Hamas’ War on Israel is a Societal Suicide Bombing

This weekend, Hamas launched an all-out assault on Israel, hitting the country with rockets, drones, and commando strikes. The death toll on the Israeli side is already approaching four digits and when the fog of war lifts that death toll is likely to increase. Hamas terrorists murdered Israelis indiscriminately, turning a music festival into a killing ground.

The Israelis have responded with their own assault on Gaza, which includes shutting off the power to the Gaza Strip. The loss of civilian lives among the Palestinian inhabitants of Gaza is likely to devastating as well. Hamas is engaging of its usual tactics of placing military assets in protected locations like mosques and hospitals, daring the Israelis to attack.

This war represents a massive intelligence failure for the Israelis. The IDF thought that they had contained Hamas, and up to 19,000 Palestinians were commuting from Gaza to Israel to work. Former US ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk has a detailed analysis of what happened and why in Foreign Affairs that provides some much needed context. Indyk’s thoughts on why Hamas decided to strike are important here:

The Arab world is coming to terms with Israel. Saudi Arabia is talking about normalizing relations with Israel. As part of that potential deal, the United States is pressing Israel to make concessions to the Palestinian Authority—Hamas’s enemy. So this was an opportunity for Hamas and its Iranian backers to disrupt the whole process, which I think in retrospect was deeply threatening to both of them. I don’t think that Hamas follows dictation from Iran, but I do think they act in coordination, and they had a common interest in disrupting the progress that was underway and that was gaining a lot of support among Arab populations. The idea was to embarrass those Arab leaders who have made peace with Israel, or who might do so, and to prove that Hamas and Iran are the ones who are able to inflict military defeat on Israel.

The reality is that the Palestinians have long been used as pawns for a proxy war against Israel. But the Middle East is changing—the Iranians have become the primary adversary for Sunni countries like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the UAE. And Israel is a buffer against the Iranians. This attack is likely directed by the Iranians to try to drive a wedge between Israel and the Sunni states. Whether or not that works depends both on how indiscriminate Israel’s actions become and how the rest of the Middle East reacts. But ultimately the economic, security, and political interests of countries like Saudi Arabia remain better aligned with rich and industrial Israel than the Palestinians that have been treated alternately like pariahs and useful tools since Israel’s founding. Iran is threatened by an Israel-Saudi alliance, and this attack may have been directed in large part by Tehran.

This war will not leave either Israel or Hamas in a better position. The Israelis have already declared open war on Hamas, and Israel has the military might to level the Gaza Strip several times over. Israel does not particularly want to re-occupy the Strip and try to govern over a population nearly a third of its own while facing Hizb’allah in the north and the restive West Bank in the east. No matter what happens, Hamas has forced a complex humanitarian catastrophe on its own people that will take years to resolve, and may leave Gaza permanently poorer. Israel has already taken heavy losses and has shown that its intelligence into Gaza was deeply flawed. The Israeli government has said that this will be a long and difficult war, and that prediction is quite likely to be accurate.

It is quite possible that the already unpopular Netanyahu government falls after all is said and done. Netanyahu’s appeal was primarily predicated on his ability to keep Israel safe from terrorism. It is now beyond question that the Netanyahu government and the IDF failed that mission, and failed dramatically. While Israel will likely not move towards elections during wartime, Netanyahu’s days are numbered now.

This war is a tragedy for the region. It is a tragedy for the innocent civilians in Gaza that were placed into harms way be the terrorists of Hamas. It is a tragedy for the State of Israel that has lost hundreds if not thousands of lives and has been shaken to the core. It is a tragedy for the Middle East that was for the first time in decades trending more towards peace. It is a tragedy for the world that the free world now faces another conflict in an era of relative peace.

Hamas bears the blame for this. Hamas has turned the entire Gaza Strip into a suicide bomb, using it to strike at Israel no matter what the costs to the people of Gaza. Hamas must be destroyed if there is to be peace, but the costs to both Israel and Gaza will sadly be severe.

