Although it happens with cyclical regularity, this phenomenon is no wonder of nature. Once every few months, the Palestinians or their supporters try to carry out a terror attack or launch rockets from Gaza. Israel immediately and automatically responds forcefully; the Palestinians respond to the attacks on them; and southern communities turn into a war zone for a few days, until yet another temporary cease-fire is arranged and life returns to normal. This cycle can and must be broken.
Israel obviously has a legitimate right to respond to any assault on its sovereignty and the security of its citizens. But its military responses work in one and only one direction: They cause the situation to deteriorate and bring about escalation, causing great suffering to residents of the south, while effectively achieving absolutely nothing.
And that's what happened this week. An attack along the Egyptian border killed one Israeli; Israel responded by attacking Gaza; rockets rained down on the south, once again causing casualties, terror and destruction. After a few days of trading blows, work began on arranging yet another cease-fire yesterday, with Egypt's assistance.
What did Israel achieve through its response? It clearly hasn't managed to achieve deterrence via such strikes. The plain fact is that Palestinians continue their attempts to attack Israel. Nor has the latest military response achieved a sense of security for residents of the south. Every Israeli retaliation immediately sends them scurrying into their bomb shelters.
Therefore, the time has come for a rethink, and a different modus operandi. Israel can restrain itself from time to time without harming its citizens' security. Indeed, restraint might have the opposite effect. Israel doesn't need to react automatically to every attack, while ignoring the consequences of its response. In any case, the address for attacks from Egypt isn't necessarily the Gaza Strip, and the fact that Israel has refrained, rightly, from dragging Egypt into the conflict doesn't obligate it to attack Gaza.
There are situations in which restraint is actually the truer demonstration of strength. And sometimes, that's the case on the southern border. As long as the diplomatic impasse and the partial blockade of Gaza continue, so will the attacks on Israel.
Israel doesn't need to fall into every trap set for it by the terrorist organizations in Gaza and Sinai, which have an interest in bringing about an escalation. Sometimes, restraint is the wiser option.
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