Israel is losing momentum, and the best truce deal. After the initial success of the attack on Gaza, subsequent operations will be less spectacular and more costly in Jewish lives.

In the Gaza operation, brilliant intelligence and tactics confronted strategic ineptitude. In order to reduce civilian losses, IDF warned Gazans to flee, and then bombed empty shacks—or destroyed them specifically in the early morning when they were empty. Curiously, the very attempt at saving Gazan civilians reveals Fatah’s advance knowledge of the attack: IDF delivered warnings to 90,000 phone customers in Gaza through the West Bank hub.

The absence of a ground invasion after a successful bombing is odd in military terms. From day two, IAF raids became sporadic, and often senseless, as all viable targets were destroyed on the first day. Despite Israeli commandos roaming Gaza on search-and-destroy missions, the reduced intensity of the fighting allowed Hamas to regroup. The guerrilla commanders reinstated rudimentary control over their troops. The surviving rocket arsenals of about 6,000 will allow Hamas to continue pounding at Israel at the current rate of fire for months.

If IDF launches a ground operation in Gaza, the results will worsen. Even in its weakest state, Hamas can inflict massive casualties on Jewish troops with hit-and-run tactics. The Arabs will claim victory by virtue of having killed some Jews. Tactically, Israel can bring the US-trained Fatah battalions into Gaza with IDF tank support, but such a collaboration would kill Fatah politically. No Israeli operation can extirpate Hamas, but only long-term, painstaking police work in Gaza. Egypt washed Gaza from its hands in 1967 and won’t accept it back.

Even if Fatah takes over Gaza, it cannot maintain its grip on power. Hamas is close to takeover in the West Bank, where it confronts IDF and Fatah troops, and is much stronger in Gaza, where the Muslim Brotherhood supports it from across the border with Egypt.

Gazans will not turn away from Hamas because IDF avoids civilian casualties. Hamas voters thus have no reason to abandon their party. There is destruction, but like Lebanon Gaza will be rebuilt quickly with Iranian money. For guerrillas too, the death toll is insignificant: Jordan killed many times more Palestinians in Black September, and so did Syria and Lebanon.

The Israeli government must sink to the depths of immorality to use Jewish soldiers as PLO mercenaries to replace one Muslim regime with another, Hamas with Fatah. Delivering Gaza to Fatah on Jewish bayonets would spell electoral disaster for Kadima. It seems that just like in Lebanon, Olmert’s government has no exit strategy—unless the whole plan is to provoke Iran into giving us a casus belli for what would be a very controversial Israeli attack on Natanz with nuclear micro-charges; such an attack cannot be carried out as a matter of preemption.

Now is the time to open the crossings and offer Hamas a truce on harsh Israeli conditions: no tunnels, no arms trafficking, no rockets, and there will be massive retaliation against Hamas and PIJ installations for any violations.

Hamas can be forced to cease the rocket attacks temporarily, but why the fuss? Hamas has offered just that in return for opening the crossings, which Israel would do after the operation, anyway. Smaller militant groups have no reason to cease. Fighting is their reason for existence, and also their means of fund-raising. Hezbollah maintained its ceasefire because it has other business besides Israel; Palestinian guerrillas don’t.

The government refuses to accept two basic things about the conflict. One, it has no immediate solution; some cross-border violence will always be there. Two, Israel makes errors of arrogance; when Hamas took over Gaza, Israel had no business closing the crossings—the move which led to the escalation of violence. Jews should not care whether Fatah or Hamas terrorists rule the Strip, whether they’re an autonomy, an “authority,” or a government. Whatever the Arab species do on their reservation, they shouldn’t attack Israel. But Israeli retaliation cannot be sporadic: conditioned responses are only developed in response to a persistent action. Pavlov’s dog won’t salivate at the sight of meat if it is only given meat one time out of one hundred sightings. Palestinians need to see that every attack on Israel causes substantial destruction in Gaza within minutes. They launch a Kassam, we launch a Popeye.

The problem is this: what if Hamas rejects Israel’s offer of a ceasefire? The militants would be incredibly stupid to not realize that Olmert’s government trapped itself with the early victory: it cannot get any better for Israel. Hamas can enter the hall of fame by refusing a ceasefire and presenting the Israeli government with an uncomfortable dilemma: retreat to the previous cycle of Kassams-retaliation-Kassams, or invade Gaza and enter a Lebanon-type urban combat nightmare.

It’s a very interesting world.