Hamas continues to prepare for war. It’s a matter of when, not if.
In the news this week was a report that Israel foiled an attempt to smuggle tons of ammonium chloride into Gaza. It can be used for rockets (in the production of ammonium perchlorate, an oxidizer used in rocket fuel), but it also might be used to make explosive materials for warheads, suicide belts, and more.
It’s also speculated that Israel’s recent breakthrough in tunnel detection technology might cause Hamas to accelerate its timetable and strike soon, in order to use the already-built tunnels before they are uncovered and lost.
All this makes me think about the overall problem of Hamas and how to deal with it. The simplest approach, crushing it with military force, has the major disadvantage of placing Israel in the position of needing to govern and provide services for the hostile population on the day after. The IDF would need to dedicate a great deal of manpower to creating a true army of occupation, which doubtless would immediately be faced with a violent insurgency.
The operation would also cause a great number of civilian deaths and destruction of property in Gaza, as well as casualties to IDF troops and danger to our own population in Hamas’ increasingly expanding rocket range. It would be spun as yet another ‘disproportionate’ act.
On the other hand, the present alternative of ‘mowing the grass’ every few years has similar risks, along with the possibility of a coordinated attack from Hamas and Hezbollah and a multi-front war.
But there is another strategy that we might adopt which could achieve the desired objective of eliminating the threat with few or zero civilian or military casualties, and without the need to take control of the population. Unfortunately, it is highly unlikely that Israel will choose it, and the reason is instructive.
So here is the strategy: Israel informs Hamas that if it does not turn over all of its weapons and ammunition with the exception of small arms needed for normal police operations, disband its army, provide a complete map of its tunnel system and the locations of its rocket launchers and command and control centers, we will impose a real siege on Gaza (as opposed to the limitations on military-use imports they call a siege).
We will turn off electricity, water, internet and phone service, and close the border crossings to the trucks that bring supplies.
All Hamas would need do to end the siege would be to demonstrate adherence to a timetable for meeting our demands that we will provide. It can keep its war-criminal leaders and control of the territory. In fact, if it did follow the timetable, many restrictions that are now in place (like on building materials) could be lifted.
If Hamas agrees, nobody in Gaza needs to miss one meal or one episode of Arab Idol. If it does not agree, then any resultant suffering will be entirely its fault.
This is a completely peaceful way of ending the dispute. It is a program to improve the lives of Gazans (and Israelis), and increase stability in the region. Not only that, but there is no intention to interfere with Palestinian self-rule, just to stop their aggression.
Given the fact that Israel has the military capability to turn Gaza into a depopulated wasteland, this peaceful alternative to war should be welcomed in the halls of the UN, the EU and the White House, where peace is worshipped above all.
But if we were to do this there would be howls of protest from the ‘civilized’ world (and also the less civilized part). “Collective punishment! What about the children?” And so on. Ban Ki Moon and Barack Obama would demand an immediate end to the barbaric policy. The pages of Ha’aretz would be splashed with the furious words of Amira Hass and Gideon Levy.
The 1907 Hague regulations state that “No general penalty, pecuniary or otherwise, shall be inflicted upon the population on account of the acts of individuals for which they cannot be regarded as jointly and severally responsible.” A good argument can be made that the residents of Gaza, who overwhelmingly voted for Hamas in the last Palestinian election, are “jointly and severally responsible.”
Sieges have been a part of warfare since ancient times, although usually the results of a successful one have been tragic for the losers. In 1948, Arab forces, including the British-commanded Arab Legion, blockaded Jerusalem, cutting off supplies of food and ultimately water. The Jews of the Old City were under siege (and sniper fire) for months, until they surrendered on May 29 and were expelled from their homes. They would have been massacred by local Arabs if the Legion’s British officers hadn’t prevented it. During the 19-year illegal occupation that followed, the Jordanians repurposed synagogues as stables and desecrated Jewish graves, using headstones to pave urinals. There were no war crimes prosecutions against the Arabs.
Since then moral sensibilities have changed even further, in such a way as to empower those defined as ‘oppressed’ to violate accepted laws of war (such as the prohibition on deliberate attacks on civilians and the use of human shields), while forcing supposed ‘oppressors’ to hew to ever more strict standards of behavior. The playing field has been tilted against the West in favor of those who assume the mantle of the colonized, oppressed, “people of color.”
No group has done this better than the “Palestinians.” Nowhere has this phenomenon been more striking than in relation to Israel’s repetitive wars against terrorist militias. So it is hard to imagine that the hypocrites of the West would sit still for Israel’s use of the siege tactic against Hamas. The next round of warfare with Hamas seems unavoidable.
It’s ironic that a system intended to reduce the suffering of noncombatants in war will have the effect of making it worse.