The heinous murder of the three teens whose bodies were found Monday night demands that we take revenge, but Israel must exercise caution. A heavy toll should be exacted from Hamas and those who assisted in the murders, but at the same time, we must have one eye on the future. And with that future in mind, we must thoroughly crush Hamas’ infrastructure in Judea and Samaria, and far more thoroughly than before.
Hamas’s recovery from the blows it has sustained so far endangers the Palestinian Authority. And just as radical Islamists are now seizing control of large areas of the Middle East, and could even reach Jordan, Hamas infrastructure in the West Bank could cost us and Mahmoud Abbas dearly.
Hence, the necessary step is to heighten the blow to Hamas in the West Bank, based on information gathered in recent weeks, yet at the same time allow it to keep governing in Gaza. Why? Because the alternatives are worse.
But even before demolishing the Hamas network in the West Bank, there is a far more urgent mission - preventing friction between the Palestinian population in Judea and Samaria and settlers seeking vengeance. One can understand the settlers’ feelings, but tensions between them and the Palestinians could ignite a serious fire, not only in the West Bank, but also in Jordan and Egypt and possibly other Arab countries as well.
The upheaval in the Arab world has turned their streets into an unstable, explosive and unpredictable source of violence between Jews and Palestinians, and, the tragic consequences of the abduction may lead to dire consequences on a regional scale.
This is why the IDF on Monday besieged Hebron and its environs, in order to prevent Jews from entering areas with a high population of Arabs and Arabs reaching roads on which Jews travel.
There is also the danger that Jews will attempt to carry out revenge attacks, and the IDF is already preparing for that possibility. The large forces now in Judea and Samaria are supposed to, among other things, prevent this from happening.
In these unfortunate circumstances, one cannot but praise the Shin Bet. The organization, while on one hand was unable to prevent the kidnapping, on the other did, through hard work around the clock for hundreds of people, manage to locate the abducted teens. It is important to understand that finding the teens prevented Hamas and the kidnappers from putting their plan into action and using the bodies as a bargaining chip.
Not much imagination is needed to understand the extent of humiliation and mental suffering that the Israeli public and the government would have been forced to endure had the Shin Bet not found the teens’ bodies after 18 days, a relatively short period of time by all accounts for a task in such an area.
As usual in these situations, quite a few people in the political system believe that Israel should embark on an operation to not only exact a price from Hamas and punish the entire organization, but to also deter it from carrying out similar attacks.
“Deterring terror” - if only that had ever been an achievable goal. With that in mind, the most important step now is to crush Hamas’ civilian and military infrastructure in Judea and Samaria, so that the organization struggles to rehabilitate itself or recruit activists and funds.
The cabinet will be required to consider a severe military blow to Gaza. This kind of operation is a necessity at the moment, not only because Hamas is responsible for the abduction, but also because it does not prevent intense rocket fire into Israel.
However, if the option of an operation in Gaza is raised, it is likely that most cabinet ministers will refuse. Why? Because Hamas in Gaza wasn’t involved in the kidnap, and an IDF invasion of the Strip would be perceived as collective punishment, which the international community would not understand and even condemn. One of the things that the State of Israel cannot lose is international legitimacy for its actions, and cannot be perceived as a country that punishes an entire population with no justifiable cause.
Another reason why we mustn’t carry out an operation in Gaza is because we may find ourselves caught in a war in which the home front would be pounded by a considerable amount of rockets. Not only the western Negev town and villages, but Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Herzliya as well. Going into Gaza isn’t a day trip out, but a war that could expand and even complicate our relationship with Egypt.
Furthermore, such an operation could well succeed in bringing down the Hamas administration in Gaza, which has plummeted to a nadir in its history. The problem then would be what came next. Firstly, because the IDF would have to stay in Gaza for a long time, perhaps years; and secondly, because after the army left, there would be chaos in the Strip. Islamic Jihad, which takes its orders from Tehran, would be most powerful movement there, and we would have to deal with constant fire from Salafists and Jihadists. We may yet miss Hamas. Therefore, any action we take in Gaza should be solely aimed at prevent rocket fire on Israeli territory.
Problem of deportation
The Israeli toolbox includes several more measures that could hurt Hamas. The first would be to return to jail the 56 prisoners freed in the Shalit deal, including quite a few “heavyweight” murderers, which Israel has arrested in the past 18 days. That would in effect be the harshest stick with which to beat Hamas and its prestige, to clarify to the organization and its people that kidnapping Israelis does not pay.
Another method would be to deport Hamas members arrested during Operation Brother’s Keeper from the West Bank to Gaza.
The problem is, deporting people from a territory where Israel is the occupier and sovereign ruler is a violation of international law and could bring us into conflict with the UN and the EU. Furthermore, the High Court might well accept an appeal from those who were deported.
We must also immediately begin drawing conclusions from this situation. Jews should avoid hitchhiking in Judea and Samaria at nighttime as much as possible, and the police and the IDF should intensify their presence on the roads. The police must implement the lessons learned from their disgraceful handling of the emergency call made by the kidnapped teens, while the Shin Bet, despite its commendable performance in locating the bodies, should examine why it was unable to thwart the kidnapping in the first place.