This morning I sat down with my newspaper, my coffee, and my cat, to read that the IDF held a ceremony on Tuesday to mark the completion of the massive and sophisticated barrier on the border (or whatever it is) with the Gaza Strip.
They call it an “iron wall,” 65 km long, with a fence that rises to a height of 6m above the ground and a concrete barrier below it whose depth is not specified, but is said to go deep enough to stop the tunnels that Hamas loves to dig. There is also a barrier that extends into the sea at its northern end. The whole system is rich in various kinds of sensors, radar, cameras, and even remotely controlled weapons. The IDF reports that numerous tunnels were discovered and destroyed during the construction of the underground barrier.
The system took three and half years to build at a cost of 3.5 billion shekels, or more than US$ 1.1 billion. That is a lot of money that could be used for many other purposes, but given the situation it was necessary.
There is nothing quite as frightening for civilians living near Gaza or on the northern border near Lebanon than the prospect of a terror tunnel opening up a few meters from their homes. In some cases, residents heard sounds of digging and voices speaking Arabic before a tunnel was discovered. Hamas had plans to kidnap civilians and execute mass casualty attacks through these tunnels, and during Operation Protective Edge in 2014, some 14 tunnels that crossed the border into Israel were destroyed, plus several more inside the strip.
You may recall that Hamas terrorists infiltrated through a tunnel back in 2006, attacked an IDF post near Kerem Shalom at the southern end of the strip, killed two IDF soldiers and wounded several others including Gilad Shalit, who was carried back through the tunnel to Gaza, where he was held for more than six years. He was ultimately released in exchange for 1,027 prisoners in Israeli prisons, many of them murderers serving long sentences. These prisoners represented both Hamas and other terrorist factions, and many returned to terror activities.
But barriers in general have not proven effective deterrents to attack, because ways are almost always found to bypass or neutralize them, as happened with the Maginot and Bar-Lev lines. And while Hamas may not be able to go over or through the new barrier, they can still launch rockets and fire mortar shells over it, as well as release incendiary and explosive balloons to be carried by the prevailing winds into nearby fields and Jewish communities. The inexpensive rockets, even when most of them are intercepted by Iron Dome, comprise an effective form of economic warfare, with each Iron Dome launch costing some $40,000 (usually at least two interceptors are fired at each incoming rocket at a cost of $40,000 each).
Just as the mounted cavalry was neutralized by the machine gun, and the machine gun made less effective by the tank, Hamas rockets are presently neutralized (except economically) by Iron Dome. But the advent of precision-guided rockets and drones can change the equation. Today we know that Hezbollah has some quantity of them, and probably Hamas has some or will get some soon.
The new barrier also doesn’t prevent Hamas from exporting subversion to sympathetic Arabs in Judea/Samaria and even among Arab citizens of Israel.
Those of you who regularly read my columns know what’s coming. Pure defensive measures, building the ghetto walls higher and stronger, can only hold an enemy at bay, not defeat him. And technological advances by the aggressor, like precision-guided rockets, can tip the balance quickly. The only way to defeat an enemy is by moving from defense to offense. So while defensive technology, like the barrier, may be necessary for survival, it is not sufficient for victory.
Everything I’ve said so far deals only with the tangible or kinetic aspects of the conflict. The psychological aspect is another story entirely. The message that we send to ourselves, our friends, and our enemies, by our reliance on defensive technology and tactics, is that it is if not acceptable, it is still understandable that savage Jew-haters will continue to bombard our country with the intent to kill as many of us as possible. And soon – this, actually, has already happened – many people begin to think that it is acceptable after all. We become the guy at the carnival who sticks his head through a canvas sheet and dodges balls thrown by the patrons.
For the sake of our national honor as well as to maintain deterrence, such a situation cannot be allowed to stand.
Hamas is a deadly infection, and it has turned Gaza into a pocket of pus on the side of our country. Walling it off is only a temporary expedient; curing the disease will require wiping out the bacteria that cause it. The danger to our citizens in the south and ultimately in the entire country can only be ended by crushing Hamas as a military and political force, which calls for an intensive campaign, including a ground incursion.
It’s sometimes suggested that if Israel destroys Hamas, then what will arise in its place will be worse. The answer is that in that case, we’ll need to destroy the replacement as well. It is also said that the expense and difficulty of ruling the strip in the event that there is no acceptable autonomous leadership will be too great.
But keep this in mind: in January of 2009 Israel was poised for a ground invasion of Gaza, which was called off after Tzipi Livni was summoned to the US and apparently given an ultimatum by officials of the incoming Obama Administration (the same one that supported Hamas’ parent group, the Muslim Brotherhood, in Egypt). Since then, we have found it necessary to have four small but costly wars, and to spend 3.5 billion shekels on a barrier – and the threat remains. What if we had gone ahead and conquered Gaza and killed the war criminals leading Hamas?
Or go back further, to 2005, before Hamas had control of the strip. What if Israel had not withdrawn, if we had not destroyed numerous successful Jewish communities and displaced 8,000 people? What would the situation look like today? Would it be better or worse? Would it have been more “costly and difficult” than a series of wars and the building of a massive barrier?
I think the answer is clear. Cowering behind the walls of the ghetto is a poor idea both practically and psychologically. Rather, we must bring Hamas to total defeat, like Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.