Fifteen Seconds

Michael Totten has an amazing dispatch from the besieged Israeli city of Sderot, the most common target of Hamas rockets. He notes what it’s like for the residents of Hamas’ war zone:

Fewer than twenty Israelis have been killed by rocket fire from Gaza since Hamas and Islamic Jihad adopted the tactic. A few single suicide bombers inflicted more casualties all by themselves. Hezbollah killed around ten times as many Israelis in one month in 2006 than Hamas has managed with crude rockets for years. It’s no wonder, really, that critics slammed Israel for its “disproportionate” military response in the Gaza Strip.

It’s not just about casualties, though. Leave aside the fact that Hamas was escalating its attacks with bigger and longer range rockets and that a far deadlier scenario was on the horizon. Living under Qassam and Grad rocket attack doesn’t sound like much fun, but it’s worse than the low body count makes it seem.

Thousands of rockets have fallen on Sderot. And every rocket launched at the city triggers an air raid alert. Everyone within ear shot has fifteen seconds to run into a shelter.

Imagine sprinting for cover 5,000 times.

What constantly amazes me about the Israelis is not that the respond in a “disproportionate” manner, but that they don’t. If Mexicans rained fire down on Texas like Hamas rains fire down on Sderot, right now US Marines would be storming the beaches of the Yucatan and Vincente Fox would be running for his life. Very few countries would possess the singular patience that the Israelis have. Had the Holocaust not been such a terrible formative event for the Israeli state, I wonder if Gaza would not be a smoldering ember right now.

The people of Sderot should not have to live in fear. There is no excuse for such wanton violence. Hamas’ terrorism has not only killed Israeli citizens, but it is unraveling the social fabric of the region. The Israeli people have acted with incredible patience and restraint in the face of indiscriminate attacks against innocent civilians. It is unconscionable for the people of Sderot to have to live under such conditions.

Their story needs to be told, and thankfully independent and honest journalists like Michael Totten are out there to bring those important stories to light.

Be Careful What You Wish For…

Captain Ed notes that the popularity of Hamas is sinking as they realize that being a terrorist group is much easier than being a government:

Mostly, though, Gazans have reacted to the pragmatic reality around them. Gaza’s economy had tanked before the coup, thanks to their election of an unrepentant terrorist group to power. It has declined sharply from that point since the coup. While the Gazans see aid returning to the Hamas-less West Bank, the closing of commercial crossings at Karni and Rafah have cut deeply into their finances. The World Bank estimates that Gaza has lost $20.6 million in a single month due to the disappearance of Fatah security at Karni. Israel won’t reopen Karni with masked Hamas gunmen staffing security positions on the other side.

The resulting price hikes and food shortages will only get worse as a result, and the only way to change that will be to get rid of Hamas. Egypt won’t open Rafah to any great degree for the same security reasons as Israel. Gaza can’t get shipments anywhere else; the Israel military controls Gaza’s coastline.

As a result, Fatah has become much more popular in Gaza than ever before. They have almost double the support of Hamas, although interestingly one-third of Gazans support neither party. Mahmoud Abbas has an almost two-to-one advantage over former PM Ismail Haniyeh in voter trust, 63-37. Even more significantly, Sallam Fayed — the new PM that Hamas declared illegitimate — has a 62-38 advantage in trust among Gaza voters.

The ascendance of Hamas has been an unmitigated disaster for the Palestinians, so much so that some have begun to question whether they wouldn’t be off under Israeli occupation. Hamas, like most terrorist groups, has never had to deal with compromise, and they can’t kill everyone who disagrees with them without massacring most of their own people. They don’t have the cult of personality that kept Arafat’s kleptocracy intact, and as Gaza continues to become a living nightmare, the Palestinians are realizing that the only way forward is to reject those who have gotten them to this point.

