During the last couple of days, over 650 rockets have been launched from Gaza, primarily aimed at nearby Israeli communities, but also at the cities of Ashkelon, Ashdod and Beit Shemesh. There was even a siren heard here in Rehovot, a first since 2014. Most of the rockets either fell in unpopulated areas or were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome system. But several direct hits on homes and factories were reported: Moshe Agadi of Ashkelon was killed when a rocket landed in the courtyard of his home Saturday night, and three others lost their lives Sunday afternoon. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis spent the nights in shelters. School is canceled in much of the country today.
At first, Israel hit back as usual by bombing numerous empty structures used by Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, killing a handful of Hamas operatives. A Palestinian woman and her baby were also killed, but the IDF said the cause was a faulty rocket launch (this happens a lot, with rockets falling short and landing in Gaza).
In the history of warfare, Israel’s behavior toward Gaza has been unique. The weaker party shoots at the home front of the stronger, doing its best to kill men, women, and children. The stronger party defends itself either passively, with shelters and anti-missile systems, or actively – but taking great care not to kill the enemy. Ultimately, the stronger pays off the weaker, and a “cease-fire” is implemented.
This time may be different. PM Netanyahu has reinstituted the policy of targeted killings of the enemy leadership. Ground forces have been sent to the border.
I won’t go into detail on the back story for this particular flare-up. There was some kind of deal in which Israel agreed to allow some tens of millions of dollars to be transferred from Qatar to Hamas, and something happened to delay it. An Israeli soldier was shot and wounded at the border fence, Israel retaliated and a couple of Hamas soldiers were killed. And so forth.
This has happened on numerous occasions since the last instance of open warfare in 2014. Usually it ends with Israel bribing Hamas with some kind of concession. Some people see this as simple extortion, but Israeli officials like to say the concessions are made for “humanitarian” reasons.
There could not be more bitter enemies of Israel and the Jewish people than Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. They profess an ideology in which the land, once conquered by Islam, remains Islamic, and Jews can only live there as dhimmi subjects of a Muslim ruler. This somewhat abstract ideology is associated with a very concrete and violent hatred for Jews and Israel that has translated into the most horrific terror attacks and suicide bombings in the history of our conflict. Perhaps even more comprehensively than in the Palestinian Authority, children in Gaza are indoctrinated from kindergarten with the idea that the greatest achievement for a young person is to become a martyr for the cause of destroying the hated Jews and their state.
Israel has the capability to completely destroy Hamas. But in countless minor confrontations and several operations that most people call “wars,” she has not done so. Why?
This time, some of the reasons are temporary. Nobody wants to upset the coming ceremonies for Memorial day and Independence day. Nobody wants to frighten the Eurovision participants or deter the people that are arriving from foreign countries who have paid small fortunes for tickets.
But there are other reasons that will still be here after next week. There’s the “you broke it, you own it” problem. If Israel were to crush Hamas, there would still be some 1.9 million people whose basic needs for water, food, fuel, electricity, sanitation, public health, policing, and everything else have to be met. Hamas has done a terrible job of these things, diverting money and supplies provided by the UN and other sources from civilian to military use. Insofar as life can be horrible in Gaza, it is Hamas’ fault, not ours. But if Israel overthrows Hamas, then it’s assumed that Israel must provide for the needs of the population – and it would be hugely expensive, both in money and manpower. Not to mention the fact that she would be doing all this while fighting a permanent insurgency.
The other major problem is the legal and political problem that is created in the international community by almost any military action taken by Israel. Standards that have never been applied to any army in history are applied to the IDF, and our soldiers and officials are accused of war crimes – often on “evidence” supplied by hostile NGOs funded with money provided by anti-Israel sources, including European governments, the New Israel Fund, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, various church organizations, funds controlled by the Soros organization, and so on. Hamas is well aware of this, and has located its arsenals, command centers, and rocket factories in heavily populated areas, making Gazans into human shields.
These are difficult problems, but they exist because we have allowed them to grow. Needless to say, had we not withdrawn from Gaza in 2005, there would be no Hamas government. Had we not made the Oslo agreement, we would still be occupying Gaza, and the population would have electricity 24 hours a day, clean water, no floods of human waste, and no cradle-to-grave education for murder. But the clock runs in one direction only.
There is a further problem, and that has nothing to do with Hamas, although it exploits it. Israel loves its army because its army is everyone’s kids. Any casualties at all produce national trauma, and if a soldier is captured, the country will go to any lengths to get him back. Nothing scares the government more than the prospect of a captured soldier like Gilad Shalit, for whom Israel traded more than 1000 convicted Palestinian terrorists, including mass murderers, after five years of captivity. Even the body of a soldier killed in action is a powerful bargaining chip. A ground operation is almost impossible to carry out without some losses, and the country is less and less prepared to tolerate them – especially if it seems that they could have been avoided.
