Expelling Hamas Militants to Gaza Will Only Harm Israel

Israel deported 415 Hamas operatives to Lebanon in 1992, giving them a chance to hone their terror skills under Hezbollah’s tutelage.

Amir Oren
Amir Oren
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Participants in a Western Wall prayer rally for the three kidnapped teenagers, held June 15, 2014.
Participants in a Western Wall prayer rally for the three kidnapped teenagers, held June 15, 2014.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Amir Oren
Amir Oren

The Hamas terrorists who kidnapped three Israeli teenagers Thursday night undoubtedly deserve punishment. But the talk in the security cabinet about deporting dozens of Hamas operatives from the West Bank to Gaza indicates that the anger and frustration in Jerusalem over the attack and the failure to thwart it threatens to overwhelm the ministers’ better judgment. If Israel goes through with mass expulsion, it would be punishing itself.

We already went through this in December 1992, as U.S. President George H.W. Bush was about to yield the presidency to Bill Clinton. Following a series of terror attacks in Israel that reached their zenith with the murder of Border Police officer Nissim Toledano in Lod, the Rabin government decided to deport 415 Hamas operatives to Lebanon. The move was challenged in a petition to the High Court of Justice, and the expulsion was delayed until the court allowed it to go forward.

It was a dubious victory. Washington was furious and Israel was forced to limit the expulsion period to one year. That was enough time for the deportees to hone their terror skills under Hezbollah’s tutelage, knowledge that they disseminated when they returned.

Twenty-two years later, we have a new set of ministers, military officers and jurists managing the country’s affairs. The temptation to express their frustration through mass deportation has returned, even if this time they may be headed to Gaza rather than Lebanon.

The legal grounds for this are rather shaky. Proponents of the deportation argue that since the West Bank and Gaza are now ruled by the same Palestinian government, the Israeli army is entitled to move residents from one of these territories to another: from Nablus to Ramallah, say, or from Hebron to Khan Yunis. Under this argument, Israel would ostensibly not be expelling the Hamas operatives to another entity across the border.

But if that’s the case, it means Israel is giving up on its claim that its occupation of the Gaza Strip and responsibility for it ended when it withdrew from Gaza in 2005.

Even if the proposal passes muster with the attorney general and survives a High Court challenge, it isn’t a wise idea. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas would have a hard time renewing the peace process under those circumstances. Perhaps that’s what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants. Washington will grumble, but Netanyahu doesn’t care anymore. His relationship with the Obama administration is beyond repair.

The campaign against Hamas is meant as a distraction from Israel’s failure to prevent the abduction in the first place, even as the searches throughout the West Bank’s cities and open areas continue. Security sources say that among the dozens of people arrested are some who must have known something about the kidnapping and that their interrogation will yield significant information.

Large security forces were operating all over the Hebron area Monday. Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch visited the command post of the police anti-terror unit, which is also charged with hostage-release operations, and praised the professionalism of their preparations and performance. Aharonovitch reiterated that only after the search ends would investigators examine why police failed to alert the army immediately when one of the teens called for help as they were being kidnapped.

The headquarters of the anti-terror unit in the area looked impressive and sophisticated. Unfortunately, it looked like a state-of-the-art health clinic set up to treat an ancient disease. Israel’s high-tech army is confronting a low-tech gang that left its telltale electronic devices at home when it set out to harm Israelis. This is a clinic that is capable of providing highly effective treatment, but after four whole days, it’s almost certainly too late.

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