Even if we declare dozens of times that Hamas is under pressure and wants a cease-fire, it will not erase the fact that in the battle for Sderot, Israel has in effect been defeated. The superfluous declarations about the possibility of war with Syria should not divert our attention from the defeat in Sderot.
Israel is experiencing something in Sderot that it has not experienced since the War of Independence, if ever: The enemy has silenced an entire city and brought normal life there to a halt. The despair of Sderot's mayor is one sign of what is happening. The sight of the town's elderly residents returning from a "rest and relaxation" trip and refusing to alight from the bus and go home is additional proof that what is happening in Sderot is a national disgrace.
It is worth listening to the words of reservists from Sderot and other communities in the south, who have met twice with Defense Minister Amir Peretz. They did not threaten to refuse to do reserve duty, but they explained that they live on Israel's front line and feel that the rest of the country and the government are not standing behind them. Their feeling is that the government has failed in the defense of the home front.
And, in fact, the present government in particular, but its predecessor as well, has suffered a resounding defeat here. The government has not succeeded in turning bombarded Sderot into a national defense project. That reinforces the assessment that this government is incapable of leading the nation in a major military confrontation.
It is also a defeat for the defense establishment, including the Israel Defense Forces. For years, no solution, not even a partial one, has been found to the problem of the Qassam rockets. Until the Second Lebanon War, the home front was considered secondary. It will take years until Israel gets this problem straightened out. There have been decisions, but in a government ruled by petty bureaucrats, the Finance Ministry is refusing to release even sums that have already been approved.
The enemy that defeated Sderot is a terror organization that is militarily weak, yet in spite of its weakness, it has succeeded in achieving deterrence vis-a-vis Israel, just as Hezbollah did. The government and the defense establishment try to explain away the situation with excuses such as the following: This would be a difficult battle, in which large numbers of Palestinians would be killed and Israel would suffer many losses; the IDF would be stuck in the Gaza Strip at a time when the Syrian front is likely to flare up; international public opinion would oppose a harsh Israeli response. Meanwhile, the IDF is not even returning fire at the sources of Qassam launches if the rockets are fired from populated areas.
What matters is the final result, not the explanations. And the result is that there is mutual deterrence between Israel and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Israel finds itself in a military draw with Hamas. That is a serious national failure, which in my opinion is worse than the failure of the Second Lebanon War.
Moreover, two important strategic facts have emerged, which cannot be ignored. The first is that the changes in the battlefield and the nature of the fighting have led to a situation in which Israel's strategic (and not only geographic) depth is insignificant. If what is happening in the Gaza Strip were to happen to Israel in the West Bank, we would be back in a situation like that during the War of Independence, and this could include the expulsion of terrorism supporters.
Therefore, Israel must insist for now on isolating the West Bank, and it must also reject the security benchmarks plan proposed by U.S. security coordinator Major General Keith Dayton, as it is liable to lead to Hamas penetration of the West Bank. Even if we achieve a real cease-fire in the Gaza Strip, at least one year of quiet should pass until the cease-fire is extended to the West Bank.
The second fact is the almost total disappearance of the strategic principle set by David Ben-Gurion, to the effect that upon the outbreak of a military confrontation, Israel must quickly transfer the fighting to enemy territory. At present, it is the enemy who is immediately transferring the fighting to Israeli territory.
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