In the last days before Israel imposed a unilateral
cease-fire in Gaza to avoid embarrassing the incoming Obama administration,
it upped its assault, driving its troops deeper into Gaza City, intensifying
its artillery bombardment, and creating thousands more displaced people.
Israel's military strategy in Gaza, even in what its officials were calling
the "final act," followed a blueprint laid down during the Lebanon war
more than two years ago.
Then, Israel destroyed much of Lebanon's infrastructure in a month of intensive
air strikes. Even in the war's last few hours, as a cease-fire was being finalized,
Israel fired more than a million cluster bombs over south Lebanon, apparently
in the hope that the area could be made as uninhabitable as possible.
Similarly, Israel's destruction of Gaza continued with unrelenting vigor to
the very last moment, even though according to reports in the Israeli media
the air force exhausted what it called its "bank of Hamas targets" in the first
few days of fighting.
The military sidestepped the problem by widening its definition of Hamas-affiliated
buildings. Or as one senior official explained: "There are many aspects of
Hamas, and we are trying to hit the whole spectrum because everything is connected
and everything supports terrorism against Israel."
That included mosques, universities, most government buildings, the courts,
25 schools, 20 ambulances, and several hospitals, as well as bridges, roads,
10 electricity-generating stations, sewage lines, and 1,500 factories, workshops,
Palestinian Authority officials in Ramallah estimate the damage so far at
$1.9 billion, pointing out that at least 21,000 residential apartment buildings
need repairing or rebuilding, forcing 100,000 Palestinians into refugeedom
once again. In addition, 80 percent of all agricultural infrastructure and
crops were destroyed. The PA has described its estimate as "conservative."
None of this will be regretted by Israel. In fact the general devastation,
far from being unfortunate collateral damage, has been the offensive's unstated
goal. Israel has sought the political, as well as military, emasculation of
Hamas through the widespread destruction of Gaza's infrastructure and economy.
This is known as the "Dahiya Doctrine," named after a suburb of Beirut
that was almost leveled during Israel's attack on Lebanon in summer 2006. The
doctrine was encapsulated in a phrase used by Dan Halutz, Israel's chief of
staff, at the time. He said Lebanon's bombardment would "turn back the clock
The commanding officer in Israel's south, Yoav Galant, echoed those sentiments
on the Gaza offensive's first day: the aim, he said, was to "send Gaza decades
into the past."
Beyond these soundbites, Gadi Eisenkot, the head of Israel's northern command,
clarified in October the practical aspects of the strategy: "What happened
in the Dahiya quarter of Beirut in 2006 will happen in every village from which
Israel is fired on. We will apply disproportionate force on it and cause great
damage and destruction there. From our standpoint, these are not civilian villages,
they are military bases. This is not a recommendation. This is a plan."
In the interview, Gen. Eisenkot was discussing the next round of hostilities
with Hezbollah. However, the doctrine was intended for use in Gaza, too.
Gabriel Siboni, a colonel in the reserves, set out the new "security concept"
in an article published by Tel Aviv University's Institute of National Security
Studies two months before the assault on Gaza. Conventional military strategies
for waging war against states and armies, he wrote, could not defeat sub-national
resistance movements, such as Hezbollah and Hamas, that have deep roots in
the local population.
The goal instead was to use "disproportionate force," thereby "inflicting
damage and meting out punishment to an extent that will demand long and expensive
Col. Siboni identified the chief target of Israel's rampages as "decision
makers and the power elite," including "economic interests and the centers
of civilian power that support the [enemy] organization."
The best Israel could hope for against Hamas and Hezbollah, Col. Siboni conceded,
was a cease-fire on improved terms for Israel and delaying the next confrontation
by leaving "the enemy floundering in expensive, long-term processes of reconstruction."
In the case of Gaza's lengthy reconstruction, however, Israel says it hopes
not to repeat the mistakes of Lebanon. Then, Hezbollah, aided by Iranian funds,
further bolstered its reputation among the local population by quickly moving
to finance the rebuilding of Lebanese homes destroyed by Israel.
According to the Israeli media, the foreign ministry has already assembled
a task force for "the day after" to ensure neither Hamas nor Iran take the
credit for Gaza's reconstruction.
Israel wants all aid to be be channeled either through the Palestinian Authority
or international bodies. Sealing off Gaza, by preventing smuggling through
tunnels under the border with Egypt, is an integral part of this strategy.
Much to Israel's satisfaction, the rebuilding of Gaza is likely to be even
slower than might have been expected.
Diplomats point out that, even if Western aid flows to the Palestinian Authority,
it will make little effect if Israel maintains the blockade, curbing imports
of steel, cement, and money.
And international donors are already reported to be tired of funding building
projects in Gaza only to see them destroyed by Israel a short time later.
With more than a hint of exasperation, Norway's foreign minister, Jonas Gahr
Stoere, summed up the general view of donors last week: "Shall we give once
more for the construction of something which is being destroyed, reconstructed,
A version of this article originally appeared in The
National, published in Abu Dhabi.