Fatah lost because of corruption and incompetence, and Hamas seemed to promise something better. Now that Hamas has proven to be corrupt, incompetent, and dangerous the Palestinians are once again looking towards something better. What is crucial now is that Fatah embrace real change for the Palestinian people. Prime Minister Fayyad seems like someone who can reform the corrupt practices of the former PA and restore some order. While many see Fatah as not much better than Hamas, it does have the legitimacy needed to get things done. There aren’t many in Palestine who don’t have some connection to terrorism — so asking to deal with someone with perfectly clean hands just isn’t realistic. If Fatah wants to play ball, then play ball we should.

Hamas is isolating itself, which is the inevitable consequence of such a revolution. While Palestine has been seen (and justifiably so) as a failure of democratization in the Middle East, over the long term, that may not be the case. Democratization implies that voters in the Middle East may make choices that we don’t like, but also will be saddled with the consequence of those choices. So long as the democratic process itself doesn’t end up being destroyed, self-interest will lead to better leadership over time — right now the result of Hamas’ election has been to marginalize Hamas and to create more momentum for reform. While the costs have been great, especially to those stuck in Gaza, over the long term it may be a net benefit to the Palestinians.

The lessons here for American foreign policy are crucial. We’ve made a point of propping up regimes like the Mubarak government in Egypt as a hedge against Islamist parties like the Muslim Brotherhood — however, it’s that autocracy that feeds terrorism by stifling free expression. If that autocracy were to end, would that end up leaving populist Islamist movements in the position of winning, but they having to moderate themselves or face electoral backlash? That seems to be the case in Gaza. The big question is whether allowing Islamist movements to compete in free elections wouldn’t undercut the democratic process itself — if so, then there’s no pressure to reform and the risks of turning a relatively stable state like Egypt into another Afghanistan becomes a very real threat. It all seems to depend on the level of education and civil society — free elections in Egypt might be more likely to moderate groups like the Muslim Brotherhood over time then the same might in places like Saudi Arabia.

Right now the potential for reform in Palestine is high, but the road will be long and difficult. So many of the barriers to peace are cultural — the Palestinian culture has been turned into a glorified death cult rather than a viable polity that building a new sense of civil society will have to begin from the ground up. Social conditions like the subjugation of women that means that there are thousands of young, uneducated, angry, and sexually frustrated males feeding the ranks of terrorist groups will have to change. It will be a long and difficult process. However, the only other outcome is for the bloody status quo to continue, and even the Palestinians appear to have had enough of that.

Why Not France?

Ilya Somin has a provocative argument that there is a double standard in the way that Israel is treated in comparison to France. Somin goes through the common criticisms of Israeli policy and compares them to the actions of the French and finds that the French are hardly much better than the Israelis. So, what explains the disparity?:

It is, I think, still possible to make a left-wing case that, overall, Israeli policies are, say, 10% worse than French policies. Perhaps even 50% worse. I don’t agree with such claims, but they are not wildly implausible. However, it is utterly impossible for a fair-minded observer with typical left-wing values to conclude that Israel is 100 or 1000 times worse than France. Yet the ratio of left-wing criticism of Israel to left-wing criticism of France is far closer to 100-1 or 1000-1 than 1.5-1.

Perhaps the difference is due to ignorance. Many of those who spend lots of time and energy attacking Israel may simply be unaware of comparable French policies. Perhaps it is due to the far greater media coverage of Israel. But that only begs the question of why so many left-wing intellectuals and activists spend so much more time and effort learning about Israeli shortcomings than French ones, and why a mostly left-liberal media does the same.

Not even the alleged left-wing bias towards “underdogs” and against “the powerful” can explain the disjunction. France is much larger and more powerful than Israel (with about 10 times Israel’s population and GDP), and France’s enemies are weaker than Israel’s are. From any objective viewpoint, France’s policies are far more important than Israel’s and deserve far greater attention. Perhaps not ten times more, but certainly not 100 times less.

Is anti-Semitism the only cause of the disproportion between left-wing criticism of Israel and those of France? Almost certainly not. Perhaps it is not even the most important cause. But the other likely causes – bias against a nation perceived as more of a US ally than France, sympathy for France’s (pre-Sarkozy) anti-American rhetorical stance, an implicit belief that Jews should be held to “higher standards,” etc. – are only marginally more defensible.

