George Orwell once quipped, "The quickest way of ending a war is to lose it."
Since Tuesday it has become clear that the Olmert-Livni-Barak government has decided to end the war with Iran's Hamas proxy army in Gaza as quickly as possible. That is, the government has decided to lose the war.
Most Israelis are unaware of this state of affairs. In an obvious attempt to bolster the popularity of Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak ahead of the February 10 general elections, the local media have spent the six days since the government launched Operation Cast Lead praising the government's competence and wisdom, and declaring victory over Hamas after every IAF sortie in Gaza.
What the media have declined to notice is that the outcome of the war will not be determined by the number of Hamas buildings the IAF destroys. The outcome of this war - like the outcome of all wars - will be determined by one factor only: Which side will achieve the goals it set out for itself at the outset of the conflict and which side will concede its goals?
Depressingly, the current machinations of the Olmert-Livni-Barak government demonstrate that when the fighting is over, Hamas and not Israel will be able to declare that it accomplished its goals.
Hamas reinstated its attacks against southern Israel on December 19. It did so after a six-month hiatus that it used to restock its arsenals and strengthen its military forces. As it resumed its terror offensive against Israeli cities, Hamas announced that it will continue its current round of terror war until it wins full control over Gaza's land and sea borders.
Israel, for its part, has been less clear in stating its operational goals. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Livni and Barak have said that the goal of Operation Cast Lead is to compel Hamas to end its attacks against Israel, but they haven't said how they intend to affect that outcome. They have rejected Hamas's demand for control over Gaza's land and sea borders and in turn demanded that Hamas end its weapons smuggling operations across the Egyptian border.
Somewhat disconnectedly, the Olmert-Livni-Barak government has demanded that in the event it reaches some sort of mediated accord with Hamas, an international monitoring force must be deployed to Gaza to enforce its terms. Since Wednesday, this appears to have become Israel's main demand in relation to any mediated cease-fire talks with Hamas.
As for cease-fire talks, as the IAF finds fewer and fewer targets to hit, those hypothetical talks have become the government's new focus. On Monday and Tuesday, Turkey, Egypt and the EU all began offering various truce arrangements between Israel and Hamas. On Tuesday, Israel opted to pursue the European track. On Thursday, Livni travelled to Paris to discuss it with French President Nicolas Sarkozy ahead of his trip to the region on Monday.
Apparently the government's decision to go with Europe is based on aesthetics. The Europeans have been more polite to Israel than Turkey or Egypt have. But the fact is that there is little substantive difference between any of the cease-fire offers now being bandied about.
Hamas, for its part, has accepted all of the proposals on the table, and this makes sense. The Europeans, the Egyptians and the Turks have all adopted Hamas's demand for control of its land and sea borders as a starting point. None has included any demands for Hamas to disarm, end its weapons trafficking or commit itself to a permanent cease-fire.
In an apparent bow to Israel, the EU's draft that Livni is now negotiating also speaks of the EU's willingness to deploy monitoring forces to Gaza's borders with Israel and Egypt, and presumably to its coast. The EU foresees the deployment of monitors following the model developed by the EU monitors who were deployed at the Rafah terminal two months after Israel withdrew from the zone in September 2005, and who fled in June 2007 after Hamas took over Gaza.
According to its draft cease-fire proposal, the EU has agreed to return European monitors to Rafah, and is "willing to examine the possibility of extending its assistance to other crossing points."
Before the Olmert-Livni-Barak government accepts the EU cease-fire, it is worth noting three strategic problems with what they are doing. Taken together and separately, all three will lead Israel to defeat in this confrontation with Hamas.
The first problem with the EU proposal is that it takes for granted that all of Hamas's demands must be met in full. That is, Israel is beginning these negotiations from a point of weakness whereby it has already effectively accepted Hamas's demands and conceded its own.
The second problem with the decision to accept EU mediation is that by doing so, the government is compelled to ignore and indeed justify the EU's underlying and deep-seated hostility toward Israel. The very fact that the EU accepted Hamas's demands from the outset demonstrates clearly that the EU cannot be an honest broker between the warring factions.
Here it is important to recall just what Hamas is. Hamas is an illegal terrorist organization and an Iranian proxy that is conducting an illegal terror war against Israel. The EU is arguably committing a war crime by accepting Hamas as a legitimate side to a dispute. In turn, by accepting the EU as a legitimate interlocutor, Israel itself gives credence to the view that Hamas is a legitimate actor.
