For over two years, the Olmert government has been searching for ways to stop the shelling of Israeli civilians in the south. Initially while Amir Peretz was defense minister, and more recently with Ehud Barak as defense minister. In all this time, the residents of Sderot and the communities around the Gaza Strip were subjected to rockets launched from the Gaza Strip, while government efforts to stop them brought little relief. Of the many ways to stop the rockets that might come to mind, almost all have either been tried or else suggested and rejected. The results were disappointing.
First is what seemed like the preferred method - from the air. Israel has an all-powerful air force, and the risks to our soldiers when operating from the air are small. Air power was tried in the Second Lebanon War in order to stop Hezbollah's shelling of the north and failed. Nevertheless, it was tried again against the rockets coming from the south. Again fighter aircraft, unmanned aircraft, and helicopters attacked rockets observed on their way to launching sites and the workshops used to produce them, but to little effect. The rockets are small, mobile and hard to catch before they are launched.
Second, billions are being spent to develop an interceptions system that will destroy the incoming rockets in mid-air. This is technically very hard to do, extremely expensive, not 100 percent effective, and not capable of intercepting mortar rounds. In any case, the system, despite ambitious target dates for operational use that were announced in the past, is still far from becoming available.
Third, time and again politicians have called for indiscriminate artillery bombardment of areas from which rockets have been launched against Israel, though fortunately, cooler heads have prevailed. Similarly, the frequent calls for preventing food and fuel supplies from reaching the population in the Gaza Strip have not been put into effect with the knowledge that it would have counterproductive results that would not put an end to the attacks on Israel.
Fourth was the call that Israel establish a "price tag" for each rocket attack. This seemingly sophisticated approach was based on economic considerations that might give pause to the rocket launchers in the Gaza Strip. A sufficiently high price in terms of Israel's response would presumably convince them not to continue launching rockets. But the laws of economics practiced by Islamic terrorists are considerably different from those in the West. That did not work either.
Fifth, it was thought that the solution must lie in the sphere of deterrence. By making it clear that the Israeli response to Gaza rockets would be sufficiently severe, the Gaza terrorist would be checked from using that weapon against Israeli civilians. But the age-old lesson that terrorists are not dissuaded by anything had to be relearned.
Of course, some would suggest a sixth alternative - negotiating with the Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip and accepting their terms for ceasing the rocket attacks. That is not as far-fetched as it might seem at first. The cease-fire with Hamas that Israel agreed to six months ago was a major step in that direction. But while it gave Hamas a chance to train, rearm and amass a stock of longer-range rockets, it did not bring peace to the western Negev.
Now that leaves the only effective alternative - for the Israel Defense Forces to take control of the rocket launching sites in the Gaza Strip. Over 60 years ago, in World War II, the Allies understood that the only way to put a stop to the shelling of London by German V2 rockets was for Allied armies to reach the launching sites in Western Europe.
Much has changed since then, but the rockets are essentially still the same (the Qassams and Grads fortunately have considerably less range than the V2s). So that leaves the job to the IDF ground forces.
Why has it been so difficult for our leaders - civilian and military - to understand this? The prospect of ground forces entering the Gaza Strip is not particularly attractive, especially after we have been told that "we have left the Gaza Strip forever." But nobody has yet found a way of defeating an enemy without invading their territory. Call it occupation or whatever else you like, but that is how wars have always been won, and if we are going to defeat Hamas and stop the rockets from raining on Israeli civilians that is what we will have to do.
"Once there, how are we going to get out?" is the ultimate argument sounded by those who oppose the only move that can attain our declared objective of providing security for Israel's citizens in the south. It is an argument that is based on the presumption that future events can be foretold with certainty; that the IDF, once in the Gaza Strip, will find it impossible to disentangle itself from there; and that Hamas, even after having been defeated, will continue to rule the Gaza Strip. Not very sound reasoning.
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