Regardless of how Protective Edge
ends, this operation appears to have one clear lesson, which doesn't have to do with the tunnel issue but with a more strategic question. Israel is repeatedly falling into the asymmetry trap.
The story we are telling in this conflict is similar to the one we told in Lebanon in 2006. In this story we are fighting a terror organization, and only a terror organization, while the population the organization is operating from is not the enemy. Moreover, during the fighting we even feel obligated to supply Gaza's residents with food, fuel and electricity.
Why is that wrong? Because a state cannot defeat an efficient guerilla organization if the following three conditions exist: We and they are on two sides of a border; the organization enjoys the full protection of a state; their state or its citizens are not an accountable side. Whoever fails to understand that is entering a war without an ability to win.
We are seeing now that despite the IDF's impressive fighting, despite the absolute military supremacy, we are in a sort of "strategic tie."
What would have been the right thing to do? We should have declared war against the state of Gaza (rather than against the Hamas organization), and in a war as in a war. The moment it begins, the right thing to do is to shut down the crossings, prevent the entry of any goods, including food, and definitely prevent the supply of gas and electricity.
In a war between states, each side is entitled to use its ability to pressure the other side. The fact that we are fighting with one hand and supplying food and energy to the enemy state with the other hand is absurd. This generosity strengthens and extends the ability of the enemy state of Gaza to fight us.
You probably have two questions now. First, why should Gaza's residents suffer? Well, they are to blame for this situation just like Germany's residents were to blame for electing Hitler as their leader and paid a heavy price for that, and rightfully so.
Hamas is not a terror organization which came from afar and forcibly occupied Gaza. It's the authentic representative of the population there. It rose to power following democratic elections and built an impressive military ability with the residents' support. Its power base has remained stable despite the suffering.
The second question is about the international legitimacy. The answer is simple: Israel was willing and is still willing to reach a real ceasefire at any moment. The Gazans' suffering is not the result of the Israeli pressure but of their support, through their elected government, for an armed struggle. This suffering could instantly if they accept a ceasefire.
Because we want to be compassionate towards those cruel people, we are committing to act cruelly towards the really compassionate people – the residents of the State of Israel.
This is relevant not only to the lessons of the conflict but also to what is expected to happen tomorrow. It's reasonable to assume that as soon as the fire ceases, we will be under heavy pressure to open up the crossing, restore the electricity lines to Gaza and help rebuild buildings and infrastructure. Israel can and should agree, but only if the other side agrees to demilitarize the Strip of heavy weapons.
In order to guarantee our interests versus the other side's demands, we must avoid the artificial, wrong and dangerous distinction between the Hamas people, who are "the bad guys," and Gaza's residents, which are allegedly "the good guys." We are dealing with an enemy state, not with a terror organization which is seemingly operating from within an innocent civilian population.
Only when we put things on the level between states or between people, we will be able to create real deterrence or defeat the enemy when the next conflict erupts.
Major-General (res.) Giora Eiland is a former head of Israel's National Security Council.