Yesterday, I reported on the frenetic efforts of Israel’s p.r. volunteers to defend what most of the world views as an over-reaction to Hamas’ provocations. Now there are even more troubles ahead, because the would-be spinmeisters are getting different messages about the goals of “Operation Cast Lead.” I bet you a hundred dollars that, right now, some version of the following conversation is taking place between an American Jewish leader and an Israeli consulate official:
Q: I don’t understand what you’re trying accomplish. I need help. How do I explain this? The talking points you gave me are two days old.
A: We are trying to protect the people of Israel from rocket attacks. No nation in the world should be expected to put up with….
Q: I get that. Most people understand that. You don’t want rockets in southern Israel. Americans can relate to that. But what is this specific operation going to accomplish? What’s the end game?
A: We are striking at Hamasâ€™ infrastructure to bring an end to the rocket firings on Israel, and to stop terrorist attacks from the Gaza Strip.
Q: Sounds good. That’s what it says on the President’s Conference website, too. But you bombed the Hamas radio station. You bombed a jail and a police station. You bombed Islamic University. Are they part of the infrastructure that is firing rockets? Those people weren’t ordering the rocket attacks, or helping, were they?
A: It is hard to separate the Hamas’ military wing from its political one.
Q: But how did killing those particular people, and the women and kids who may have been nearby when the bombs fell, protect Sderot and Ashkelon from rocket attacks? Just tell me. I want to help.
A: We appreciate that very much.
Q: Back to the end game. I heard that Haim Ramon said on Israeli TV that the goal of the operation was to topple Hamas, not just destroy the military infrastructure and stop the rockets. And there is an AP story by Karen Laub that says Israel is keeping its objectives vague. She wrote: “Barak and his coalition ally, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, have been evasive about whether Israel would try to topple Hamas. Livni has spoken only of creating a “new reality” along the Gaza-Israeli border.”
And just now I read that Barak said you have launched “an all-out war on Hamas and its kindâ€ and you are fighting a “war to the bitter end.” That doesn’t sound like a man with a limited goal. It sounds like he wants to wipe them all out. I’m supposed to say that on Channel 4 tonight? Is that the goal? A war to the bitter end? Or do I say we want regime change?
A: Please don’t say either one…Especially not`regime change.’
Q: And today, as if I weren’t confused enough, in the New York Times I read about ANOTHER reason! Ethan Bronner says one goal is to make sure the Arab world is frightened of you once again, to restore your deterrent power. What’s going on here?! What do I say on Channel 4 tonight?
A: I can tell you a secret?
A: I have no idea. I’m always the last person to hear about these things. Philip Weiss hears about them before I do.
Q: And what about the charge that all of this is meant to help Barak’s political career, to get him back in the limelight as a leader…
A: Please! There were hundreds of rockets falling on Israeli territory, Israel wanted to renew the ceasefire and…
Q: So you’re saying politics has nothing to do with this? I’m supposed to tell people the Israeli elections have no relationship to all of that “collateral damage” in the Gaza hospitals?
A: (Sighs) I don’t know. I thought Boston would be a nice posting. My son loves the Celtics….