On Sunday, Israelis were witness to a cavalcade of European leaders marching to Jerusalem to have their pictures taken with outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi came to Jerusalem from Sharm e-Sheikh, where they had their pictures taken with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. In both cities, they expressed their support for Israel's decision to stop fighting the Iranian-armed, financed and trained Hamas terror regime in Gaza.
Olmert greeted the Europeans leaders as great friends of Israel and claimed that their presence demonstrated that Israel's operation against Hamas enjoyed massive international support. Unfortunately, Olmert's statements were wrong on both counts. The leaders who came to Jerusalem are not friends of Israel and their presence in our capital did not demonstrate that Operation Cast Lead enjoyed international backing.
While sufficing with paying the most minimal lip service to Israel's inherent right to defend itself, the leaders who came to Jerusalem have been outspoken in their criticism of Israel's actual efforts to defend its citizens from Hamas aggression. None have publicly recognized that Israel has a duty to its citizens to defeat Hamas. To the contrary, all have claimed that there "is no military solution" to Israel's military conflict with Hamas.
And while these leaders have repeated vacuous bromides about the "tragedy of both sides," their voters have been much less circumspect in telling the Jews what think of us. Over the past three weeks, all of their countries, and indeed, all the countries in Western Europe have hosted large-scale, violent, anti-Semitic demonstrations and riots. And rather than condemn the anti-Jewish violence and incitement at these events, the Europeans leaders who came to Jerusalem have either sought to appease the anti-Semites or ignore them.
German authorities for instance permitted Hamas supporters to wave Hamas flags at their hateful "peace demonstrations" while barring Israel supporters from holding Israeli flags or even displaying them in their windows.
In France, Sarkozy has equated his victimized Jewish community with the French Muslims who have been attacking them by claiming that his government "will not tolerate international tensions mutating into intercommunity violence."
Given their refusal to support Israel in its fight against Hamas and their publics' growing hatred of Israel and the Jews, what made these Europeans leaders come to Jerusalem? As Gordon Brown and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner made clear in their remarks in Jerusalem, they came here to advance a hostile agenda. They want Israel to acquiesce to Hamas's demand to open its borders with Gaza and to support the opening of Egypt's border crossing with Gaza. They also intend to start giving Hamas hundreds of millions of dollars in "humanitarian aid" to rebuild Gaza.
If Europe gets its way, any gains that Israel made in Operation Cast Lead will quickly be erased. So the question then arises, why did Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak agree to have them come to Jerusalem?
The short answer to this question is that Olmert, Livni and Barak view the European leaders as stage props. As they explained repeatedly since the outset of Operation Cast Lead, Israel's leaders sought to end the campaign with a "picture of victory." A group photo with Olmert, Sarkozy, Brown, Merkel, Zapatero and Berlusconi was the picture that they felt they needed. The fact that the picture came with demands that Israel cannot agree to without squandering its hard-earned gains in Gaza, is beside the point.
WHICH BRINGS us to the main point. What the parade of hostile foreigners in Jerusalem demonstrated clearly is that while the campaign in Gaza was touted by our leaders as a way to "change the security reality in the South," for our leaders, its most important goal was to change the electoral reality ahead of the February 10 general elections. Indeed, for them, the operation would have more appropriately been named "Operation Cast Ballots."
Olmert, Livni and Barak claimed that by signing a memorandum of understanding with outgoing US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and due to Egyptian good will, Israel succeeded in building an international framework to prevent Hamas from rearming. But the MOU sets out no mechanism whatsoever for interdicting weapons shipments to Gaza on the high seas. And Egypt for its part has refused to agree to take any concerted action to prevent the weapons shipments from docking in its ports and transiting its territory en route to Gaza.
The other operational goal that Livni, Olmert and Barak set for the campaign was to restore Israel's deterrence and so convince Hamas to stop firing its missiles on southern Israel. But, as Hamas's continued firing of missiles at southern Israel after Olmert declared the cease-fire on Saturday night showed, Israel failed to deter Hamas.
But while they failed to accomplish either of Operation Cast Lead's operational goals, they did accomplish – at least for now – their main strategic goal. They succeeded in not losing.
By waging Operation Cast Lead, Olmert, Livni and Barak hoped to turn the absence of military defeat into the building blocks of political triumph. The operation was supposed to secure their political futures in three ways. First, it was supposed to change the subject of the electoral campaign.
