Should Israel be in Gaza? No

From the Jewish Chronicle

Let?s make one thing clear: I write as someone who wants to see Israel not only survive, but thrive. Some people oppose Operation Cast Lead because they oppose everything Israel does, even its very right to exist.

I am not one of those people. My family, even my own life story, has been bound up with Israel.

Nor am I one of those blind to the suffering of Israel?s southern residents. I know that life in Sderot, under constant Hamas rocket fire, had become unbearable. I know how desperate ordinary Israelis are for those rockets to stop.

And yet I tremble at what Israel has unleashed these past two weeks. Even if the pummelling of Gaza does bring an end to the rocket fire, I fear it will have left Israel more, not less, vulnerable ? and facing new and broader perils than before.

That will be clearest if Hamas is so battered that it is left incapable of governing Gaza. That will leave a vacuum, to be filled, either by Somalia-style anarchy or, worse, the likes of al-Qaida. Even if a weakened Hamas manages to cling to power, new dangers lurk for Israel.

A generation of Palestinians has been filled with fresh hatred for the Jewish state: they will be bent on revenge for the hundreds of deaths they witnessed this week.

Some will want to return to suicide bombings inside Israel, others will plan to hit Jewish targets abroad. What?s more, Operation Cast Lead has triggered a wave of anti-Israel fury far beyond Gaza, greater even than the anger stirred by the bombardment of Lebanon in 2006. Hamas are now hailed across the region as heroes of resistance; Arab moderates are dismissed as irrelevant or worse.

An early sign of the danger: the prime minister of Jordan this week said that even his pro-western country might now reconsider its

relationship with Israel.

In all these ways, Cast Lead could prove to be a cure worse than the original disease. But, say the operation?s supporters, what else could Israel do to stop the rockets? The answer is plenty. For most of the six-month ceasefire that held until December, Hamas had all but stilled the missiles hurled into Israel.

Those who know Gaza best say that had Israel used that period to loosen the severe blockade that was choking the strip, the response would have been positive. Ordinary Gazans would have seen that providing southern Israel with calm brought real improvement to their daily lives. They would not have forgiven Hamas for jeopardising that by launching Kassams.

But Israel did not loosen the embargo on Gaza. Obviously, it could not make that move under heavy rocket fire: that would have been rewarding terror.

But it could have done it when the quiet held: that would have been

rewarding calm. But it did not.

So now the best Israel can hope for is a robust truce that will end the Kassams and the arms smuggling. But Israel had every chance to negotiate that deal without resorting to war.

Instead, whatever its intentions, it has caused needless death and suffering ? and grave harm to its own reputation.

Whatever short-term gains this operation may bring have come at a dreadful cost ? one that Israel and the Jewish people will be paying for many years to come.

Jonathan Freedland writes for the Guardian