Haaretz, March 6, 2009 - No one - least of all Israel - should be surprised that Operation Cast Lead failed to deter Hamas from firing more than 100 rockets and mortars since the end of the fighting. Deterrence works between sovereign powers whose ultimate interests are served by stability. It works between rivals who have already achieved a relative balance of power that will ensure that each side will not violate the other's sovereign space.
...Israel has failed to pursue a decisive strategy in the current round of violence vis-a-vis Hamas. Its choices since 2005 have been, and remain: toppling Hamas; pursuing a cooperative strategy by meeting Hamas' demands concerning the opening of borders; or alternating restraint and diplomacy with retaliation and occasional ground and/or air operations. The first option requires international support, which would only be forthcoming after Israel has genuinely tried the second option. Had Israel eliminated all traces of turning Gaza into an "open-air prison" prior to Cast Lead, and the rockets were still being fired, it might have had a chance to garner the support needed to go all the way in Gaza.
Instead, Israel chose the third path, the one of least resistance, but ultimately a muddled one. That path led to an ill-timed, limited war, which has left Hamas more convinced than ever that it can survive Israel's worst blows. The operation damaged Israel's international reputation, hampering its ability to respond to new provocations from the Gaza Strip with even a mini-Cast Lead operation. Instead of a new reality, we're left to another round of slow boiling, as Hamas turns up the heat at will.
Benjamin Netanyahu may want to unseat Hamas, but one would hope that he knows this option is not politically feasible in the foreseeable future, thanks to Cast Lead. Pursuing a cooperative strategy - accommodating Hamas so as to bring about a cessation of the rocket fire, while remaining aware that it will rebuild its arsenal - is anathema to the prime minister-designate. That leaves door number three....