In recent weeks, we saw a wave of dismissals within Hamas’ military wing. Division commanders, brigade commanders, and lower ranking officers were dismissed and replaced. This is merely the tip of the iceberg of the process of drawing lessons from Operation Cast Lead.
The Palestinian media is dealing with this wave of dismissals because it cannot be hidden. Yet behind the scenes, the lessons are even more far-reaching.
Hamas is admitting to itself that it failed terribly on every front: Defense, offense, and in terms of public relations. The main lesson on the offensive front is that firing rockets on peripheral Israeli communities won’t bear the desired fruit. Hamas needs weapons systems that can reach central Israel. And it will get them. It may take six months or a year, but Hamas is working on it.
The Israeli-Egyptian cooperation on curbing smuggling efforts is delaying Hamas’ plans, but eventually they will find the way.
For the time being, Gaza is quiet. Operation Cast Lead paralyzed it. About 90% of Hamas’ military industries were destroyed. The scars of the destruction and defeat have been etched into the consciousness. As long as Hamas does not find an effective operational solution, the quiet will continue.
This quiet is the wet dream of any Israeli politician: Quiet in exchange for quiet. No need to do anything. No need to sign deals or agree on a long-term or short-term ceasefire. No need to open the crossings.
Nothing. If we wake up in a year or two and discover that they have rockets that can reach Tel Aviv, we will think what needs to be done then. If the Iron Dome anti-rocket system won’t solve the problem, we’ll destroy Gaza again.
This is the policy that the Netanyahu-Barak government inherited from its predecessors: Israel does not solve problems, it merely puts out fires.
Time to talk
The army delivered the goods. It created deterrence both on the Gaza front and on the northern front. Meanwhile, the American train to a deal in the Middle East is on its way, the strategic cooperation with Egypt is unprecedented, Jordan has relaxed in respect to its anxiety vis-à-vis Iran’s fundamentalism, the Syrians are seeks bridges to the US, and Hariri won the Lebanese elections. Our strategic situation isn’t bad at all. Why should we do anything?
Yet it is precisely now, when it’s quiet on the northern front, when Israel is in a position of power, when we have deterrence vis-à-vis Hezbollah, that we should be talking. This is the time, for example, to enter negotiations with Hariri in Lebanon – via the Americans – on Ghajar and the Shebaa Farms. After all, nobody thinks they belong to us. The Shebaa Farms can serve as a lever for changing the atmosphere vis-à-vis the Syrians as well, and for boosting Hariri’s regime and our American allies, who are building the Lebanese Army together. Why do we need to wait for another Hezbollah rocket barrage to start talking?
And what are we doing with the quiet in Gaza? Nothing. Gaza has been erased from the headlines and from our consciousness. This is the time to intensively renew the negotiations with Abbas. To give him, in cooperation with the Americans, strong cards to use vis-à-vis Hamas. The West Bank is starting to prosper. This is the time to start pushing the Gaza Strip’s rehabilitation project – via the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah.
Why shouldn’t we give this prize to Abbas? After all, this rehabilitation project will eventually be carried out, yet if we don’t get involved, Hamas will take the reins and Israel and the PA will have no say in what goes on there. Not to mention the expected clash vis-à-vis the European Union.
In order to facilitate the rehabilitation process, this is the time to reach an orderly long-term ceasefire agreement – via the Egyptians – vis-à-vis Hamas. Time to open the crossings and let goods into the Strip under Israeli monitoring. Precisely now is the time to do it, when we’re riding high. This is also the time to finalize the Shalit deal, which has been largely finalized already. Negotiator Hagai Hadas doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel; he needs to get a mandate from the government to close the deal.
So, government ministers, wake up.