On a practical level, by accepting the EU's authority to mediate under these conditions, Israel has effectively foregone from the outset any chance of achieving its own cease-fire demands. After all, to reach a cease-fire with Hamas that includes Israel's demands that Hamas end its weapons smuggling operations, forgo control over international borders and end its missile offensive against Israel, the EU would have to throw out the draft it just voted to accept. And it would have to reverse its political direction and abandon Hamas in favor of Israel. The chance that this will happen is quite close to zero.
The third strategic failure inherent in Israel's decision to negotiate a truce is Israel's demand for an international monitoring force to verify compliance with the cease-fire agreement. This demand is self-defeating because such a force will only harm Israel's national interests. This is the clear lesson of both the EU's past monitoring mission at the Rafah terminal and of UNIFIL forces in southern Lebanon.
In the case of the EU monitors at Rafah, as The Jerusalem Post recalled in an editorial on Wednesday, during the period when they were deployed at the terminal, the EU monitors turned a blind eye to the very terror traffic they were supposed to be preventing. At the same time, they condemned Israel for taking any action to defend itself and downplayed the threat Hamas constitutes for Israel. In short, the EU monitors sided with Hamas against Israel at every turn.
The situation is much the same with UNIFIL forces in Lebanon. UNIFIL routinely condemns the IAF for carrying out reconnaissance flights over Lebanon aimed at keeping tabs on Hizbullah arms smuggling operations that UNIFIL does nothing to prevent. They also demand that Israel surrender the town of Ghajar to Lebanon despite the fact that it is part of sovereign Israel. Beyond that, UNIFIL forces have sat back and allowed Hizbullah to rearm and reassert control over some 130 villages along the Israeli border. Far from enforcing the UN-mediated cease-fire, UNIFIL acts as a shield behind which Hizbullah prepares for its next round of war against Israel.
In light of all of this, it is apparent that today the Olmert-Livni-Barak government is conducting cease-fire negotiations from a position of great weakness. It has accepted the mediation of a hostile interlocutor. And its primary demand in those negotiations is antithetical to the national interest.
The fact of the matter is that negotiating with Hamas is a fool's game. There are only two ways for a state to impact its enemy's behavior. It can take away its desire to attack, or it can deny its enemy the ability to attack it.
In the case at hand, Livni, Barak and Olmert claim that the IAF strikes against Hamas targets in Gaza have been so successful that the Islamist group is now compelled to reassess its desire to attack Israel, and that this is why it makes sense to negotiate a cease-fire today. But the facts on the ground do not back this assertion.
By maintaining its demand for control over the borders, Hamas has made clear that it has not changed its calculations of its interests. And this makes sense. Israel's air attacks have not degraded Hamas's ability to maintain control over Gaza in any significant way. IAF attacks have only destroyed between five and 10 percent of Hamas's smuggling tunnels, and so Hamas can still restock its arsenals. The IAF has caused no significant damage to Hamas's 20,000-man army, which went to ground before the operation began. Hamas's military and political leaders are also all safely in hiding.
Moreover, Israel's willingness to begin negotiations based on a draft that favors Hamas shows Hamas that far from losing this war, it is winning. So why would it reconsider its desire to attack Israel?
In truth, given Hamas's commitment to Israel's destruction at all costs and its indifference to the lives of its Palestinian subjects, there is only one way for Israel to secure its territory from Hamas attack. It must destroy Hamas's ability to wage war. The only way Israel can achieve its aim is by conquering Gaza, overthrowing Hamas's regime and destroying its military forces. Since the Olmert-Livni-Barak government has already stated that it will not launch such an attack, it is obvious that Hamas will end this war with its ability to attack Israel more or less intact.
All of this leads us to a very nasty conclusion. The Olmert-Livni-Barak government now leading Israel in its war against Hamas is no different from the Olmert-Livni-Peretz government that led Israel in the 2006 war against Hizbullah. Our leaders have learned nothing from their prior failure. Indeed they are reenacting it in Gaza today.
The only thing the public can hope for, and indeed demand at this stage, is for Olmert, Livni and Barak to forego any ground operation in Gaza. There is no reason for our soldiers to place their lives in jeopardy in a campaign that the government that has already decided to lose.