A friend and supporter of Israel who lives far away and can't follow the Hebrew media writes to ask what was achieved, if at all. Knowing his fundamental positions, it's a legitimate question, not a taunt.
Of course, the problem with blogging, and punditry in general, is that we lack even minimal perspective, but he's asking now, not in five years, so here's an attempt to answer.
The internal Israeli arena. The Gaza operation achieved two extremely important goals, while possibly missing a third. The first important goal is re-establishing Israeli solidarity. We're in this very long war as a nation and community, not a collection of individuals. Yet since the 2nd Intifada was beaten, in 2002-2003, when most of us returned to normal lives, the citizenry of Sderot and its neighbors haven't. Perhaps someday I should write about the debilitating effect years of rocketry had on Sderot, but not today. The point is that the rest of us pretended it wasn't happening. The longer this went on, the more debilitating it became. The most blatant demonstration of this was how the very organizations which exist in order to express and enhance social solidarity and awareness, disengaged completely from the weak part of society that lives down there; once we went to war, most of them vehemently castigated us (and castigate us still) for our cruelty to the Palestinians, with nary a word for the Sderotians. (Go read Grossman's article yesterday). But the problem was with mainstream Israel, not the pathetic Loony Left. Mainstream Israel learned to live with the Sderotian's suffering: we can't stop Hamas because they're embedded in the populace of Gaza, so the Sderotians should stop kvetching.
Can you think of a more insidious and debilitating trend? The Gaza operation brought us back to our senses: we're here for all of us, and since defending some of us requires the determination and willingness to sacrifice of the rest, so be it.
The second internal goal was that we reaffirmed for ourselves that we know how to act. The multi-layer fiasco of the 2nd Lebanon War in 2006 had cast this in doubt. The multi-layered success of the Gaza operation proved to us that it's a matter of willpower, but also of professionalism. Someone has to collect the intelligence about the enemy; someone has to plan distribution of food in towns under fire - and all the many layers in between. There are hundreds of them. Many of them malfunctioned in 2006 - it was astonishing how many. Most of them did rather well in January 2009. I have no doubt that everyone involved is now sitting down to learn the details of what just happened, so as to do even better next time. There will be a next time, we all know, and it could well be Tel Aviv being rocketed with big missiles, rather than Sderot with little ones, so there's still lots of necessary preparation. Only this time, we know that we know how to do it.
The failure, at least so far, was in getting Gilad Shalit back. I don't know why we failed, and it's possible that the operation changed the dynamics with Hamas so that he'll soon be exchanged for hundreds of their people, but it hasn't happened yet. As of this morning, we failed in getting him back, a failure which goes back to the issue of solidarity, and it's bad, that failure.
Still, the overall picture is positive. As I've often written here, ultimately, the historical explanation for the extreme longevity of the Jews and the tenacious successes of Israel, is that the Jews and the Israelis are determined to exist and succeed. That's the key. The Gaza operation bolstered that significantly.
The Palestinians. What did the operation achieve with them? We need to distinguish between at least two, perhaps three different groups of Palestinians.
First, Hamas. The paper edition of Haaretz this morning has an item (which I can't find on their website, which is eternally and abysmally exasperating and I wish they'd fire someone already) according to which Khaled Meshal admits the Hamas tactic was to withstand a three-day Israeli attack and then declare victory; "We didn't expect the Israelis to be so determined and destructive" he says. This is the same Khaled Meshal who as recently as last Thursday was declaring great Hamas victories and no Hamas losses, even as the news of our killing their Siam fellow was running across the bottom of the TV screen.
(As an aside: the Hamas tactic assumed Israel would behave exactly as David Grossman demanded we behave, when he wrote on the 3rd day that we'd made our point and should now stop, and he was translated into lots of languages and published worldwide).
Will Meshal's suprise be translated into a reluctance to shoot at Israelis? Only time will tell, but the example of Hassan Nassrallah is encouraging.
Second, the PA. As we all know, Fatah was mostly cheering the IDF, for doing to Hamas what they can't do. I don't know if that's a good thing. More significant, however, the PA under Salam Fayad seems to be delivering the Israelis a growing degree of security on the West Bank, and the populace a growing measure of economic growth (now of all times!) and general normality. The differences between Israel vs. the West Bank and Israel vs. Gaza couldn't have been more stark. Will the PA manage to translate this into beneficial political results? Who knows. Perhaps.
Third, the Palestinian people. This is the second time in a decade that we've demonstrated to them that they can't bring us to our knees with violence, and on the contrary, when they try too hard we turn very nasty. Not as nasty as they would be if the tables were turned, not even remotely so, which they seem to recognize, but still: when we're angry we're definitely nasty. So now they have two models to choose from.
(And no, I don't fear that we've just created a new generation of hate-filled young Palestinians determined to commit suicide murders. I don't see how they could possibly hate us more than they already did, and I never forget that the months immediately following the Declaration of Principles in September 1993 saw the steepest rise in Palestinian violence ever, to be surpassed only in Fall 2000 after Barak offered to dismantle most of the settlements).
The Arab world: The Gaza operation did a fine job of accentuating what educated observers knew anyway. That there's a deep split between some Arabs who hate and fear their own crazies, and those who either are the crazies or think the crazies can be used. The world needs those crazies to disappear, since they are the enemies of mankind. Ultimately, they can be defeated only by the rest of the Muslim world. I don't see how the operation did any harm; conceivably it might have done some good. There were persistent items in the Israeli media telling that many Arabs were whispering to the Israelis that they could smash Hamas, but only if they didn't bungle it as in Lebanon with the Hezbullah. I don't think we bungled this time, but I also don't think it will make much difference. It is the Muslims and Arabs who will have to defeat their demons. We can't do it for them. Nor can Obama.
Europe: As a number of readers discussed on this blog, the European response may have been better, all in all, than the European media would have liked. Certainly there was nothing written in the Guardian during the operation that would explain the visit of six European heads of government to Israel earlier this week, a mostly friendly and supportive visit. Either the heads of government know things from their intelligence briefings that aren't in the media, or they know that their voters aren't believing their own media, or both.
And yet. A few years ago it was fashionable to choose a year from the 20th century and postulate ourselves into it (We're in 1938. No, we're in 1941. No, we're in 1945. No, you idiots, we're in 2003). Well, in some disturbing ways, we're in 1909. That's the period when an educated minority was putting its finishing touches on a Weltanshauung of hatred, which had flagrant antisemitism at its very core. Nazism, as its students all know, was not an invention of some maniacs after the German defeat in The Great War and the subsequent political and economic turmoil. The ideas of Nazism were all fully developed years before World War One began.
A hundred years later, an educated minority has a Weltanschauung of hatred, and flagrant antisemitism is at its core. This is disquieting, or should be. The Gaza operation didn't invent them, nor did they need it to formulate their poison, but it brought them out into the open (once again). Since everyone knows who they are and where they are, perhaps everyone should do something about them. ("Everyone" won't).
Finally, the crucial question: did the operation change something with the folks of the incoming Obama administration. Well, I certainly can't say, can I? Can you? Yet I expect it didn't. If they needed last week's news to learn about the Israeli-Arab conflict, they're fools. I doubt they're that.
(Yes, I've noticed. I'm not doing a very good job at desisting from blogging, am I. Tomorrow).