What should Israel really do about Gaza?
Opinion: Destroying Hamas is secondary to achieving regional long-term calm; Israel ought to adopt a generous policy of civil and economic incentives for Gaza civilians, and if Hamas persists in its bellicosity, we ought to produce our big stick and crush its military capability
During the Israeli election season, some political parties called for victory over Hamas and overconfidently touted their ability to achieve that goal. Even if election slogans ought to be forgotten, it is worthwhile examining this demand for victory methodically.
There are five explicit principles that govern Israel's relationship with Hamas: the massive difference in military power; the internecine Palestinian dispute and strife; Hamas's determination to harass Israel and not allow Israelis to enjoy periods of calm; the methods of power deployment whose effectiveness is questionable (Hamas is also frustrated); and the fact that a deployment of force often leaves to escalation. Therefore, without a policy change, a security deterioration is inevitable.
It is not in Israel's interest to destroy Hamas but rather to bring about regional calm and decrease the potential threat from the Gaza Strip in the future. Success is dependent on Israel's interactions with the enemy, that is, the very low probability of good voluntary cooperation and sincere friendship.
Therefore, Israel shod adopt a generous policy, as is fitting for the powerful, and if this policy does not pan out and Hamas reacts offensively, then security policy should be especially forceful. In addition, we ought to examine what steps are dependent on ourselves, as well as actors other than Hamas, that can advance Israeli interests.
A generous policy toward Hamas means improving Gaza's infrastructure and its economic ability. A port is not necessarily vital but rather expanding Gaza's electricity production capacity or its conveyance from Israel or Egypt and urgent treatment of water and sewer infrastructure.
Simultaneously, Israel can expand Gaza residents' employment options even if it means opening the Israeli job market to Gazans. Several thousand Gazan laborers crossing via the Erez Crossing daily can help ensure calm on the security front.
Likewise, we ought to continue the security cooperation with Egypt and improve it so that they prevent weapons, dangerous substances and terrorists into the Gaza strip via the Sinai.
We should also continue fortifying the Gaza border, above and below ground, so that even if our good intentions are met with terror and violence, the defensive response will be effective.
Do not expect the Palestinian Authority to be part of the solution. If there is anything of certainty in our region it is the scale of the inter-Palestinian discord.
And what will be if Hamas does not react cooperatively and continues to embitter the lives of residents of southern Israel? In that case, Israel should immediately cease its humanitarian efforts and engage in decisively destroying Hamas' military capabilities. The harm to civilians will not interest Hamas, only hitting its military capability will lead the group to internalize its failure and nudge it into a change of tactics.
Such an operation will require a significant level of urban warfare, above and below ground, in Gaza. In recent decades, there has been a tendency to overstate the enemies' abilities and understate our own. With such a phenomenon, it is understandable why the populace is so hesitant to permit the IDF to enter Palestinian cities, such as during the Second Intifada, and the great concern regarding a war in south Lebanon.
In both of the above instances, the enemies' abilities turned out to be highly overstated, and the same is true with Hamas in Gaza, to my understanding. Moreover, only a ground invasion can reduce the threat posed by the terrorist group on Israeli civilians, as is expected of a defensive military.
Yair Golan is the outgoing IDF deputy chief of staff and a senior fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security. (JISS)