To be honest, I think that singling out Jews for a “higher standard” is anti-Semitism. As Thomas Friedman once said: “Criticizing Israel is not anti-Semitic, and saying so is vile. But singling out Israel for opprobrium and international sanction – out of all proportion to any party in the Middle East – is anti-Semitic, and not saying so is dishonest.” Israel is singled out because it is a Jewish state, it is a strong ally of the United States, and because the left wing is especially susceptible to the Arab propaganda campaigns leveled against it.

There’s a difference between rational criticism of Israeli policy and the sort of anti-Semitic diatribes that frequently are used against Israel. It’s one thing to say that the settlement policy in the West Bank was wrong and should be stopped, it’s another thing to state that the Israelis as a people “stole” all their land and have no legitimate basis for being in the Middle East. There’s a difference between saying that the Israelis acted rashly in their recent war with Lebanon and playing into the canard that the Israelis secretly want to ethnically cleanse the region.

The problem is that the left has invested in a particular worldview that sees Israel as a illegitimate state and continues to justify the Palestinian cultural self-immolation. The reality is that what Israel has done to the Palestinians pales in comparison to what the Palestinians have done to themselves — and Gaza is living proof that even in the absence of the “Zionist enemy” the Palestinians cannot let go of their culturally-ingrained desire for blood and combat.

The French get a pass because they have better PR, not because they have a sterling record on human rights. The Israelis are condemned because they are a Jewish nation with close ties to the US and the Arabs have waged a very successful propaganda campaign against them for decades now. Israel is by no means a perfect nation, but when they are held to a higher and disproportionate standard while the actions of others are whitewashed, it’s hard to argue that such disparate treatment isn’t anti-Semitism with a more urbane face.

Reaching Out

Salam Fayyad, the new Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority is reaching out to Israel in trying to stabilize the West Bank. The history of this conflict has been full of false promises of hope, but there is reason to have cautious optimism that Fayyad is willing to engage in the long and hard work of making Palestine a livable place again.

The Palestinians have to dismantle their institutionalized death cult and start putting their resources together in building their society up rather than trying to tear down Israel. Palestine has been drained of civil society, devastated by war, and the children of Palestine have been turned into pawns in a futile war of extermination. Prime Minister Fayyad has much work to do to make Palestine a place of peace and prosperity rather than a pit of devastation and despair.

However, the schism between Hamas and Fatah is an opportunity as well as a crisis. Hamas’ popularity is plummeting and their dreams of a Gaza made in the image of the Taliban’s Afghanistan will only hurt them all the more. The Palestinians are finally realizing that the people who have been keeping them down all these years are not the Israelis, but the cynical Arab nations who have been using them as mere pawns on their proxy war against Israel.

The prospect of peace will remain elusive for some time, but Fayyad has so far shown a good-faith effort to make real change. He will have many challenges ahead of him, but if he can act with strength and determination, he has a chance to found a new Palestine from the ashes of the old.

A Silver Lining?

In the face of the ongoing devastation of Gaza, could some good come out of Hamas’ civil war? Martin Indyk seems to think that it might:

Whatever transpires, Gaza has become Hamas’s problem. It’s a safe bet that the real attitude of Abbas and Fatah is: Let Hamas try to rule Gaza, and good luck.

This turn of events would free Abbas to focus on the much more manageable West Bank, where he can depend on the Israel Defense Forces to suppress challenges from Hamas, and on Jordan and the United States to help rebuild his security forces. As chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization and president of the Palestinian Authority, Abbas is empowered to negotiate with Israel over the disposition of the West Bank. Once he controls the territory, he could make a peace deal with Israel that establishes a Palestinian state with provisional borders in the West Bank and the Arab suburbs of East Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, Palestinians in Gaza could compare their fate under Hamas’s rule with the fate of their West Bank cousins under Abbas — which might then force Hamas to come to terms with Israel, making it eventually possible to reunite Gaza and the West Bank as one political entity living in peace with the Jewish state. It’s hard to believe that such a benign outcome could emerge from the growing Palestinian civil war. But given current events, this course is likely to become Abbas’s best option.

