Saturday, January 3, 2009

Attacks on Gaza doomed, expert believes

The Financial Times

"Israel’s attempt to force the Palestinian group Hamas to comply with a ceasefire on its terms through its offensive against the Gaza Strip is doomed to fail, an international expert on the region predicts.

The attacks on Gaza would leave Hamas in place, said Alastair Crooke. “It is nothing tangible that you can knock down, it is not a building,” he explained.

Israel was also repeating some of the mistakes it made during the 2006 war against Hizbollah, Mr Crooke argued in an interview with the Financial Times. The country’s leadership was divided on the course of action and had no clear view of the endgame, he said. Just like Hizbollah in 2006, Hamas was hoping to force Israel into launching a risky ground operation by continuing to fire rockets into the Jewish state, he said. Israel was hesitant to commit ground forces because it was aware that Hamas had changed its fighting capacity and there could be some “surprises”.

Mr Crooke, a former British intelligence officer and EU adviser, expected the outcome of the fighting, irrespective of military developments on the ground, to be an agreement between the two sides that would see the end of Israel’s siege of Gaza and “a return to normalcy” in the tiny strip of land.

Israel’s attempt to stop the Hamas rockets had so far failed, as had its targeting of the military leadership of Hamas. And any idea to force Palestinians to abandon Hamas was misguided. “All the pressure that I hear, not from Hamas but from other Palestinians in Gaza, the real pressure is for revenge,” said Mr Crooke, a former MI6 agent and founder of a forum that explores engagement with groups such as Hamas and Hizbollah.

He saw the current round of fighting and the unwillingness of Hamas to extend the six-month ceasefire that expired last month as a reaction by the group to being squeezed by Israel, the international community and even the Arab League.

Mr Crooke regularly argues for exploring the possibility of talks with groups such as Hamas and Hizbollah rather than isolating them, and emphasises that they have a political agenda. "

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