Exactly 100 Years Since World War 1 Began — Why Israel Should Quickly End the Gaza War

[The following article was written by Yossi Melman, Tel Aviv-based co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, for the website of the private TV news service broadcasting from Israel, i24news.tv.]

One hundred years ago today (Monday) the First World War broke out. “The Great War,” as it was then called, was the first total war which did not differentiate between front lines and the home front. It started in a euphoric mood. Masses wrapped in patriotism and national fever went happily to the army. They talked about “victory,” “conquest” and “revenge” — even “the war to end all wars” — but soon their enthusiasm evaporated.

Yossi Melman

Yossi Melman

When the war was over 51 months later, “the lost generation” – bombed, shellshocked and traumatized – emerged from the battlefields and trenches. After mourning for their fallen comrades they became cynical and disenchanted with silly old generals and war-mongering politicians who sent them to die for undeserving causes.

In Israel, too, most wars – the Suez Campaign of 1956, the June 1967 Six Day War, the first Lebanon war in 1982 and the Second Lebanon War in 2006 – began with great enthusiasm. People talked about “smashing the enemy,” “victory,” “deterrence,” and other appealing phrases. In that sense, the Third Gaza War is no different. There is almost a national consensus that it is a justified war.

But what really characterized the First World War and engraved it in historic memory was its military nature. It was a static war, conducted in trenches that became death traps, and it turned into a war of attrition.

This is also the growing danger of the current Gaza War. The death toll — on both sides — is mounting to highly painful levels.

And already this war is entering the record books as one of the longest wars in Israeli history. The second Lebanon War lasted 33 days. The 1973 Yom Kippur war 22 days and Israel’s 2009 Operation Cast Lead in Gaza – 21 days. We are entering the 21st day of the war with a humanitarian truce but no visible long term ceasefire agreement.

The Israeli cabinet will soon have to make a tough decision. Militarily speaking the war in its current phase has exhausted itself. The Israel Air Force has fewer and fewer meaningful targets to bomb.

The stated goal of the ground incursion was to eliminate the threat of the “attack” tunnels leading to Israel. This goal, it could be convincingly argued, has been achieved. The IDF uncovered 32 tunnels and all have been destroyed or will be soon.

There may be more, but the problem with intelligence is that you don’t know what you don’t know and, in any case, even several additional tunnels are not sufficient reason to continue the bloodshed.

As of Monday night, Israel already lost 43 officers and soldiers, as well as three civilians. More than 300 soldiers are wounded, some very seriously.

The Palestinian suffering is, of course, much greater: over 1,000 dead and more than 6,000 wounded. According to the IDF, among the dead are between 250 to 500 Hamas militants. These include some of the organization’s best commanders and combatants from its naval commando and rocket launching units. Half of Hamas’ rocket arsenal (around 5,000) was either destroyed or used in some 2,500 launchings.

Israel conquered a strip of between one and three kilometers in width and turned it into a “security belt.” This area can be used as a bargaining chip in negotiations on a lasting agreement. Israel can offer a withdrawal in return for additional Hamas concessions

The risk is that the more Israel stays in Gaza in static lines, the greater the risk of Hamas hit-and-run operations and Israeli fatalities. Israel could find itself dragged deeper and deeper into the Gaza sands.

One must remember the Lebanese lesson from 1982. Israel launched a limited campaign supposed to last 72 hours and penetrating only 40 kilometers. It took Israel 18 years and 1,000 dead to get out.

This is the right time to think, quickly, about an exit strategy. An indirect but comprehensive agreement with Hamas is preferable. But Israel would have to recognize that Hamas needs a face-saving gain, minimal as it might be. This is the nature of a compromise.

If an agreement is not viable, Israel should withdraw without one. It can adopt the idea put forth by US Senator George Aiken in 1966 regarding a way to end the Vietnam War: Let’s declare victory and get our troops home, the Vermont senator suggested.

The Israeli cabinet can tell the public and the world that most of its goals have been accomplished and hope that the tremendous damage to Hamas will deter the organization from resuming hostilities for at least a few years.

July 28, 2014

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