WASHINGTON -- Israel's recent operations in Gaza began in an atmosphere of criticism, including the widespread prediction that the use of force wouldn't "solve anything." Since, in this view, a negotiated peace is the only eventual answer to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is a mistake for Israel to engage its enemies in an endless cycle of violence. Hamas in particular would only be strengthened.
This augury of futility was wrong. Israeli forces, responding to an intolerable provocation, inflicted lopsided casualties on Hamas, which displayed a discrediting combination of cowardice and brutality. Hamas fighters used civilians as shields instead of shielding civilians -- and some Palestinians seemed to resent it. Hamas leaders hid in the basements of hospitals while ordering public executions for Palestinian rivals, acting more like members of a criminal gang than a nationalist movement. Allies such as Iran, Syria and Hezbollah provided little practical help to Hamas, probably calculating that its rocket campaign against Israel was suicidal or at least foolishly premature. The international boycott against Hamas is holding. And the scale of missile attacks on Israeli citizens has been dramatically reduced.
"This hasn't solved the problem," Gen. Giora Eiland, a former Israeli national security adviser, told me. "But it has introduced a completely different cost calculation for Hamas." The launching of Hamas rockets against civilians now has a predictable price -- the essence of deterrence. The smuggling of weapons to Gaza through Egypt remains a challenge. But Hamas leaders are currently occupied, Eiland argues, "not just rebuilding buildings, but rebuilding their political standing and legitimacy." And this makes Hamas more likely to keep a cease-fire.
While Israel's military operations didn't accomplish everything, they also didn't accomplish nothing. But the "force doesn't solve anything" argument runs so deep for some that real-world outcomes matter little. Military action by Israel is always counterproductive, because Israel must eventually negotiate with its most bitter enemies. The sooner the better.
Call it the Fallacy of the Eventual Answer. It is true that the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is two states living side by side in peace. But it is false to say that the fight against terrorists and the security of Israel have no part in achieving that goal.