If Abbas is smart, that’s exactly what he would do. Let Gaza become an open-air prison and let Hamas turn it into an Islamist hellhole. Meanwhile, Abbas can concentrate on getting a real solution for the West Bank that creates an independent Palestinian state and ends the policies of terrorism that have kept the Palestinian people mired in poverty and terrorism.

Abbas is already demonstrating that he’s willing to fight corruption and get the West Bank under control. The appointment of Finance Minister Salam Fayyad as Prime Minister is a good first step. Prime Minister Fayyad is a Western-educated economist with a reputation for fighting corruption. Abbas and Fayyad still have a long road ahead of them, but with Hamas creating their own terrorist fiefdom in Gaza, their attention will be drawn away from the West Bank.

This two-state solution may be the best outcome for the Palestinians. Fatah will be able to demonstrate that the Palestinians can have a responsible state, while Hamas will end up turning the Gaza strip into a no-man’s land. With Gaza sealed off, the Palestinians can see first-hand what terrorism brings — deprivation and destruction. Meanwhile, if Abbas can control terrorism coming from the West Bank, he has an opportunity to be the kind of leader that the Palestinians have not had in a long while.

Granted, as Madeline Albright once said about Yasser Arafat, the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. Fatah may be more diplomatic than Hamas, but both are sponsors of terrorism. Abbas must be willing to do the difficult and thankless task of rebuilding a society that has been turned into little more than a death cult with decades of indoctrination. To turn Palestine around, Abbas will have to make significant social and political changes to bring his people into the modern world. It is not sure if he can do it, but if he does not, the West Bank may well follow Gaza into hell — and it would demonstrate that the Palestinians have done more to oppress themselves than anything done to them during the occupation by Israel.

It’s Always Bush’s Fault, Isn’t It?

The Washington Post has an uncharacteristically dumb article that attempts the blame for the civil war in Gaza firmly on the desk of the President. For some, it’s not Hamas, Fatah, the Iranians efforts to aid terrorism, or the utter destruction of Palestinian society, it’s all about Bush. Even the one valid point that’s made is made through a transparently silly political lens. This article demonstrates the sort of petty political journalism that makes most American newspapers barely worth reading. The Post should know better.

Five years ago this month, President Bush stood in the Rose Garden and laid out a vision for the Middle East that included Israel and a state called Palestine living together in peace. “I call on the Palestinian people to elect new leaders, leaders not compromised by terror,” the president declared.

The takeover this week of the Gaza Strip by the Hamas militant group dedicated to the elimination of Israel demonstrates how much that vision has failed to materialize, in part because of actions taken by the administration. The United States championed Israel’s departure from the Gaza Strip as a first step toward peace and then pressed both Israelis and Palestinians to schedule legislative elections, which Hamas unexpectedly won. Now Hamas is the unchallenged power in Gaza.

First of all, the White House hardly championed the Sharon disengagement plan, except as a further step on its mythical “road map” towards Palestinian sovereignty. That decision was almost entirely that of Ariel Sharon, and it’s difficult to say that it was the wrong choice. Disengagement from Gaza was a necessity to maintain Israeli security, and the results of that disengagement don’t reflect on Israel or on the United States, but on the inability of Palestinian society to settle their disputes using political compromise.

The question of elections is a more questionable one. The biggest lesson that must be learned from Iraq and Palestine is that pushing elections when there is no responsible civil society is a recipe for chaos. The way to build a stable democratic country is through developing small institutions that can channel political activity — widescale elections only entrench sectarian lines unless there is a responsible political culture to support democratic activity. Yet at the same time, the Palestinian people made the choice to elect Hamas. A moderate party is not representative of the Palestinian people as a whole — they made this bed, and now they have to lie in it. It may take the Palestinians subjecting themselves to a bloody civil war before any progress can be made. Nothing Israel, the United States, or anyone else can do can magically undo the years of inculcated hatred that has been at every facet of Palestinian society. The choice to push for elections was inevitably to create a Hamas victory — but allowing Abbas’ undemocratic and corrupt Fatah (who are also sponsors of terrorism) to continue to reign was not a better choice for anyone. Blaming Bush for what is at its root a fault of Palestinian factionalism is simply foolish.

