Israel, PNA: Olmert Vows To Strike Hamas After Israelis Killed Near Gaza Strip
April 10, 2008 1934 GMT
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel would strike Hamas after two Israeli civilians at an oil terminal that pumps fuel into the Gaza Strip were killed, Reuters reported April 10. “I promise you that the response to Hamas will be one such that it will not be able to continue to operate as it does today,” Olmert said.
Review: Israel must show that it can defeat the Arab brand of “incremental violence” against the Jewish state, exemplified by Hezbollah’s mastery of both conventional and asymmetric warfare. Israeli lives are too precious for Israel to play that game for long; so they must raise the price.
To do that, they must cripple Hezbollah, which defeated Israel in 2006.
Israel would vastly prefer to rematch with Hezbollah in a way that does not destroy Israel’s standing among neutral, international third parties. Therefore, it must provoke Hezbollah into making the first major, discrete offensive move.
Israel’s quasi-war against Iranian Hezbollah aligns with the interests of the United States, which is fighting a parallel incremental war against Iran (with Shiite Iraqi cities as the battlefield), and with the Saudis, who are defending their regional throne by minimizing Iran’s ascent in any and every way possible.
Thus, Saudi Arabia has backed, to the hilt, Sunni and Christian factions in Lebanon, against Iran and Syria; and the Saudis apparently also sponsored the assassination of Imad Mughniyah, Iran’s main broker within Hezbollah and arguably the single most capable asymmetrical-warfare operative in the world.
Meanwhile, the United States is throttling Iran’s proxies in Iraq (recently branded as “criminal gangs,” but in fact the Mehdi Army).
The Pentagon does not want to see 2008 reprise 2006, when Iran did its best to game the US election, and to some extent succeeded. (It did not help that an American late-October strike on a madrassa in Chingai, Pakistan, killed 52 students, but apparently failed to kill Ayman al-Zawahiri, the target of the strike — although it apparently killed some high-ranking al Qaeda operatives, and drove the organizational leadership very deep underground).
The Pentagon figures that Ahmadinejad — whose US Embassy hostage derring-do cost Carter a second term — will ratchet up violence in Iraq, deliver the presidency to Barack Obama, and drive a savage bargain afterwards. The Pentagon would prefer to move first.
The Israelis would hate to see a US-Iranian accommodation. Furthermore, they agree with the Pentagon’s sentiment, and are doing their part in pressuring Ahmadinejad’s Iranian proxies — Hamas in Palestine, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Bashar and Maher al Assad in Damascus. Saudi Arabia and Egypt are eagerly assisting Israel’s efforts against Hezbollah, as evidenced by the Mughniyah hit.
Which brings us to the latest Israeli move. We had figured that Iran’s best play was to ride out the next several months of allied pressure, before changes in the timeline of elections would shift the initiative back to Teheran. Combined with evident dissonance between Teheran and her militias, and the previously probable (now obvious) fact that Israel was not the proximate killer of Mughniyah, and Hezbollah’s need to retaliate against Israel vanishes.
Therefore, Israel must damage Hezbollah’s image in some other way — hence our conclusion a week and a half ago that Israel would smash Hamas:
… Israel’s low-risk/ moderate-reward play is to smash Hamas in Gaza. There is no messy Lebanese quagmire, Iran would lose a lot of face, Olmert would get a PR boost, and perhaps Hezbollah would be provoked into doing something really stupid, in which case Olmert’s PR/ economic cost of smashing Hezbollah would be significantly lower. It’s a win-win for him.
Now the question becomes: what will Ahmadinejad do?
Stratfor has, predictably, woven Bush’s latest, bellicose speech into its “inevitable US/Iran accommodation” paradigm of Iraq. But to reach an accommodation you need trust commensurate with the scope of your objective. There is no such level of trust between Ahmadinejad and the United States.
Now the onus is on Hezbollah to respond to Saudi Arabia, not Israel, for Mughniyah’s death.
Assuming that Hezbollah can’t, with reasonable probability of success, strike at one of the senior members of the Saudi royal family, the likely target of any Hezbollah reprisal shifts to those Saudi assets closest to Saudi Arabia’s Shiite minority (15% of the country) — which, coincidentally, are clustered around Saudi Arabia’s oil fields near Kuwait, including the Ghawar field.