As Olmert looks ahead to retirement, and as Livni and Barak vie with Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu to replace him, all three politicians wanted the elections to be about something other than their failures to defeat Hizbullah, their failure to defend the South from Hamas's growing arsenal, and their failure to contend with Iran's nuclear weapons program. This goal was accomplished by Operation Cast Lead.
Their second goal – and perhaps Olmert's primary objective – was to erase the public's memory of Israel's strategic failure in the Second Lebanon War. This goal was partially achieved. The IDF performed with greater competence in Gaza than in Lebanon. And Israel achieved its aim of not being defeated in Gaza. As a result, the nation feels much more confident about the IDF's ability to defend the country.
THE MAIN difference between how Operation Cast Lead has ended and how the Second Lebanon War ended has little to do with how the IDF performed. The most important difference is Israel has not agreed to have an international force stationed in Gaza as it accepted (and in Livni's case, championed) the deployment of UNIFIL forced in South Lebanon. Since Hizbullah has used UNIFIL as a screen behind which it has rearmed and reasserted its military control over South Lebanon, the absence of such a force in Gaza is a net gain for Israel.
But again, if Israel permits Europe and the UN to flood Gaza with aid money – which will all go directly to Hamas – it will be enabling a new mechanism to be formed that will shield Hamas from the IDF and enable it to rebuild its arsenals and strengthen its control over Gaza.
This prospect is made all the more dangerous by the fact that Israel ended the campaign without taking control over the Gaza-Egypt border. By leaving the border zone under Hamas control, Israel left the path clear for Iran to resupply Hizbullah's armed forces with missiles and rockets. As Shin Bet Director Yuval Diskin explained on Sunday, under the present circumstances, Hamas can be expected to rebuild its arsenals in as little as three months.
THE THIRD political aim that Olmert, Livni and Barak sought to achieve in waging Operation Cast Lead was to convince the Israeli public that their worldview is correct. That worldview asserts that the world is d
ivided between the extremist Islamic fundamentalists and the moderates. They claim that the latter group includes Arab dictatorships like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and democracies like Turkey, the EU, and Israel. The Kadima-Labor worldview also asserts that by surrendering territory to the Arabs, Israel will receive international legitimacy for any acts of self-defense it is forced to take in the event it is attacked from the territories it vacated.
Although the local media, with their sycophantic celebration of Mubarak and support for Israeli withdrawals have supported this view, it is far from clear that the public has been convinced of its wisdom. Between Turkey's open support for Hamas and vilification of Israel, Egypt's abject refusal to take any concrete action to end weapons smuggling to Gaza, and Fatah's fecklessness and hostility, Israelis have been given ample proof this month that the moderate camp is a fiction.
Moreover, the massive anti-Semitic riots in Europe and the US, and last week's anti-Israeli UN Security Council Resolution 1860 which the US refused to veto have made quite clear that Israel's withdrawals have brought it no sympathy whatsoever from the "moderate" camp.
Just as the goal of not losing did not bring Israel victory over Hamas, so too, Livni, Olmert and Barak's bid to use the operation to increase their political cache does not seem to have succeeded. Opinion polls taken in the aftermath of Olmert's announcement of the cease-fire on Saturday night showed that Likud has maintained, and even expanded, its lead against Kadima and Labor.
IN SPITE of its obvious limitations, Israelis can be pleased with the results of Operation Cast Lead on two counts. Although Hamas was not defeated, remains in full control of Gaza and has the ability to rebuild its forces, it was harmed. The IDF's operation did knock out its central installations, reduce its capacity to fight and killed some of its key leaders.
The second reason that Israelis can be pleased with the outcome is that it could have been much worse. The fact of the matter is that Operation Cast Lead was the most successful operation that Kadima and Labor are capable of leading.
With their capitulationist world view, they cannot bring Israel victory over our enemies. The most they can deliver is an absence of defeat. And so long as Israel doesn't allow Europe and the UN to begin transferring hundreds of millions of dollars to Hamas, we will remain undefeated by Hamas.
Looking ahead to the challenges Israel's next government will face, Operation Cast Lead gave Israel between three to six months of security in the south before Hamas will be able to renew its missile offensive. It is during that time that the next government will need to contend with Israel's two greatest challenges – preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, and preventing the new Obama administration from undermining Israel's strategic position by selling out Israel's security to buy "pictures of victory" of its own with Iran and Syria.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.