The Middle East has been blinded by the light. The Palestinians were hit hard, but outwardly they are demonstrating extreme satisfaction. Meanwhile, the Israelis, who pounded Hamas' military wing and dismantled Hamas' civilian government centers, are walking around with their heads hung low as if in mourning. You have to see it to believe it.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his ministers, with the help of the IDF spokesman, explained to the media on Thursday that Operation Pillar of Defense was a resounding success. But the first 24 hours after the cease-fire went into effect belonged to public sentiment. At every street corner, one could hear expressions of disappointment. "We wanted the Dahiya effect" they said, referring to the total devastation of the southern suburb of Beirut during the 2006 Second Lebanon War. "We should have gone at them all the way," others said. Initial opinion polls also support this sentiment.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who, together with Netanyahu, gained much of the public's appreciation for his conduct during the operation, according to a Channel 2 poll, described the situation as follows: There have been military operations in the past that had the support of 80 percent of the public, but within ten days the tables turned and the public's sympathy was gone. Without mentioning which operation he was referring to, Barak hinted that even though the public now wants a ground invasion in Gaza, the first death toll and the international outcry that will surely come of it would certainly leave the IDF and the Israeli leadership mired in battle, without the public's backing.
It is true that Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman promised during the 2009 elections to smash Hamas' heads in. The public can settle the score with them for breaking their promise. It is a complex debate because in recent years, due to the centrality of the Iranian nuclear issue, the war with Hamas in Gaza (and with Hezbollah in Lebanon) no longer stands on its own. It is now just a chapter in the violent confrontation with the tentacles of the ayatollahs in Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Though the enemy is the same enemy, the battle is not the same battle. That is how I see things. I am not sure how much weight Netanyahu, Barak and Lieberman give to the views of Likud ministers Benny Begin, Moshe (Bogey) Ya'alon and Dan Meridor.
Due to this complexity, any Israeli military action aiming to topple Hamas and Islamic Jihad, as Egyptian or Iranian proxies, would require Israeli willingness to enter a prolonged military and diplomatic process, which would inevitably include failures and disappointments and international isolation. Such a process would be like a root canal, requiring the establishment of a national unity government that would have to think long and hard about whether it is willing to pay such a heavy price.
Operation Pillar of Defense was not a root canal. It was a successful emergency first aid operation. It was the enactment of a contingency plan, forced on us by ever-increasing Hamas and Islamic Jihad attacks. The significance of the difference between the two approaches has yet to sink in with the public. The poll that Channel 2 aired on Thursday indicates that the public's disappointment has weakened the joint Likud-Yisrael Beytenu party significantly, but not irreparably. It showed that Labor Chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich lost votes, but can also recover. It suggested that former Kadima Chairwoman Tzipi Livni's popularity has overtaken current Kadima Chairman Shaul Mofaz's and has bankrupted newcomer Yair Lapid. The poll further showed that Rabbi Haim Amsalem and his "Am Shalem" party (a thorn in Shas' side) and Naftali Bennett of the New National Religious Party are both success stories, but not resounding successes, and that Barak (Independence) will in fact win a seat in the Knesset.
Perhaps the poll also indicated that Meretz needs to learn that even the Zionist Left don't like the eternal "anti, anti, anti" mantra against using military force.