomplished with explosives. For Israel, this is such a time.

Set aside the notion that Hamas and its fellow-travelling radical Islamists have any claim to a divine cause. Hamas' strategy for attaining a ceasefire without offering concessions is to bring about enough casualties among Palestinian civilians, achieved by storing rockets and weapons caches under hospitals and schools, such that Israeli strikes will kill innocent people and sway world opinion. Any god who would be alright with that has no business being worshipped.

Dismiss, also, the popular idea that Hamas’ attacks are somehow about land. We are four years removed from Israel’s complete withdrawal from Gaza, yet Hamas has continued to lob rockets at Israeli towns – 3,000 of them in 2008 alone.

For Hamas, the bar for victory is relatively low. To win, they must accomplish two aims: survive, and attain some measure of international legitimacy. This second ambition may take the form of the opening of its waterways and crossings with Israel and Egypt, two countries with excellent reason not to trust Hamas. Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak, now prominently involved in ceasefire discussions, well remembers that it was Muslim radicals who assassinated his predecessor, Anwar Sadat, in 1981, and Mubarak himself has been on the business end of several such attempts. Hamas and their ilk are demonstrably dangerous not only to Israelis, but to anyone of whom they disapprove.

An encouraging sign is that, for the moment, the Israeli people and leadership seem united in their resolve. Even prominent political figures who have embraced the land-for-peace experiment in the past, or the 2005 Israeli pullout from Gaza, such as President Shimon Peres and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, today speak matter-of-factly of their country’s intention to see this current campaign through to its end.

But to do so, Israel finds itself in a ghoulish race against time. To wit, they must accomplish their objectives before civilian casualties, largely engineered by Hamas, turn domestic and international opinion against the operation. Military experts here suggest that the aims of Israel’s ground offensive against terrorist leaders will require weeks. For the sake of the Palestinian people, and for the freedom of all nations that stand against tyranny, one hopes that Israel will have the time and will to win its peace.

Theo Caldwell, President of Caldwell Asset Management, Inc., is an investment advisor in the United States and Canada.