There are four possible justifications for Israel’s “sit and do nothing” police vis-à-vis the Gaza Strip. First, the need to lay the groundwork for an international public relations campaign; second, the defense establishment still needs time to prepare; third, the temporary aversion to “rush into battle” is part of the IDF’s action plan, which includes a significant deception component that can only be harmed by needless chatter; fourth, winter weather conditions simply do not allow us to embark on a path where the Air Force, as always, plays a significant role.
Yet our “gut” doubts whether this is indeed the case. There is an uneasy sense that we “burned” the six-month truce for nothing. The process of preparing Gaza-region fortifications ahead of the next test progressed partly; our leadership did nothing to reinforce the spirit of the nation, which has been shocked by the recent financial blows, ahead of the renewal of violence. In addition, we did not see any progress in the required intellectual shift from the disgraceful strategic status of permanent respondent, to the proper status required for our existence – initiators and leaders.
However, it’s not too late yet. We do not have to keep following the path dictated by Hamas. Instead, we can make the Hamastan government scamper as if it had been poisoned. First, we need to take the initiative, by making a choice that is derived from the definition of a clear objective for the long and mid term.
Securing tactical quiet is no longer the objective: Israel would never be able to view Hamas, at its current ideological form, as a viable dialogue partner that we can reach even minimal agreements with. Today it is already clear that Israel must view the confrontation with Hamas as a “zero-sum game.” Yes, it’s either “them or us.” Therefore, Israel’s supreme objective must be to bring about Hamas’ elimination and an end to its hold on Palestinian government institutions.
Israeli success in this mission may also prompt a change in the Palestinian people’s worldview, including that of residents of the Strip. The required mid-term goal is to minimize the depth and extent of the rocket threat posed to the civilian population in the south (and today we can openly talk about areas closer to central Israel. If the Second Lebanon War paralyzed the Haifa Port, the next clash vis-à-vis the Palestinians will create a similar threat on the Ashdod Port.)
However, those who fool themselves into thinking that a major operation involving many troops and aimed at retaking the Gaza Strip would bring this about, are making a grave mistake, while being highly deceptive; there is no point repeating the disasters that such operation would prompt. In order to undermine the Hamas regime in Gaza (and thwart the prospect of a West Bank Hamas takeover in the future,) we would do well to quickly take offensive initiative that includes, simultaneously, the following components:
- Recapture the Philadelphi Route, but this time around take over a kilometer-wide strip to be permanently held by Israel. This should be done even if it requires us to evict residents from Rafah neighborhoods, and even if we need to compensate them with new housing at an alternative site. Such permanent hold would significantly undermine Hamas’ ability to equip itself with arms both above and under ground. This is the only way to “dry it up.”
- A wide-scale renewal of targeted eliminations, aimed both at Hamas’ senior military command, and more importantly, the organization’s political leadership (that is, senior Hamas members) that stimulates and manages terror in the south. Did anyone forget the immense effect the assassination of Sheikh Yassin and his replacement Rantissi had on Hamas’ motivation for violence?
- Comprehensive and ongoing aerial assaults targeting all permanent and mobile terror infrastructures spotted in the area.
- We should treat this like a war. We must indeed be careful, as much as his possible, about not hurting civilians, yet we must adopt any possible sanction that would make it difficult for Hamas to successfully wage its struggle from within the population.
Adopting a wide offensive initiative could make the difference: It will certainly affect the way we view ourselves in the future, and no less importantly, the way our image is shaped in the eyes of our enemies and allies. Even if the IDF does not win immediately, Israel’s ability to dictate the terms has a chance to bring victory later.
We must not let the Second Lebanon War’s trauma and the greatly unstable political reality to tie the hands of our leaders. The Gaza case is not identical to the south Lebanese issue, certainly if we adopt the proper modus operandi. On the political front, even the opposition already announced that it would back the government in respect to any move adopted on the ground. So why should we wait?!
Brigadier General (ret.) Dr. Yossi Ben Ari is the former intelligence chief of the IDF’s Central Command