So here are the parameters for a solution to the problem of Gaza: Hamas and other terror factions must be neutralized so that they can’t continue their rocket barrages, arson balloon launches, cross-border incursions, and the shootings, stabbings, car-rammings, suicide bombings, and other terrorist acts that they carry out. At the same time, we do not wish to replace the Hamas regime with an Israeli regime, nor do we want to introduce foreign forces into the area. This neutralization must be accomplished without killing “too many” Gazan civilians – the media, NGOs, and hostile governments will exaggerate the numbers even if they are small – and without our own forces suffering “too many” casualties. We must not allow any Israelis to be taken prisoner.
This is a difficult task but it is imperative to accomplish it, for several reasons. The citizens of Israel will not put up much longer with a leadership that does not deliver on its primary responsibility under the social contract, which is to protect its citizens. We pay our (heavy) taxes and serve in the army, and send our children to serve as well. We give up a great deal of our freedom. Now it’s the government’s turn to bring back normal life to the southern part of the country. Many residents of the area have temporarily left as a result of the rocket attacks. Will they come back and stay?
The government has chosen in the past to give in to extortion: to allow money to flow to Hamas from Qatar, to provide electricity and water to the strip, even while that electricity is used to manufacture rockets, and to provide cement for “rebuilding civilian infrastructure” which is then used to line attack tunnels that extend under the border into Israel. But extortion simply breeds more extortion and more terrorism. If we don’t stop it, we will in effect abandon much of southern Israel. And then?
Finally, an armed Gaza is always a threat, even if it in itself can easily be defeated, because during a war in the North with Iran/Hezbollah, it will constitute a second front that will drain resources and add to the chaos on the home front. Disarming Gaza now may make the difference between victory and defeat in the coming regional war that could determine whether there will continue to be a Jewish state.
Given that we must deal with Gaza, what should the objective be and how should we proceed to obtain it?
The goal should be a disarmed and demilitarized Gaza strip, preferably governed autonomously from within. It will probably be necessary to establish a “light military occupation” – as opposed to a military government – in order to enforce continued disarmament and prevent terrorism. For economic reasons, Gazans who wish to emigrate should be allowed and even given aid to do so, in order to reduce the population to a number that can be supported with a minimum amount of foreign aid. There will have to be significant changes in the way such aid is delivered, with hereditary refugee status eliminated. UNRWA, which is a fundamentally anti-Israel organization, should be abolished and aid delivered via Israel. No attempt should be made to integrate Gaza with the Palestinian Authority, which is an irredeemably hostile force (and which should also be eliminated at some point).
There will be great opposition to such a change, and the only way to bring it about will be by a massive shock that will demonstrate to the leadership of the clans in Gaza as well as to the general population that there is no alternative. As a starting point, the worst of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad leadership must be targeted and killed.
Hamas has honeycombed the strip with tunnels containing command posts and storage areas, and these must be destroyed. This is a difficult problem. The tunnels are mostly lined with cement, but they are not hardened; they pass under civilian structures and terminate under homes, mosques, and other buildings. Simply exploding them would present a risk of massive civilian casualties. Sending soldiers into them would, on the other hand, expose our troops to ambushes and possible capture. Needless to say, Israelis will not accept risking our soldiers’ lives in order to protect Gazans.
The IDF will have to come up with a creative solution, because if the conflict ends with the enemy in possession of the means to fight, they will not give up. Only complete destruction of their command structure and their physical assets, and the killing of a significant number of their soldiers, will provide the shock necessary to force an unconditional surrender.
Regarding the diplomatic and legal warfare against us by the “international community” – primarily Western Europe and the Muslim world – perhaps as the importance of Arab and Iranian oil diminishes and our economic clout grows, we will be able to encourage more countries to see our point of view.
Or not. Maybe the worldwide dislike of Israel is simply too irrational to be affected by practical considerations. In that case, we still have no choice but to do what’s necessary for our survival. As Ben-Gurion said, “What matters is not what the goyim say, but what the Jews do.”
Note: the writing of this article was interrupted only once by a rocket alert and trip to the shelter.
There seems to be no easy answer. We truly do not want the casualties and apparently there is no way of truly destroying Hamas without having the casualties.
There is no partial taking over of the area. Once we take it we will be responsible for the citizens.
It may however be that they give us no choice.
PS There is a report today in Israel Hayom about the Trump peace plan which calls for the disarmament of Gaza and the creation of a disarmed Palestinian State. This could be the answer but at the moment there seems no chance whatsoever that Hamas and Islamic Jihad not to mention the Abbas crowd will accept this.
Bush’s “Roadmap” also called for the disarming of Hamas. One day after signing it, Abu Mazen, then the PM, said he’d never disarm Hamas. Until Trump came along, everyone just ignored that and acted as if the Roadmap was still relevant.
As long as any members of Hamas or Islamic Jihad are still breathing, there’s no chance for even a cold peace.