In Israel, as in much of the West, there is a general assumption that diplomacy and military force constitute opposite approaches to foreign-policy problems. In reality, difficult situations usually require both. Eran Lerman explains how Israel, in its dealings with both Hamas and Iran, has succeeded at combining a measured application of military might with diplomatic efforts via third parties—Egypt and Russia, respectively.
Some feel that only diplomatic moves accompanied by major gestures of goodwill can prevent an additional slide toward a military solution. . . . [T]here are many [others] who view any efforts to arrive at a settlement to be a sign of cowardly denial of the need for an unambiguous military victory. The long-running political discourse in Israeli society has hindered the effort to have it both ways—to use military power in order to convey a political message and at the same time to manage diplomatic efforts in a way that will not tie Israel’s hands in its use of force. . . .
[In Syria], Russia will not force Bashar al-Assad into removing the Iranians from all the territory he controls, because in exchange he would demand the direct intervention of ground forces, which the Russians have no intention of offering. Nonetheless, the Russian fear of an all-out confrontation between Israel and the Assad regime can be exploited to ensure that [Iran’s] Revolutionary Guard and Hizballah do not get a foothold in the areas bordering on Israel and, no less importantly, the areas bordering on Jordan.
In the case of Gaza, total demilitarization has always been a non-starter. A more realistic objective, namely a kind of long-term truce (tahdiya), is apparently achievable. This requires the correct mix of determined Egyptian messages, a big Israeli stick, and small economic carrots from regional and international players. . . .
There is indeed a price to be paid for [this] strategy. It requires a measure of restraint in the opening moves and precision in choosing the degree of escalation. The IDF’s actions must be sufficiently determined to broadcast a willingness to “go all the way” (which the Egyptians know how to communicate in blunt terms to [Hamas]) and yet sufficiently restrained to leave room for mediation. This is not an easy task and even harder to explain to the public, whose patience is wearing thin—and justifiably so—in view of the prolonged period of provocations, the material damage, and the damage to nature in the Gaza periphery. But for those who do not want to see a reoccupation of Gaza and a renewal of Jewish settlement there, an agreement achieved with Egyptian mediation—which restores deterrence, even temporarily—is still preferable to a military victory and a long-term occupation.