Gaza Crisis: Israelis Echoing Bush on Regime Change?

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The Israelis appear to have learned from the Bush-Cheney administration.

On Monday morning, NPR ran an interview with Michael Oren, an American-Israeli best-selling military historian and Israeli reservist who is a spokesperson for the Israeli military. (He has also been a contributing editor for The New Republic.) Asked if the goal of the current Israeli operation in Gaza is regime change–that is, the expulsion of Hamas from power–he replied that Israelis “do not want to see continuation of Hamas rule in Gaza,” but added, “It is not Israel’s explicit goal to topple the Hamas government….That is not the stated goal of this operation. If it happens…there will be many people happy about it…The stated goal is to restore security to the southern part of Israel.”

This line echoes the rhetoric used by Bush-Cheney officials in 2002 and 2003. They repeatedly noted that the United States officially favored regime change in Iraq but that the invasion to come was about WMDs and security. If it took regime change to neutralize that supposed dire WMD threat posed by Saddam Hussein, so be it.

The parallels between the Gaza offensive and the Iraq invasion are limited. Palestinian militants, with their rocket attacks, have posed a real threat to Israelis–thirteen Israelis have been killed by the rocket fire since 2005–and Saddam, despite the Bush-Cheney hype, had not posed a direct threat to Americans. (This is not to say the Israeli response, which has led to the deaths of scores of civilians, is either justified or wise.) But Oren’s phrasing does mirror that used by the Bushies: we’re not in this for regime change, but….

One question, though, is, what is the alternative in Gaza to Hamas? As The Washington Post noted,

With Hamas’s political rival, Fatah, committed to negotiating with Israel rather than fighting it, Hamas has a virtual monopoly on armed Palestinian resistance. That status has the potential to add to the movement’s popularity among Palestinians, and in the broader Arab world.

Regime destruction is not the same as regime change. Can the Israelis even literally destroy Hamas? That’s debatable. And it may be harder to replace Hamas than to eradicate it.

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