I am one of those who believe that the political echelon did the right thing three times in regards to the operation in Gaza:
Setting modest goals, avoiding a ground offensive and agreeing to a ceasefire.
I believe that the political and military echelon were wrong about the use of Israel's
aerial efforts. The most important mistake stems from the incorrect definition which divides the attacked targets into only two types: Clear military targets, which are legal, and other targets, which are civilian and therefore must not be bombed.
The correct division is into three groups, with the third group – located between the two aforementioned types – consisting of national infrastructure targets. Such targets, which include government buildings, fuel caches, communication centers, bridges and the power system, are legitimate in the event of a military conflict between two countries, and this was the exact situation between us and Hamas.
Israel is not fighting terror organizations but a state. Gaza became a de facto independent state in as early as 2007, and that's a good thing. Israel is always better off facing a political entity which serves as a clear address, both for deterrence purposes and for an agreement, than a situation in which the government is formally in the hands of one body but the ability to use fire is in the hands of others.
Because Gaza is a state which initiated ongoing rocket fire on Israel, in a military conflict the right thing to do is to hit all the targets serving the rival regime and allowing it to continue controlling and conducting a war against us.
As we wrongly divided the targets into only two types, an erroneous identity has been created between two terms by which the only meaning of "expanding the operation" is a ground offensive. The operation can and should be expanded against the state of Gaza, yet not necessarily through a ground offensive but by causing much greater damage to the infrastructure there.
Had there been an ongoing shortage of water and fuel in Gaza, had the power system been seriously damage, had the landline communication system gone out of order, had the roads connecting the different parts of the Strip been destroyed, and had the government buildings and police stations been destructed, we could have estimated with greater confidence that deterrence had been achieved.
This is an important lesson ahead of the next war, and as important in regards to Lebanon. If we conduct the "Third Lebanon War" exclusively against Hezbollah's military targets, we may lose it. A state cannot defeat an efficient terror or guerilla organization given three conditions: The state does not control the territory, the organization enjoys full state protection, and the protecting state is completely immune against damage caused to its assets.
Israel can and must take advantage of the fact that Hezbollah
is part of the Lebanese establishment (just like Hamas is the establishment in the state of Gaza), and conduct the war against the state rather than against organizations.
The deterrence which was retroactively achieved in the Second Lebanon War
exists quite a lot thanks to the "Dahiya effect" – the bombing of Hezbollah bunkers in the heart of this Beirut quarter, which caused immense destruction. Since the war, Hezbollah has received many more rockets to replace those destroyed by Israel. The images of destruction in the heart of Beirut, on the other hand, have been engraved in the memory of the decision makers there.
The IDF is worthy of all praise for the damage inflicted to Hamas' rockets and the small number of uninvolved casualties. Nonetheless, we missed an opportunity to extensively damage Hamas' ruling abilities, guaranteeing even greater deterrence, which was the main goal of the operation.
Giora Eiland is a retired IDF major-general and former head of the National Security Council