The situation in Palestine was a quagmire long before Bush took office. Clinton tried to make the same attempts to negotiate a settlement and that ended terribly as well. Blaming Bush for the Palestinian civil war is no more logical or sound than blaming Clinton for the Second Intifada in 2000. Both made naïve attempts at peace and both ended up watching as the Palestinians chose death rather than peace. If Bush can be blamed for anything, it’s following the longstanding and always fruitless American assumption that there is a “Palestinian society” rather than a death cult who has taken on the trappings of a society.

The only people who have the solution to this problem are the Palestinians themselves, and it seems that will only emerge once most of Palestinian society have killed each other off. The tragedy of Palestine isn’t what the West or Israel has done — it’s what the Palestinians have done to themselves. It is their brutality and their factionalism that is on display in Gaza right now, and trying to argue that Western policy is at the root of this is just enabling the sense of unjustified victimhood that lead the Palestinians down this terrible road to begin with.

Six Days That Changed The World

Power Line notes the 40th anniversary of the Six Day War, a war that nearly ended the state of Israel, but ended up being one of the most decisive victories in modern military history.

One of the best military histories I’ve ever read is Michael Oren’s Six Days of War which covers every aspect of the Six Day War in vivid detail without being didactic or losing the frantic nature of the conflict.

Oren finds that the Arab armies were weakened by poor communications and training, but that Israel’s victory was often in spite of the Israeli’s constant self-doubt and over-analysis. Those same factors were in play in the recent war between Israel and Hizballah in Lebanon — and while Israel’s victory in 1967 is unquestionable, the Israel-Hizballah conflict was far less decisive. The lessons that can be learned from 1967 haven’t necessarily been learned by either side in that conflict.

Oren’s history reads like a Tom Clancy novel, but remains a balanced and objective look at what happened in the Six Day War and how close Israel nearly came to destruction. Anyone wanting to understand more about one of the most pivotal moments in Middle Eastern history would do well to add it to their summer reading list.


The Boston Globe has a piece on how the Palestinian civil war is playing in the Middle East:

Palestinians killing Palestinians was a nightmare come true, not just for the Middle East, but for the greater Muslim community as well. Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz of Pakistan said that the Palestinian problem was at ” the core of stability” for the world, and that the lack of rights for Palestinians fostered terrorism.

Crocodile tears.

The reality is that the Palestinians have been used as pawns in the pan-Arab game of fighting Israel since 1948. If the Arabs really cared about the Palestinians they wouldn’t be enabling their campaign of terrorism to such a degree. Instead, the terrible situation in Palestine is the result of years of breeding a death cult that has no turned on itself since it can no longer strike at Israel. What is happening now is the result of years of Arab nations pushing the Palestinians towards the nihilistic world of jihad — proxy warriors for a battle that could not be won by conventional means.

The problem of Palestine is hardly at the “core of stability” for the world — it’s an excuse for Muslim nations to stall reform and covertly embrace terrorism. Solving the Israel-Palestine crisis wouldn’t effect the situation in Iraq, it wouldn’t make Syria more democratic, and it wouldn’t end the Islamist campaign of terrorism. It’s nothing more than a convenient way of shifting the blame for decades of failure, hatred, and terrorism which has become the bloody status quo in the Middle East.

Ralph Peters makes a strong argument for why the Palestinians are merely pawns:

The truth is that other Arabs want the Palestinians to continue to suffer. It’s useful as an excuse for all their failings. They have about as much sympathy for the refugees as all those good Germans had for the Jews whose real estate was suddenly available.

But the ultimate victims of this round of Palestinian violence are the Palestinians themselves.

After passing up so many chances for peace and statehood, they can no longer be classed as victims of Zionism. Yet the Palestinians are victims – of the other Arabs who exploit them and neglect them. And of the madmen spawned from their own kind.

