I was talking with a friend over dinner last night, and he remarked that though he, like me, was conflicted about the Gaza operation, "if Israel's going to do it, they might as well go the whole way. If you're going to wreak that much devastation on the people of Gaza, I hope they're able to rip apart Hamas while they're at it" (I paraphrase, obviously).
Obviously, part of me agrees -- the only thing worse than an Israeli Gaza operation which has devastated (and probably radicalized) the Palestinian community there is an Israeli Gaza operation that has devastated and radicalized the Palestinian community while leaving Hamas mostly organizationally intact.
But, as I told my friend, the other half of me worries about what replaces Hamas if Israel does manage to crush it. My thought at the time was Islamic Jihad (a smaller but still prominent terrorist group which never signed on to the Israel/Hamas ceasefire in the first place). Or perhaps nothing "replaces" Hamas -- but I don't think Israel's security is improved by an anarchic Gaza that still will likely channel its rage towards Israel, only now without direction. The idea that a more "moderate" party would come to the fore seems pretty unlikely.
But apparently, even my pessimistic side was playing small ball. The Wonk Room gives an outcome considerably worse than anarchy or even Islamic Jihad taking over: the rise of Al-Qaeda-esque Salafist elements who pretty much view Hamas as a bunch of pikers. Indeed, Al-Qaeda itself is looking to reboot in Gaza after burning a lot of its credibility in the Muslim world by helping torch Iraq, on the not so crazy theory that there is little faster way to get themselves back in folks' good graces than killing Jews at the home base.
To the extent Hamas can be moderated, it's because it does actually try and govern things and has to deal with domestic political considerations as a restraining factor on its genocidal ideological ambitions. I'm not saying the pragmatic problem of governance always or usually wins out over Jew-hating ideology, but it is in the equation and provides a foothold by which progress might occur. Al-Qaeda does not really care about governing anything: as far as their modus operandi would be in Palestine, it would be completely unconcerned with providing for and stabilizing the Palestinian community and focused nearly solely on trying to make the Zionist state burn.
The temptation to think of Hamas as the worst thing out there for Israel is, as Ezra Klein points out, a mistake Israel has made before. It's how we got Hamas in the first place, when Israel decided that anything was better than Fatah's terrorist ethos. But Jews, of all people, should know -- it can always get worse. And I don't think we've hit bottom yet.