Analysis / Be wise Hamas - stop the Qassams
With the end of Operation Days of Penitence, the IDF's General Staff has decided that should the firing of Qassam rockets at Sderot or other Israeli towns in the Negev resume in a serious fashion, the IDF will return to Gaza in force.
With the end of Operation Days of Penitence in northern Gaza, the Israel Defense Forces' General Staff has decided that should the firing of Qassam rockets at Sderot or other Israeli towns in the Negev resume in a serious fashion, the IDF will return to Gaza in force, perhaps even with a larger operation. That is the recommendation it will make to the cabinet should the need arise. And since the cabinet from the start was inclined toward a harsher response - it was the IDF that counseled more restrained action - there is no doubt that such a recommendation would be approved.
The operation also offers clues as to how the IDF would react should Hamas or other Palestinian groups try to disrupt implementation of the disengagement.
One lesson from the operation, and particularly from the deployment of the air force and the depth of the intelligence penetration of the enemy, is that a resumption of it would lead to even more Palestinian casualties. Thus if any responsible political elements remain among the Palestinians, they would be advised to work to halt the Qassam launches.
It would be a mistake to think the operation ended because of diplomatic pressure on Israel: The IDF's conclusion was that the terror attacks in Sinai gave Israel additional time for Days of Penitence. It ended because the IDF thought that at this stage, it had exhausted its usefulness. The army had as yet suffered no losses, and there was a fear that leaving so many forces in Gaza for a prolonged period would lead to operational errors and excessive harm to Palestinian civilians. The IDF also preferred not to continue the operation during Ramadan - even though Hamas had no qualms abut launching Qassams on Sukkot.
The IDF's withdrawal is expected to prompt a renewed Palestinian debate over the logic of firing Qassams at Israel and whether the price, in Palestinian lives and property, is not too high. According to IDF statistics, 138 Palestinians were killed during Operation Days of Penitence, of whom about 80 were armed men involved in the fighting. Of these, about 50 belonged to Hamas, including some involved in Qassam launches. Another 48 casualties have not yet been classified, but clearly, many were civilians. Ten casualties were definitely children under age 14.
Despite the heavy price exacted from the Palestinians over the Qassam launches, Hamas is unlikely to raise a white flag. The question is whether pressure from the Palestinian population will lead it to change its tactics - and the answer is far from certain. In a similar, though not completely parallel, case in the past - the shooting at Jerusalem's Gilo neighborhood - it took more than five IDF incursions into Beit Jala, the source of the shooting, before pressure from the local population and the Palestinian Authority caused it to stop.
Nevertheless, the IDF's feeling is that the mission's operational goals were largely achieved and its impact was positive. The message to the Palestinians was clear, and the Egyptians evidently also understood that there are some things, like rockets being fired at its towns, that a state cannot tolerate. On this issue, there were no arguments from either Cairo or Washington. And this could also send a signal to Hezbollah and Syria, which have deployed rockets against Israel in southern Lebanon.
But since deterrence is unlikely to provide a complete solution in Gaza, the IDF will continue surgical operations to destroy both the infrastructure for making Qassams and the cells that launch them. The assumption is that if this infrastructure is not destroyed, the launches will resume - and eventually spread to the West Bank.