If you need someone to blame for the current carnage, blame the Palestinian terrorists for whom violence has become a way of life (and death). Forget the rage of the dispossessed and all that sanctimonious claptrap. For the Palestinians preying upon their brethren, terror’s a business.

And business is good.

He’s sadly right. The true victims of this are the decent members of Palestinian society — the ones who have watched their people become human munitions in a pointless proxy war. The ones who watch money be sent to the families of duped suicide bombers rather than to schools or hospitals. The ones who have watched their society be degenerated into a death cult, making civil society virtually impossible. Those who know what’s happening, but can do little to prevent it.

The Arabs have spend 50 years sowing the wind, and now they’re shocked that it has resulted in a state that is tearing itself apart? What could they expect from a society that they’ve deliberately steeped in violence for generations.

This is what happens when civil society is replaced with jihad, and the governments of the Middle East may see this malignant ideology spread beyond Gaza and Baghdad — they’ve been hoping that paying it off would make it leave their borders, but the combination of religious fundamentalism and indoctrinated violence is a beast that may yet turn on its masters within our lifetimes.

Plague Rats, Boils, and “Gigli”

…are all things with higher approval ratings than Ehud Olmert. It is quite clear from the upcoming Winograd report on the war with Hizballah that the Olmert government deserves it’s utter lack of support. The war was horrendously mismanaged, and Olmert went to war with an army and a country that was woefully unprepared for what they were facing. While Israel was fortunately enough to have a qualified victory — they did hurt Hizballah — they never reached their goals of destroying Hizballah nor did they return their lost soldiers. The best that can be said about the Israeli incursion into Lebanon is that they didn’t completely lose.

Olmert deserves to resign. The only way he was able to salvage his government was by cozying up to the ultra-nationalist Avigdor Lieberman of the Y’Israel Beitanu Party, and even he would be deeply unwise to cling to that particular sinking ship. There’s no doubt that the Knesset will make a vote of no confidence that will probably lead to the ouster of Olmert and the accession of Tzipi Livni as Prime Minister. If she can’t hold the Kadima coalition together, than Binyamin Netanyahu will try to form a new government. Should he fail, then new elections will be called.

My guess is that this signals the end of Kadima. Without the leadership of Ariel Sharon, Kadima has itself been on life support. Sadly, neither are likely to recover. Parties based on the personal appeal of a single candidate rarely last in any democracy, and Kadima is no exception to that rule. It seems likely that in the wake of Israel’s perceived defeat in Lebanon, a hardliner like Netanyahu has enough political advantage to take power, although that is certainly not a given. Tzipi Livni has a chance to hold Kadima together, but despite her considerable skill, the disintegration of Kadima may be too much for anyone to handle.

The problem is that Netanyahu, while a smart man and an adept politician, will also be likely to be much more of a hardliner than Sharon was towards the end. The disengagement plan is the only way to ensure Israel’s security. Israel cannot fight off an attack by its enemies if its forces are spread thin trying to protect settlements. The disengagement from Gaza was a human tragedy, but it was a necessary one to preserve the security of the Israeli state. Netanyahu’s opposition is understandable, but ultimately wrong for Israel. Israel needs strength, to be sure, but it has to choose which battles are worth fighting.

The tragic incapacitation of Ariel Sharon has left Israeli politics in a state of flux. Sharon’s transformation from hardliner to pragmatist came at the right time. Sharon would not have fought the war in Lebanon more intelligently — or perhaps not at all. The inept leadership of Olmert and especially his Defense Minister Amir Peretz (which was a poor choice to begin with) led to an aimless war that alienated Israel’s potential allies in Lebanon and emboldened rather than dissuaded Iranian and Syrian ambitions in the region.

Olmert is promising to stay on — but his political career is over. The bigger question now is how Israeli politics will realign itself and whether Kadima will live in on some form or splinter into a host of minor parties. Neither Kadima nor Sharon seem likely to be coming back any time soon, and Israeli politics once again is in a state of uncertainty.