What was supposed to be an operation or a military campaign has turned into a war of attrition. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon and IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz did not want this, and the residents of the south feared a situation like this, which would not allow them to return to their homes and to their daily lives.
But the sooner we recognize we've been thrown into a war of attrition and start acting accordingly - the sooner the war will end.
Hamas plays the strengths of the weak, and as long as it can launch rockets and mortars, it puts on a façade of a fighting force that does not surrender. It also doesn't need much to inflict damage, losses and pain on Israel. One mortar that kills a 4-year-old boy is enough to deliver a hard emotional blow to Israelis. That's how an a-symmetrical war goes.
Meanwhile, rather than having PA President Mahmoud Abbas curb Hamas - it appears the opposite is happening, and according to reports the Palestinian factions have agreed to turn to the International Criminals Court at The Hague.
To shorten this war of attrition that has been forced upon us, and to bring it to an end that would ensure long-term calm to the residents of southern and central Israel, we have to first officially recognize that we are in a war of attrition, to announce it and to take any measures that arise out of this new situation. Not one step at a time, but as one whole of military, civic, diplomatic and economic moves that would minimize the damage the Gazans are causing and maximize the damage we cause them.
The moves Israel should take
- Evacuate civilians whose presence is non-essential, particularly children, from the communities adjacent to the Gaza border. Emotionally, we can't bear another toddler killed just because he didn't make it to shelter on time. Residents of communities up to 4 kilometers away from the Strip must be instructed to leave to places better protected by the Iron Dome, that also have sufficient amount of shelters. A government order should also arrange alternative housing and economic compensation to those not under the Iron Dome's protection. The evacuation must include all children under the age of 18. Residents are already evacuating children, but this move should've been taken by the state a long time ago. The cabinet is still captivated by fiery statements and misleads the Gaza border residents by leaving them with the impression that in just a few moments, if they could just endure a few more mortars, their troubles would be over. That is not the case. Even if the IDF enters the Gaza Strip and brings down Hamas, mortar fire will continue until an agreement is reached, and this could last months, if not years. Therefore, evacuating the Gaza border residents is an essential condition to fighting a war of attrition against Hamas - even though it's not enough.
- Intensive aerial pounding must continue, for as long as the IDF and Shin Bet's intelligence allows it. But it's important to make it clear to the Gazans and to the world that Israel has taken off the gloves. Any place rockets are fired from will be attacked within minutes. The IDF has already started doing so, calling on Gazans to evacuate any area rockets are fired from or areas there's an intention to fire rockets from. The message is simple - he who stays, his blood be on his own head. This is also possible within the confinements of international law of war. This is a legitimate defensive act, especially after the IDF's warnings to the Palestinians.
- The IDF needs to start performing a series of ground raids deep inside the Gaza Strip based on already existing plans. This should happen on the condition that any raid or mini-operation will have a specified and clear target, limited by time and area. In general, these kinds of raids are meant to make Hamas feel that they are under constant pressure and danger.
- Together with the US, Britain, France and Germany, Israel needs to make it known that it is prepared to move in for one large operation that will change reality in the Gaza Strip. The idea would be to normalize life in Gaza and rebuild its economy and infrastructure, including a seaport and an airport.
This is what will convince the civilian population that their life is improving. Hamas will have to agree to a true demilitarization of their heavy weapons (rockets of every type, 120mm mortars and larger, anti-tank missiles and equipment used for tunnel digging). The disarmament will be carried out under the oversight of the UN and according to decisions by the Security Council which will also organize the reconstruction.
Israel's unilateral announcement, with support from the US and other Western nations, will allow the Egyptians to continue moderating the specifics, but won't force them to be the only party leading the process of ending the war. They haven't succeeded in doing so up until now and al-Sisi can't be left alone to decide the fate of the residents of southern and central Israel.
Until Hamas agrees to this deal, and becomes prepared to begin serious discussions on carrying it out, attacks from Israel need to increase.
If all four steps are carried out in full, and the citizens of Gaza are shown what they stand to gain and what they stand to lose by continuing the fighting, there is a good chance that the war of attrition in Gaza will come to a conclusion within just a few weeks. But we can't be standing with a timer in hand. We need to be ready to understand the reality of the situation, and we should aim to wear the enemy down with minimal fatigue to ourselves.