Once again the word "deterrence" is being uttered vis-à-vis Hamas' threats. What is deterrence? – The need to scare the other side, so it would change its policies and restrain itself. Below are four different methods of deterrence:
First Method: Scorched earth
This is the most successful but also the most brutal method and it will not be accepted in democratic Israel. It's about exerting powerful force without any forewarning. This is how Hafez al-Assad acted in February 1982, when he killed 10,000 men, women and children in the city of Hama while repressing an Islamic intifada.
Syria remained quiet for at least 20 years following this event. This was also the method used by Saddam Hussein, his massacre of the Shiites and the Kurds in Halabja created a powerful deterrent. Here is a cruel paradox: The Americans, who are yearning for stability in Iraq, executed the only method for achieving stability in this country. In Saddam's Iraq there was no democracy but there was life. Today there is democracy but no life.
Second Method: Threats
If the first method was the most effective but the most brutal – this method is a lot less effective. Here there is a need to issue threats and to instill a sense that the threat may be realized. The threat can be verbal or on the ground, as the IDF did on the Golan Heights last summer (and made it clear to Assad that if he attacks Israel, he will pay absolute personal and ethnic costs). The threat must be tangible.
When we talk about deterrence, this option is the most we can do. If an empty threat is made – deterrence is undermined. Just recently the Israeli cabinet approved a series of decisions to cut off the supply of fuel, gas and electricity to the Gaza Strip, yet it did not implement any of it. So what message does this convey? Weakness, loss of faculties, confusion.
Third method: Ultimatum
This is a better method than the latter and also more sophisticated. Hence, we get completely lost with this method. Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak used this method frequently at the beginning of the last intifada. He issued an ultimatum to the Palestinians to stop using firearms – but didn't do a thing.
The intifada only intensified pursuant to the empty ultimatum. If an ultimatum is issued, it should be forcefully implemented. The advantage of this method is that the other side knows that it will bear the consequences instigated by its own acts. Those who are unable to bear the pressure of ultimatums would be better off not issuing them.
Fourth method: Rising price tag
This is a better method than the latter, and is still viable in a democracy and in a global media world. Contrary to the former method, which is solely a declarative, binary and limited act – in this case the method is relative and developing. It comprises a list if prohibitions and sanctions. For each shooting, infiltration or terror attack – the price tag is known. It can begin on the civilian infrastructure level and continue to the military level. This is a phased method that creates pressure on the other side, and certainly a process of reconsideration; it's all about shifting the burden.
Namely, it is clear to the other side and the world that Israel is not in a hurry to take any measures; it is the other side that is taking action, and its acts prompt the punitive mechanism against it. The other side has full control over the question of whether it will be punished or not. This method legitimizes Israel, because it is the other side that has in fact decided to take action. Clearly this method necessitates advance publication and clarification of the rules.
The objective in each of these methods is to make the other side change its policies and to restrain it. In most of these methods there is no need for sacrificing the lives of soldiers, hopeless campaigns, or foolish fortifications. What is required is activism, initiative, fearlessness, and leadership.
What do we have today? Passiveness, perpetuation of the status quo, lack of initiative, and constant fear.