There’s lots of talk that Israel and Hamas are both near to accepting the latest Egyptian truce proposal. There is also something in the works at the UN Security Council. There’s plenty of frustration in Israel over the way the conflict with Hamas in Gaza seems to be becoming a war of attrition, and PM Netanyahu’s popularity has dropped precipitously, with approval ratings falling from 82% to 38% in a few weeks. The almost continuous rocket and mortar barrage aimed at the kibbutzim close to Gaza has caused most of the residents to flee, and despite assurances that Hamas has few longer-range missiles left, this morning saw the heaviest barrage aimed at the center of the country of the past few weeks.
Israel has tried various strategies including a limited ground incursion and targeted killings of Hamas’ military leadership, including Mohammed Deif, commander of Iz al-Din al-Qassam, the Hamas army. Recently rules of engagement for air attacks have been loosened, and Israel has warned residents of Gaza that any site used for military activities is likely to be attacked, including schools, mosques, etc. (warnings are issued before a building is bombed, but such sites will no longer be immune). Nevertheless, Hamas, though on the ropes, continues to fight.
The frustration is understandable, but it is essential that Israel does not agree to a truce that includes any real concessions to Hamas, allows it to retain the ability to fight, or allows it to use future international assistance intended for humanitarian purposes to rebuild its military infrastructure.
Rocket attacks on Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are dramatic, but have not (yet) represented much of a threat. On the other hand, the rocket and mortar bombardment of the kibbutzim and towns near the Strip have rendered them uninhabitable. If a relatively permanent solution is not found, then Israel will have effectively ceded the entire western Negev region to the terrorists. Would you agree to bring your children there if you knew that Hamas was certain to resume its bombardment in a year or two?
The truce terms that have been proposed so far do not promise a permanent solution, only a temporary end to the fighting that will allow Hamas to recover. It is essential that Israel does not agree to a truce that is not clearly a Hamas surrender, a humiliation. This is the only way that its grass-roots popularity — already damaged by its summary executions of dissidents, including several women (they are alleged to be collaborators, but this is doubtful) — can be permanently destroyed. This is the only way to ensure that it will not rise again.
I’m not a military expert, so I can’t prescribe the tactics that would be the best way to increase the pressure, but I can say that the path to victory — nothing less is needed — is increased pressure. Such pressure could be applied by multiple limited ground incursions, for example, in addition to continued targeted killings and continued air and artillery bombardment of Hamas targets.
Now isn’t the time to stop fighting, when Hamas is reeling from the deaths of its top commanders. Now is the time to escalate, to push harder until there is no option for Hamas short of surrender.