Two hundred and sixty Qassam missiles, mortar shells and artillery launches since the end of operation Cast Lead do not leave residents of the Gaza vicinity with any illusions. As far as they are concerned, the next round between Israel and Hamas is only a matter of time. Three years in Sderot have proven that the residents' natural instincts are never wrong – when they "smell" the next collision, it is indeed around the corner.
Across the border, a stone's throw away from our houses, reality has not changed. Exactly like a year ago – before the last operation – the blockade on Gaza persists without showing any results, Gilad Shalit is still in the hands of terrorists, massive weapons smuggling continues, Hamas rules with an iron fist, and most annoying of all – Israel's policy of restraint only exacerbates the situation.
Exacerbation in the sense that the rest of Israelis live under the illusion of victory; an illusion "sold" to them by Israel's leaders, and which put the wind back in Ehud Barak's sails: "Here he is – Mr. Security at his best – striking terrorists and putting an end to the missile threat in the south of the country."
One year after the operation concluded, it is time to ask what, in fact, were its goals? Was it meant to change the balance of threat toward Hamas? As far as I understand it, we continue to dupe ourselves. True, one might notice a certain kind of prosperity in the towns of the Gaza vicinity: Real estate prices in Sderot are skyrocketing, more and more residents are moving into the communal expansions and nearby Kibbutzim, shopping malls are packed with people, thousands of houses have built fortified rooms, and in Ashdod – the northernmost point at which rockets landed – the siren anxiety seems to have been completely forgotten.
Useless interchange of words
Let us begin with the blockade on Gaza. Israel announced and seemingly continues to announce that the blockade will continue until Gilad Shalit is released. Pardon me? I thought he was slated to be released not for the price of removing the blockade, but rather for hundreds of mass-murderers who will immediately return to the cycle of terror and continue to threaten our lives. The operation did not promote his release.
On to harming the military structure and terrorist leaders. Here, yet again, words are unnecessary. Mahmoud al-Zahar, Ahmed al-Jabari, Marwan Issa, Ahmed Al-Ghandour, Muhammad Sanuar (who is linked to Shalit's kidnapping) and the rest of the scumbags heading the Hamas militias continue to roam the streets free and active as ever. While this gang continues to plot the next battle, a kilometer away from our houses, there is not much reason to rejoice…
Smuggling of arms into Gaza is business as usual. Thousands of missiles are piling up and Hamas' military wings train uninterrupted and even more intensely. Recent reports about the "testing" of a missile with the ability to hit Central Israel did not raise a ruckus at home. Hamas' government continues to manage the lives of half a million Gazan residence, and there is no sign of disapproval on the horizon.
The conclusions are quite clear and the question of whether the missile threat on the south of the country has been removed remains unanswered. What we actually did receive was simulated encouragement to rejoice over the killing of a few hundred terrorists without uprooting the source of evil. Surely some "experts" will now rise on their own behalf and tell us all about keeping the threat "on the back burner". As if we were preordained to accept this threat that is intensifying underneath our noses, in the name of some modern military strategy. I think the only strategy here is communicative – nothing but a useless interchange of words by our non-determined leaders; a spin story in order to calm down the public.
Next time we are forced to send our best sons to fight for the motherland and remove the missile threat, it is best for the Defense Minister to know what the goal is – the threat is not removed with a war of deterrence, but with the complete destruction of the its sources, terrorist leaders, and their military power. If he does not understand this, it is best that he give up his seat to someone who does.
When you come to visit here in the Gaza vicinity, don’t let the daffodil blossom or the warm winter sun and the hustle and bustle blind you. Right across the border a well-trained army, equipped with frightening weapons, is slowly forming; an army that has already launched over 260 missiles at us – mostly without us retaliating. An army that is simply awaiting for the conclusion of the Shalit deal in order to advance to the next step. If they sold us the illusion of peacefulness, we better wake up soon – when missiles hit Tel Aviv and IDF soldiers face better trained fighters across the land of Hamastan – let us not be surprised. The writing was on the wall a year ago.
Iki Elner directs the Leadership Institute in Sderot