IDF Chief: Gaza War Could Buy Years of Quiet if Israel Boosts Strip's Economy

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Chief of Staff Benny Gantz during a training exercise in the Golan. Credit: IDF Spokesman's Office

The Gaza war was a clear victory for Israel, but long-term quiet with Hamas depends on “an economic anchor that backs up what was achieved in the fighting,” Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz told Haaretz in an interview to be published in full on Sunday.

The outcome of the 50-day campaign “holds the potential for many years of quiet if we conduct ourselves wisely,” he said.

“Hamas will not quickly cause a deterioration in the security situation against us,” Gantz added, speaking a little more than a month after a cease-fire ended the fighting against Hamas and its allies.

Hamas “has lost assets, tunnels, rockets,” Gantz noted, adding that the group’s confidence in its abilities had suffered. But maintaining the quiet depends on steps to improve the Gaza Strip’s economy, he said.

In September, in coordination with the United Nations — and the Palestinian Authority, which in 2007 lost control of Gaza to Hamas — Israel crafted a mechanism to oversee imports of goods and construction materials for rebuilding Gaza. The goal was to prevent Hamas from using materials for military purposes.

“We need to be careful in this regard, but we also need to conduct ourselves rationally,” Gantz said. “We need to permit the opening of the Strip to goods. In the end, there are 1.8 million people there, with Israel and Egypt surrounding them. These people need to live.”

Hope must hold sway over the current despair, Gantz added — “That in my view is the key to success.”

Commenting on the strategic outlook for the region, Gantz said next year was expected to be similar to 2014.

“We don’t expect war to be initiated against us in the coming year, but there could be a deterioration as a result of specific events” as occurred in Gaza, he said. “Neither Hezbollah nor Hamas currently wants to start a war with us. Our enemies face other challenges at the moment, but the instability is such that I can’t promise that we won’t be fighting in Lebanon in 2015.”

Defense sources say Hamas has not yet significantly regained its military capabilities following the clash with Israel. Its weapons-production facilities were badly damaged and the group lacks raw materials for arms production. Israel has identified several cases of weapons testing by Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Meanwhile, even though a mortar shell was fired into Israel after the cease-fire was declared, that was done by a cell that had split from Islamic Jihad. Hamas has detained the cell’s members and told Israel via the Egyptians that it was not a party to the incident.

The complete interview will be published on on Sunday. 

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