The situation in Sderot is intolerable. Every day, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip fire Qassam rockets at western Negev residents and particularly at Sderot. The casualty toll is indeed low, yet the disruption of day-to-day life is intolerable. We cannot expect residents to continue living normally when a rocket may land on their heads at any given moment.
The deliberate firing on civilians is a war crime, and it would suffice to note Islamic Jihad’s announcement last week that the massive fire was “a gift for the opening of the school year.” Against this backdrop, we should be asking why Israel refrains from resorting to military force against the rockets.
I assume that the hesitation to use force stems from considerations pertaining to the cost and benefit analysis of a military operation in Gaza:
First, we do not possess technology capable of intercepting the rockets in midair. The defense establishment has indeed decided to develop such technology, yet its operational deployment will only happen years from now. Until that time, an end to the rocket fire could only be achieved by entering the Strip and taking over several kilometers that would push back the launchers beyond the Qassam range.
Such takeover is possible, but it would come with a casualty toll (for both sides, and particularly for the Palestinians). The nature of this area, which is densely populated, would lead to casualties among civilians regardless of IDF efforts to minimize such deaths. We can assume that the world will back the weak side and Israel would lose further points in the international public opinion arena.
Secondly, because we do not wish to stay in the Strip, we will have to depart after we clear the launching sites. And what then? Terror groups will apparently be able to return to the sites and renew the rocket fire. The overall balance sheet of such military operation does not seem overly positive.
Yet I believe that the “balance sheet” presented above, although it is accurate in terms of the physical reality, is misleading. Our opening position should not be to seek ways that would physically prevent the rocket fire (as noted, such modus operandi is unavailable.) Rather, we should start a process that would increasingly minimize the rocket threat, until it is curbed almost entirely.
Such a process is impossible under circumstances whereby the State of Israel hesitates to use force, even if the short-term balance sheet does not justify such move. We must change our way of thinking and reshape the rules of the game.
Let’s assume that we embark on a ground operation in Gaza (with the aim of eventually returning the troops to our territory) where we sustain casualties and cause many casualties to the other side. Let’s also assume that following a certain period of calm to be achieved through this operation, the rocket fire will be renewed. We would always be able to repeat the operation and enter the Strip, time and again.
Terror groups would be able to embark on a new round of rocket fire-Israeli military operation-period of calm-rocket fire time and again. Yet the experience we accumulated over the past 60 years, as well as common sense, show that every decision to embark on a new round would become increasingly difficult for them and be met with increasing resistance by the Palestinian population, which would recall the results of the previous round.
The accumulated deterrence to be acquired this way has been one of the most basic fundamentals of Israel’s security doctrine since its inception. The long-term strategic vision should overcome the short-term tactical balance sheet in this case.
Ultimately, the situation is rather simple: There is no way to curb the activity of fanatical organizations that do not even recognize our right to exist unless we use force. The use of force, in and of itself, even if it comes with a price, and a heavy price at that, is the only way to create a process that will culminate in the minimization and possibly end of indiscriminate rocket fire on our civilian population.
The writer, a major-general (res), is a Kadima Knesset member