‘Get Used to the Rockets’: What Netanyahu Should Tell Israelis Living Near Gaza

In this candid – and imaginary – letter to the residents of Sderot, the Israeli PM recognizes there is no quick military or political solution to the conflict with Hamas

Chuck Freilich
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Residents of Sderot protesting the government decision to reach a cease-fire with Hamas in November after years of heavy rocket fire from Gaza aimed at their city.
Residents of Sderot protesting the government decision to reach a cease-fire with Hamas in November after years of heavy rocket fire from Gaza aimed at their city.Credit: \ Ilan Assayag
Chuck Freilich

To the Good People of Sderot,

First, allow me to express my deepest appreciation for the steadfastness and resolve that you, and all the good people in the Gaza area, have demonstrated in the face of a very difficult situation. No normal country would tolerate it. My heart goes out to you.

Please note, however, that I did not say that the situation is “unacceptable” – it clearly is not. The fact is that you have been living with it for 20 years. The people in the south have had to live with difficult challenges in the past, as well. We have forgotten, but the “fedayeen” attacks in the 1950s caused far greater casualties.

Residents of northern Israel have faced even tougher situations for 40 years and may very well have to do so again soon. During the second intifada, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv bore the brunt of the violence. We did not hear allegations of regional discrimination at the time.

There is a price to be paid for our national independence and those who pay it are usually, but not always, in the border areas.

>> Pushing for an Israeli Victory Is the Only Way to End the Conflict With the Palestinians

No, your blood is not less red than that of the people who live in Tel Aviv. As human beings, we are all equal. But you know as well as I do, that in the strategic and political reality we live in, there is a difference between Tel Aviv and Sderot and anyone who tells you otherwise is lying knowingly. Various good souls may be telling you that there is a military solution to the problem, that if we just hit them hard enough one more time and allow the IDF to win, the problem will be solved. The truth is, it will not. There is no solution for the foreseeable future.

Maybe you do not remember anymore. Rocket attacks began well before the disengagement from Gaza, continued under center-left, right-wing and hard-right governments, and under a series of chiefs of staff. Believe me, our generals today are as good and courageous as their predecessors. Do you think that either they, or I, do not want to hit Hamas hard, really stick it to them? The nature of military threats and warfare has changed, not just in our region, but the world over, and the days of grand military victories are gone.

Even the United States, the most powerful country on earth, has been unable to defeat the insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan. In wars against nonstate actors, unlike wars against states, there are no decisive outcomes.

We can conduct a large-scale ground operation and conquer all of Gaza. But even the great heroes (in their own minds), Avigdor Lieberman and Naftali Bennett, are against this today, and rightly so. If we topple Hamas, it is unclear who will take over and it could certainly be far worse if, for example, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad or ISIS were in control. If we destroy Hamas’s rocket arsenal it will be replenished rapidly. Above all, a major ground operation will entail tens of casualties, even hundreds if we try to topple Hamas. With all due respect for your suffering, it just does not justify the cost.

We can, of course, conduct an aerial operation. Maybe you didn’t notice, but that’s exactly what the Air Force did, quite successfully, in the last round. And don’t let them lie to you about this either; there just are not that many good targets left in Gaza to attack, targets whose destruction would have a significant impact on the situation. We already attacked the primary civilian infrastructure targets. Hamas, as an organization, does not offer many critical targets.

It is true that we no longer have significant deterrence – nor will we in the future. Deterrence only works if the adversary has something to lose. The situation in Gaza, however, has become so desperate that the people do not have that much to lose anymore. Hamas’s total misrule, together with the destruction that we have wreaked, caused this situation, and it is very hard to deter terrorist organizations in the best of circumstances.

Honestly, I have had it with all the nonsense about Hamas’ great victory in the recent round. The Arabs have been celebrating their great “victories” ever since the War of Independence in 1948. Look where it has gotten them – and where we are. Let’s keep a sense of proportion.

The truth that neither I, nor other politicians, wish to tell you – and which you do not want to hear – is that we will have to manage the conflict and gird ourselves to live with it for quite some time. At the same time, will also have to conduct occasional and limited air attacks, to ease the pressure on you somewhat, and to invest billions in a crash program to deploy a nearly complete national rocket shield, as well as passive defenses, such as shelters.

We also have to hold diplomatic talks with Egypt, Qatar and anyone willing to listen, in order to bring about calm and prolong the lull until the next round. In the long-term, we either have to reach a settlement with the Palestinians, or separate from them, but that is a story for other lies that we tell you.

And that, my good people of Sderot, is part of the problem. You want us to lie to you. I understand. It is hard to accept that we will have to continue living with this difficult situation for a long time. The human spirit seeks a solution, a strong response. You must, however, learn to live with the situation. Otherwise we will have to continue lying to you. We have become pretty good at it.

With you, until the next round.


Chuck Freilich, a former deputy Israeli national security adviser, is a senior fellow at Harvard University’s Belfer Center and author of "Israeli National Security: A New Strategy for an Era of Change" (Oxford University Press, April 2018). Follow him on Twitter @FreilichChuck