Since the unilateral withdrawal from the Lebanese security zone in May 2000, Israel has had terrorists at the gate on its northern border. Israel paid the price for this hasty move six years later in the Second Lebanon War, and the Hezbollah terrorists now armed with over 100,000 rockets and missiles are still there at the gate. This year Israel has made strenuous efforts to keep the Iranians from approaching our borders. Terrorists at the border with Lebanon are enough. One more is one too many.
But the unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005 brought that area under the control of Hamas, another terrorist organization, and positioned it at the gate to the Negev. Widely hailed as a move to improve Israel’s security and advance the peace process with the Palestinians, it did neither. It simply brought terrorists to the Negev. We never seem to learn.
This time we thought we could teach the Hamas terrorists a lesson. Hitting them hard after each rocket barrage they launched at Israel, we thought would get them to understand the rules of the game. They hit us and get punished. Actually, it’s the poor Palestinians in Gaza who get punished, and the Hamas rulers don’t care, while they score a propaganda victory in international forums. It took us a while to understand that. The massive demonstrations at the Gaza fence and the attempts to breach it have taught us a lesson. Hamas is not going to change.
Considering the state of the 2 million Palestinians in Gaza since the Hamas takeover, a state getting worse year by year, it’s easy to understand that the people there are desperate. Some even say they feel that dying is better than living under such conditions. But who has brought them to this desperate state, and can Israel alleviate it? Believe it or not, it’s the result of deliberate Hamas policy moves, and there is nothing Israel can do about it as long as Hamas rules the Gaza Strip.
Hamas has assisted the Islamic State terrorists in Sinai and cooperated with the Egyptian Islamic movement, rousing the ire of the Egyptian government that in turn closed the passage from Gaza into Egypt at the Rafah crossing. They have intermittently attacked Israel with rockets from Gaza and built tunnels leading into Israel, thus decreasing the inflow of goods through a number of crossings from Israel into Gaza. Materiel that has been brought in from Israel has been used for the construction of tunnels. During the recent demonstrations, the Kerem Shalom crossing was destroyed by protesters.
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Can Israel feed the beast that bites its hand? Hamas’ refusal to come to an agreement with the Palestinian Authority has led the PA to stop transferring money to Gaza. Hamas has deliberately cut Gaza from all outside access. The desperate situation there is the inevitable outcome of Hamas rule. It can be changed only by putting an end to Hamas rule there.
It took a long time for Israel to understand that. Now the rulers of Egypt and Kuwait seem to comprehend that, but can they bring about a change? Are they really prepared to expose their soldiers to attacks from Hamas terrorists in Gaza?
Israel had three opportunities during the Gaza military operations to accomplish this goal but was not prepared to go all the way. Specious arguments that what would come after the overthrow of Hamas might be even worse, or that the Israeli army might get stuck in Gaza and be unable to disentangle itself, kept Hamas in power despite military defeats.
Actually, there were and still are a number of alternatives to Hamas rule in Gaza. The most obvious is Hamas being replaced by the PA. Mahmoud Abbas may not be Israel’s greatest friend, but he wouldn’t pursue a terrorist war against Israel from Gaza at the expense of the local population.
Until such time as the Hamas terrorists are removed from the gate to the Negev, the Palestinians there will continue to suffer, and Hamas will gain empty public relations victories.