Deputy Speaker of the Knesset and Co-Chairman of the Caucus for Enhancing Awareness of the Israeli Victory.
In 2005, Israel fully withdrew from the GazaStrip, on the assumption that this would end Israel's control over thePalestinians in this region. Some extravagantly imagined and described thefuture of the Gaza Strip as a "Singapore of the Middle East":international support and assistance, a long seashore, and aspirations forprogress would steer the Palestinians in Gaza towards a prosperous, independentfuture that would lead to a comprehensive peace agreement with Israel.
However, the next two years from 2006 to 2007taught otherwise: the Hamas terrorist organization took over the Gaza Strip.Instead of a "Singapore of the Middle East," a Somali-Iranianmutation was created in Gaza. Instead of being the Palestinians' bread barn,Gaza became the rocket barn of the Palestinian Islamist movement. In 2009,Hamas began implementing the strategy Hezbollah learned in the Second LebanonWar, and turned rocket fire that was a minor part of Operation Cast Lead intothe dominant component of the struggle against Israel.
As a rule, in Israel, a public agreement hasbeen formulated to take substantial risks regarding all issues of Israelicitizens’ personal security in exchange for the prospect of peace, includingrisks arising from dealing with the direct threat of high-trajectory weapons hitting denselypopulated civilian areas.
Later on, there arose an almost completeconsensus in Israeli society, on the right as well as the left, that the riskmanagement formula adopted in the Gaza experiment could not be adopted byIsrael in Judea and Samaria. To sum it up in a single sentence: the Judean andSamarian “envelope” (the Jewish communities located adjacent to Arabcommunities in Judea and Samaria) would not become like those in the Gaza Strip"envelope".
For, notwithstanding the willingness to takerisks in withdrawing from Gaza, there was an expectation among the Israelipublic that Israel would respond aggressively in the event of continuous fireaimed at population centers from the Gaza Strip, including recapturing areas andholding onto them long-term. However, contrary to the commitments it made onthe eve of the Gaza withdrawal, the Israeli leadership has preferred over theyears to absorb the shooting and implement an expensive defensive policy on thehome front instead of conducting offensive procedures on the front lines.
Israel's strategy to absorb Gaza’s massiverocket fire on civilians over the past 13 years appears to be a fundamentalviolation of a defense agreement between a state and its citizens. For there isnowhere else in the world where civilians live under a rocket threat, and atthe end of each round they are guaranteed another round of fighting. TheIsraeli population is the only civilian population in the world that is under athreat of this magnitude, and is the only one regularly threatened, on a routinebasis, with precision rocket fire. "A rocket for every street. Everymissile has a civilian address."
The transformation of the Israeli home front, andparticularly the Gaza envelope area, into the new front line, not only harmedIsrael's sovereignty and the personal security of its citizens, but indirectlydamaged Israel's status as a regional power. Moreover, Israel's deterrence,which is critical in our neighborhood, has been harmed, and legitimacy has been grantedto turning Israeli urban areas into live target clusters for any existing andfuture enemy.
Israel's military ethos in Gaza has beenfocused for several years on the tactical fight against tunnels used in groundattacks. To counter this tactic, there is a completely wretched strategy thathas been accepted almost universally by the Israeli political-military-mediaechelon, as if rocket fire on its capital, its cities, its vitalinfrastructure, and its airport is a decree from heaven and there is no realability to eradicate it but only defend against it.
Most public attention in Operation ProtectiveEdge was directed at the tunnel threat, a fundamentally tactical threatcompared to the strategic rocket threat. Israel erred in failing to end theoperation where it should have: leaving Gaza stripped of its rocket arsenal.The final scene of the operation should have been a convoy of trucks carryinglong-range rockets leaving the Gaza Strip towards Egypt. Instead, the operationended indecisively in this arena, with acceptance of the main strategic threatfrom Gaza and an Israeli agreement in principle to the continuation of theexpansion and reinforcement of Hamas' power until the next round.
This was the case in Protective Edge and,unfortunately, this was how Operation Guardian of the Walls ended, even thoughthe IDF and the political echelon were aware of the mission and the achievementdemanded and expected of them. Israel did not attain the essential strategicobjective of these operations, even if it was not their stated goal. At thesame time, Israel has come to terms with Hamas' strategic achievements, which consistof four core components: continued Hamas rule in the Gaza Strip, thetransformation of Hamas into the "protector of Jerusalem," Israeliagreement to the continued build-up of Gaza’s rocket force, and partialreconstruction of the Gaza Strip.
