Hamas' leadership is not only seriously degraded but openly humiliated. The great warriors urging others to martyrdom are cowering underground almost entirely incommunicado. Demonstrably unable to protect their own people, they beg for outside help, receiving in return nothing but words from their Arab and Iranian brothers. And who in fact is providing the corridors for humanitarian assistance to Palestinian civilians? Israel.
In the first four minutes of this war, the Israel Air Force destroyed 50 targets, taking down practically every instrument and symbol of Hamas rule. Gaza's Potemkin leaders were marginalized and rendered helpless, leaving their people to fend for themselves. At such moments, regimes are extremely vulnerable to forfeiting what the Chinese call the mandate of heaven, the sense of legitimacy that undergirds all forms of governance.
The fall of Hamas rule in Gaza is within reach, but only if Israel does not cave in to pressure to stop now. Overthrowing Hamas would not require a permanent Israeli reoccupation. A transitional international force would be brought in to immediately make way for the return of the Palestinian Authority, the legitimate government whose forces will be far less squeamish than the Europeans in establishing order in Gaza.
The disintegration of Hamas rule in Gaza would be a devastating blow to Palestinian rejectionists, who since the Hamas takeover of Gaza have been the ascendant "strong horse" in Palestinian politics. It would be a devastating blow to Iran as patron of radical Islamist movements throughout the region, particularly after the defeat and marginalization of Iran's Sadrist client in Iraq. It would encourage the moderate Arab states to continue their U.S.-allied confrontation of Iran and its proxies. And it would demonstrate Israel's irreplaceable strategic value to the U.S. in curbing and containing Iran's regional ambitions.
Olmert had such an opportunity in Lebanon. He blew it. He now has a rare second chance. The one-step-from-madness gangster theocracy in Gaza -- just four days before the fighting, the Hamas parliament passed a Sharia criminal code, legalizing, among other niceties, crucifixion -- is teetering on the brink. It can be brought down, but only if Israel is prepared -- and allowed -- to complete the real mission of this war. For the Bush State Department, in its last significant act, to prevent that with the premature imposition of a cease-fire would be not just self-defeating but shameful.
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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