There is overall consent that Israel must respond forcefully and with resolve to the Hamas rampage in Gaza. However, there is controversy over the type of response. The public dispute on the matter oscillates between opting for a military ground assault and imposing economic sanctions on the residents of the Gaza Strip.
Most proponents of a military ground maneuver support it out of fear of "legal implications" allegedly involved in an economic embargo. Prior to a decision on a military maneuver that is likely to exact a high toll of Israeli and Palestinian lives – the fear of the said "legal implications" should be seriously examined.
Since Israel disengaged from Gaza, Israeli occupation there came to an end. Israel is not currently positioned in the Gaza Strip; it is not occupying it and is not responsible for the welfare of its residents (contrary to the responsibility of an occupier of a region for its residents).
The fact that Israel does not permit free movement to and from Gaza, which stems from the principle of self defense, does not mean it has any obligation towards Gaza residents. Control of Gaza, in practice, is in the hands of the Hamas administration. Although no one recognizes it, de facto, Gaza is being run as a state under the rule of that regime.
The "State of Gaza" is conducting a war against the State of Israel: A daily barrage of rockets on Israeli territory is a blatant act of aggression, and therefore the State of Israel has the right to employ every means of defense and assault accepted by international law as an appropriate response to such acts.
Economic pressure (embargo) has for years been recognized by international law as a legitimate act for a country to resort to in times of conflict. Such measures inevitably harm innocent civilians. The international embargo on Iraq during Saddam Hussein's reign harmed innocent Iraqis who were Saddam's victims; the American embargo on Iran is harming tens of millions of Iranians who have absolutely nothing to do with military nuclear development.
An embargo, by definition, is a collective punishment imposed against a country or type of country and which primarily harms the civilian population with the aim of coercing the government (whether recognized or not).
As we have already noted, the state of Hamas is waging a war against Israel. The State of Israel, based on its right to self defense, is entitled to respond militarily, let alone take less severe measures such as economic sanctions. The means of coercion specified in the United Nations charter lists economic sanctions (chapter 6) as less severe than military maneuvers (chapter 7).
Therefore, Israel is entitled to respond by imposing economic sanctions on the residents and regime of Gaza, and among other things to cease or cut back supplies of goods, fuel, food, raw materials, communication services and other infrastructure-related services, including electricity and water.
The type of response, its severity and extent must be determined carefully in a way that would prevent - as much as possible - risking human life. This is a harsh response but a necessary one, and is nonetheless preferable to a military maneuver inside the Gaza Strip.
As no one is really expecting to retake the Strip and permanently hold on to it, the value and effectiveness of a military campaign is highly limited. Entering and then exiting the Gaza inferno will exact a toll on IDF soldiers, and inevitably cause greater harm to the Palestinian population, without Palestinian aggression being really curbed.
Calculated, measured and ongoing economic sanctions would make the Hamas regime think twice before resorting to Qassam fire. Ultimately, every regime is sensitive to the will of the population, its desires and distress. It is hard to believe that a scaled yet resolute and significant economic embargo would not force the Hamas rulers to consider their ways.
And of course, it should be noted that economic sanctions are a proper response to the criminal incarceration of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit. This is the only means that could lead to a change in the "balance of power" required for his release.
Tjhe writer, a lawyer, was former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s bureau chief and senior adviser