The Israeli line of reasoning in Gaza enablesa relatively small terrorist organization to develop military capabilities inthe south that are similar to Hezbollah's terrorist army. Hamas' power growsfrom round to round while Israel has become addicted to the idea of coming to an“arrangement,” and clings to virtuoso, pinpoint tactical feats as analternative to a strategy that will help ensure the security of thousands ofits citizens, especially at a time when a "perfect storm" of a multi-frontconflict can erupt. It seems that in Operation Guardian of the Walls, Israelmissed its last chance to deal with Gaza without its actions igniting other fronts and a round in Gaza turninginto a multi-front war.
In the long run, Israel will have no choice.The scope of the rocket fire we have absorbed over the past decade, the leap inthe number of rockets fired at Israel, and the trend towards ever-sharperaccuracy of the rockets in our region, requires anchoring in Israel's strategicthinking the idea of disarming Gaza of its rockets as a fundamental need of the"last round."
This kind of demilitarization of Gaza should followthe way in which President Assad of Syria was relieved of his chemical weaponsa few years ago. Assad remained in power in exchange for removing all thechemical weapons in his possession. This is the potential format of thearrangement with Hamas in Gaza. We should note, too, that stripping Gaza of itsheavy weapons was the government's objective at the end of Operation ProtectiveEdge. This objective was forgotten in Operation Guardian of the Walls. Despitethis, we must not retreat from this goal. At the end of the day, Hamas musthave to choose between governing and its rockets. It will be impossible tocontinue having both.
There are those who doubt the practicalpossibility of removing Gaza’s arsenal of rockets. A few do not see it as beingfeasible from the practical point of view. Others argue that the cost insoldiers' lives would be unbearable. The discussion over "the impossibleprice" is similar to the discourse among Israel’s leadership on the eve ofOperation Defensive Shield. Then, too, there were many and worthy people whodoubted Israel's ability to gain control over large swathes of Judea andSamaria and destroy the military and organizational infrastructure located inthe heart of the Palestinian cities. Lo and behold, Operation Defensive Shieldcompletely changed the nature of the threat that had been directed at Israeluntil that point. It was implemented too late – only when all hope was lost andour daring finally overcame the mental gridlockthat had been dictated by the political, military and media institutions.
On the one-year anniversary of Operation Guardianof the Walls, we see that Hamas is smart enough to create a gradual escalation thatbegins with attacks on Israel that do not originate in Gaza while continuing tobuild their forces and rehabilitate Gaza's infrastructure, and will end with effectiveand precise rocket fire at a time and date that suits Hamas. In Operation Guardianof the Walls, Israel fought yesterday's war, and remained captive to theconcept of “rounds.” Unfortunately, Israel has failed to take advantage ofHamas’ surprise over what happened to it and create a new reality inIsrael-Gaza relations.
It seems that the IDF and the securityestablishment will not solve the problem in another round in Gaza. In order tocreate a new reality, one must first formulate and adopt a new policy. It isdifficult for Israel to internalize that policy determines ability, andnot that ability determines policy.
Israel must act decisively to remove therockets from the Gaza Strip as a prerequisite for Gaza's reconstruction. First,this should be Israel's official position with regard to the internationalcommunity. Even if there is still no practical way to achieve this, it must bethe accepted and agreed-upon overarching goal among all Israeli policymakers andIsrael's friends and allies in the international community.
The principle of demilitarization shouldbecome part and parcel of regional and international discourse, for theinternational disregard of the rocket threat directed against a civilian populationis wrong and dangerous. What happens in Israel precedes that which can happenelsewhere – and especially in Europe, which may face a similar threat soonerthan expected. Missile fire from ungovernable areas in North Africa at Europe’ssouth is not impossible, and as the range of rockets and missiles increases andthe technology of destructive aerial devices becomes more accessible, theability of the few to threaten the many, anywhere and anytime, grows on both thepractical and conceptual level.
However, this idea cannot remain merely in therealm of a temporary diplomatic idea. Rather, the political echelon must insistthat the IDF and the security establishment prepare to execute the mission thatis its purpose. The time has come for the most powerful military force in theMiddle East to remove the rocket threat of the weakest military force in theMiddle East, and after 13 years of fighting rounds, achieve a real victory andnot just an image of victory.