Does anybody really know what time it is?

The IDF took over Hamas radio and television Sunday morning with an unusual message. Carl in Jerusalem explains that the broadcast captured in the video below appeared on Israel’s Cable Channel 10, which explained to Israelis what had happened. It shows pictures of the Hamas leadership with bullets in their heads. The Arabic writing on the screen says “time is running out.”

This particular warning is meant to demoralize Israel’s enemy in Gaza, but other of Israel’s warnings have sought to protect the civilian population among which Hamas has concealed its weapons. As Yaacov Lozowick notes, the IDF has called the neighbors of targeted sites to give them a ten-minute warning. Lozowick comments:

Alongside the thousands of civilians whose lives have been spared there are hundreds, at least, of armed Hamas fighters, the people who put the explosives in the cellars in the first place: by warning their neighbors, Israel has warned them, too, thus giving them the chance to escape and fight another day: say, tonight, or tomorrow, when they’ll still be alive to fight the IDF troops, instead of lying dead under the rubble, as would have been possible had we hit their explosive stashes without prior warning, as any normal army wold have done.

But what about the IDF system which provides for the warnings? As a manager of complex IT systems, Lozowick reconstructs the efforts that have gone into its creation:

First, Israel clearly has created a sophisticated GIS (geographic information system). A system that records tens of thousands of buildings, their location, and their distance from each other. Then there’s a database with the names of the tens of thousands of families who live in the buildings, and the phone number of each family. The system has the ability to identify all the families and phone numbers that could be affected by an attack on any given building. Finally, given the numbers involved, there must be a system that automatically makes concurrent phone calls to dozens of families, since everybody has to have the same ten-minute warning.

Ah, and someone put tens of thousands of piece of information into that database.

Such a system costs real money, takes time to set up, and since it is obviously operating close to flawlessly, it was tested, fiddled with, tested, fiddled with, and tested again. The purpose, I remind you, is to save the lives of thousands of Palestinians who happen to have murderous neighbors.

Lozowick concludes that the IDF is the most moral army in the world: “This drives some people bonkers, and they often go ballistic. Alas for them, and fortunately for many Palestinians, it happens to be the simple truth.”

The care taken by the IDF to avoid civilian casualties complicates the achievements of its military objectives and increases the hazards to its soldiers, and it doesn’t do much to win Israel friends outside the United States. It is nevertheless an essential component of Israel’s strategy in dealing with its terrorist enemies.

But what is Israel’s objective in the current operation? Martin Kramer observes:

The Israeli operation is meant to impress on Hamas that there is something far worse than the sanctions–that Israel is capable of hunting Hamas on air, sea, and land, at tremendous cost to Hamas and minimal cost to Israel, while much of the world stands by, and parts of it (including some Arabs) quietly applaud. Israel’s aim is not to bring down Hamas at this stage, but to compel it to accept a cease-fire on Israel’s terms–terms that leave the sanctions in place.

Many Western and Arab governments see the logic of this. They would like to see Abbas and the Palestinian Authority back in authority over Gaza, thus restoring credibility to the “peace process.” Because they wish to see Hamas contained if not diminished, they have moved slowly or not at all to respond to calls for action to stop the fighting. The question now is how Israel turns its military moves into political moves that achieve the shared objectives of this coalition of convenience.

A hint of the solution Israel envisions comes from a senior Israeli diplomatic source: “Israel cannot agree that the only party responsible for implementing and regulating the cease-fire be Hamas.” Israel’s objective is to put another player on the ground in Gaza, which over time would be positioned to undermine Hamas. And since the objective is gradually restoring Gaza to control by Abbas and the Palestinian Authority, it seems logical to assume that this mechanism will be designed to enforce Hamas submission to that authority. Hamas would swallow the pill in the name of “national unity,” but it would become beholden to the PA.

Kramer infers the objective is “to put another player on the ground in Gaza.” An international monitor would be as ineffectual as the one that has allowed Hezbollah to rearm itself and more in Lebanon. Egypt is a possibility, though it would decline the honor. Mubarak has his hands full with his own Egyptian Islamists.

Kramer sees Israel seeking the gradual restoration of Gaza to control by Abbas and the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas might be an improvement over Hamas. But Abbas and Fatah are themselves problematic, and it Is not clear in any event that the people of Gaza support the displacement of Hamas.

One wonders if the low level of poliitcal life among the civilian population of Gaza is not itself the problem. To borrow Lozowick’s formulation, do they not support their “murderous neighbors”? After the East German uprisings of 1953, a Communist functionary expressed the government’s disapproval of the people. Bertolt Brecht satirically called for the government to dissolve the people and elect another. Israel confonts a sick variation of the same conundrum in Gaza.

UPDATE: On my last point, the incredibly brave Arab-Israeli journalist Khaled Abu Toameh examines “Hamas and the Palestinians” (“Many of those who voted for Hamas in 2006 did so because they wanted the movement to pursue the path of death and bloodshed…”).

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