Worthy of mention for a few reasons. One, he’s no knee-jerk dove; in fact, he used to advise McCain on national security. Two, according to a friend of mine who embedded with troops in Iraq, his assessments of the situation there were consistently on the money. Three, after endearing himself to the nutroots in 2007 by insisting he saw no major improvements from the surge, he went back to Iraq last year and pronounced himself impressed with “major progress in every area,” going so far as to recommend freezing troop withdrawals beyond a certain point to preserve the gains. He’s also sneered at the leftist strategy of trying to intimidate the Iraqi and Afghan governments into political reconciliation by threatening troop pullouts, even while reminding the right that victory in both countries is still many years away.

Long story short, he’s a straight shooter. Which makes this bad news:

No one should discount these continuing tactical gains, or ignore the fact that Hamas’ rocket and mortar attacks continue to pose a threat. Nearly 600 rounds hit Israeli territory between December 7th and January 9th. It is also clear that there are no good ways to fight an enemy like Hamas that conducts attrition warfare while hiding behind its own women and children. A purely diplomatic response that does not improve Israel’s security position or offer Palestinians hope for the future is equivalent to no response at all…

This raises a question that every Israeli and its supporters now needs to ask. What is the strategic purpose behind the present fighting? After two weeks of combat Olmert, Livni, and Barak have still not said a word that indicates that Israel will gain strategic or grand strategic benefits, or tactical benefits much larger than the gains it made from selectively striking key Hamas facilities early in the war. In fact, their silence raises haunting questions about whether they will repeat the same massive failures made by Israel’s top political leadership during the Israeli-Hezbollah War in 2006. Has Israel somehow blundered into a steadily escalating war without a clear strategic goal or at least one it can credibly achieve? Will Israel end in empowering an enemy in political terms that it defeated in tactical terms? Will Israel’s actions seriously damage the US position in the region, any hope of peace, as well as moderate Arab regimes and voices in the process?

To blunt, the answer so far seems to be yes. To paraphrase a comment about the British government’s management of the British Army in World War I, lions seem to be led by donkeys. If Israel has a credible ceasefire plan that could really secure Gaza, it is not apparent. If Israel has a plan that could credibly destroy and replace Hamas, it is not apparent. If Israel has any plan to help the Gazans and move them back towards peace, it is not apparent. If Israel has any plan to use US or other friendly influence productively, it not apparent.

I’ve asked that question myself. There are obvious short-term benefits to the fighting — destroying Hamas weapons, seizing (temporarily) territory from which rockets are fired — but the only long-term strategic benefit, conceivably, is decapitating Hamas and reinstalling Fatah. Is that the plan? Like Daniel Pipes says, even assuming Fatah is accepted back into Gaza and not dismissed as collaborators, will it do any good?

Olmert’s said all along that they’re not out to topple Hamas, but then, Olmert says a lot of things. The fact that Mossad thinks they know where the leadership is hiding out means we could be approaching endgame. Exit question: What now?