When the proposal was first made last week, following the missile attack on a school bus near the Gaza Strip, that the government implement a clause in the coalition agreement stipulating that Israel regard Hamas as a strategic threat, and that it work, accordingly, to topple its regime, the news broadcasts emphasized that it was Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party that made the suggestion. The implication was that if the idea indeed emanated from the pugnacious Lieberman, it automatically deserved to be consigned to derision.
What the news editors generally chose to ignore was a statement over the weekend by former National Security Adviser Maj. Gen. (res. ) Giora Eiland that Israel should consider implementing a "Defensive Shield"-like operation in Gaza. Note the distinction: Eiland was not talking about a repeat of Operation Cast Lead. Cast Lead was launched in Gaza two years ago to achieve a deterrent effect, but as we can readily see, that effect wears off after a certain period. Defensive Shield was launched after the Park Hotel seder atrocity, on March 27, 2002, when a homicide bomber massacred 30 Israelis at the Netanya hotel.
That operation radically changed the security equation by pulverizing Arafat's terror apparatus, reviving Israel's intelligence access in Judea and Samaria and creating a military situation whereby small elite squads can snatch wanted terrorists without causing collateral damage. The change has obviously been extremely beneficial to Israeli security, but it also incidentally helped fuel the current Palestinian prosperity that resulted there once the grip of the rival terror warlords was broken.
Had the Kornet anti-tank missile launched from Gaza last Thursday struck the Israeli school bus a few minutes earlier, before it had dropped off most of its passengers, we would now be in all-out war with Gaza. Why wait till our luck runs out?
A Gaza Defensive Shield is the only way we can avoid repeated cycles of the missile terror that has paralyzed the Gaza perimeter and threatened to wreak similar havoc on Ashkelon, Ashdod and Be'er Sheva - with Hamas reserving for itself the threat of striking at the holy of holies, Tel Aviv. It is also the only recourse that Israel has if it is to be able to seal off the smuggling tunnels that provide terrorism in Gaza with its lifeblood of modern weaponry and operatives freshly returned from advanced military courses in Iran.
The option of doing in Gaza what was successfully accomplished in Judea and Samaria is being resisted by the same people who opposed Defensive Shield back in 2002. For them, re-imposing Israeli rule where it was rescinded constitutes a step backward (and an acknowledgment that Oslo was a tragic mistake ). While Israelis in the south are in shelters, those opposing a ground operation prefer to harp on the success achieved by the Iron Dome anti-missile system. In their heart of hearts, advocates of Israeli retreat hope that technology can effectively compensate for territory, or at the very least a military presence on the ground. This explains President Barack Obama's alacrity in offering more money for Iron Dome. The United States has an obvious military interest in such systems, and Israel's success will be shared first and foremost with the Americans, but it is the land-for-hardware approach that informs his action.
Israel definitely can take satisfaction in the technological achievement of Iron Dome, but it is not intended against flat trajectory fire like that of the Kornet. After that attack, an anonymous security source suggested putting up a wall to shield the railroad from similar missile fire.
What next: fuel tanker trucks and bottled-gas delivery vehicles equipped with missile-defense systems? Why not go all the way to private vehicles? How long will Israel be able to sustain an equation whereby we send up $50,000 missiles to swat down DIY missiles or the more advanced ordnance that Iran supplies gratis to its Gaza emirate?
A Gaza Defensive Shield operation means restoring the occupation of Gaza, chirp the critics - and so it will. But have we really gotten rid of the occupation label even after we surrendered every last inch, including communities contiguous with the Israeli border that now function as Hamas launching pads? We are still reviled occupiers. Israel rather than Egypt is still expected to supply electricity and other necessities to the Hamas predators. If we are occupiers, let us have the benefits of occupation.
An interesting objection comes from columnist and author Haggai Segal, whose opinions I generally share. If Israel will sacrifice blood in a major Gaza operation, argues Segal, the ultimate beneficiary will be the Ramallah regime of Mahmoud Abbas and the Fatah movement. Israel will be pressured to reinstate them in Gaza and welcome a unified Palestinian state.
I recognize the validity of Segal's objection, but it is essentially an indictment of a craven policy that draws a nonexistent distinction between "peace-minded" Fatah and implacable Hamas. It was Mahmoud Dahlan, Fatah's security chief a decade ago, who originated the targeting of school buses in Gaza, such as the Kfar Darom attack of November 2000. Lest anyone argue that this is ancient history, we have just been treated to the spectacle of an award ceremony in the home of Hamas suicide-bomb mastermind Abbas Al-Sayed. On March 28 Issa Karake, the Palestinian Authority minister of prisoners' affairs, visited the family of Sayed, now serving concurrent life terms in an Israeli prison, and bestowed an official, festive plaque to commemorate the anniversary of the massacre. It is time that Israel provided a more fitting commemoration, by launching Defensive Shield in Gaza.
Dr. Amiel Ungar, a political scientist, is a regular contributor to Haaretz English Edition.
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