Prior to any important discussion regarding our handling of the Qassam rocket fire from Gaza, three key assumptions should be made.
Firstly, the Qassam rocket fire cannot be halted by means of an aerial operation only.
Secondly, without changing the situation along the Philadelphi Route Hamas will continue to boost its military force.
Thirdly, the reality in Sderot is unbearable. This assumption is not as obvious as it may sound. Until recently the Israeli government regarded the continuation of the current situation there as the better option. Apparently, this attitude has changed. If the rocket fire cannot be stopped remotely or from the air, how can it be stopped?
There are two ways of achieving this and both options have a common thread: Exercising a political option prior to a military operation and reaching an understanding with the US regarding the question of the "day after," or "how pressure will be lifted after a military operation and in exchange for what ." Such pressure would not only be painful for the Palestinians.
Option A: Capturing areas in the Gaza Strip, particularly the Philadelphi Route - while not sufficing with capturing the Route, which is too narrow to protect, and widening it. The implication of this would be the destruction of hundreds of homes in Rafah and thousands of homeless people. This will create an international outcry and spark the ire of the Egyptians – which is a good thing! Israel would insist that it would withdraw its troops only if and when a satisfactory security arrangement is hammered out. Such a settlement is possible and Israel should reach an agreement on it with the US prior to an operation.
Similarly, action should be taken in several other areas as well.
Option B: Israel announces that as far as it is concerned Gaza is a political entity (separate from the West Bank,) which is ruled pragmatically and formally by Hamas. As this entity is in a state of war with Israel, Israel would have to take three measures:
- Immediately close off border crossings between Israel and Gaza (as Gaza is open to Egypt, supplies to and from Gaza could be transferred through there.)
- Announce that in several months Israel would cease to supply water, electricity and fuel.
- Since Gaza is an enemy state in a state of war with Israel, every governing institution in Gaza and the infrastructure serving the belligerent effort against us, including roads and bridges, should be targeted
Such Israeli activity would threaten the future of the Palestinian state – and this is positive. The international arena will undoubtedly protest even more strongly and will want to reinstate the old status quo. Israel would agree only if conditions are right, conditions that must be hammered out with the US first.
The continuation of tactical assaults on Hamas rocket launchers is not the solution as it allows Hamas to exploit its relative advantage. This doesn't mean that that the entire Gaza Strip must be taken. One of the drastic measures, as outlined here, can be adopted. And yes, there is no choice but to take a political risk, to anger several players and to force them to take action as well.
The world isn't perturbed by what's going on in Sderot and as long as this situation persists, we shall be called upon to "exercise restraint," and the problems will remain ours alone.
Giora Eiland is a retired IDF major-general and former head of the National Security Council