Please allow me to take you two months into the future, to the midst of the major operation in Gaza. An IDF division is already deep within the Strip, two reserves battalions have been called up, 13 soldiers were killed by suicide bombers that blew themselves up near troops, and worst of all, Ashkelon, Sderot, and Beersheba are being bombarded by rockets.
Hamas is announcing that Gilad Shalit’s life is in danger, and discontent is growing in the West Bank as well. The IDF destroys a building that houses 60 people and is condemned by the United Nations, the Egyptians announce that they are ending their mediation talks, and even the Americans are condemning Israel’s operation.
Now, let’s return to Israel the way it is today: I want to tell you something, government ministers, which security officials may not be telling you explicitly enough. The only effect of a large-scale Gaza operation would be more rockets on Sderot and Ashkelon.
There isn’t really a military solution that can stop two terrorists and a launcher. There isn’t really an operation, regardless of how many casualties it will include, that would undermine Hamas’ motivation to target Israel with rockets. However, an operation in Gaza would feature a “bonus” in addition to the growing rocket barrages: We will have dead soldiers, and many dead Palestinians, some of them innocent, which would lead to a new and murky cycle of death. And no less severe: Such operation would lower the chances of resolving the Gilad Shalit question.
Israel doesn’t need a major operation now, and we can expect that the terrorists are happily awaiting it. Israel must undertake every real effort in order to reach an agreement on a lull, via the Egyptian track. The problem with this deal is clear: It is mentally difficult not to link the Gilad Shalit issue to the lull, and the Israeli government justifiably finds it difficult to proceed with a lull as long as Shalit is in captivity.
Yet the truth is that we must not link those issues, and we must not have southern residents also becoming Hamas hostages. We must know this: If the sides agree on a lull, the situation will be calm enough in order to talk about a prisoner swap. On the other hand, if violence erupts, Shalit’s life will be in danger. It’s a question of atmosphere.
It appears that it’s impossible to finalize a deal that would include both a lull and Shalit’s release, but we must realize that a lull agreement brings Gilad closer to coming back home, while a military operation pushes him further away from us.