After a Decade of Fatal Mistakes, Israel Must Learn: Limited War Won't Deter Hamas

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IDF soldiers near the Gaza border, July 31 2014.

It is now almost 10 years since the tragic uprooting of 10,000 Israelis from Gush Katif in southern Gaza, from the settlement bloc at the Strip’s northern tip, and from the settlements in northern Samaria. Over the following 10 years, the move brought in its wake three major operations by the Israel Defense Forces.

It is one year since the last of these operations, Operation Protective Edge. It’s time to take stock of a policy that violated the civil rights of thousands of Israelis, ended up bringing most of Israel under rocket fire from Gaza, and resulted in extensive loss of life in both Israel and the Strip.

Ariel Sharon, who launched these developments with the uprooting of Israeli settlers, claimed that this move would “improve Israel’s security.” He found a sufficient number of MKs, including some Likud members, to win the Knesset’s approval for his “disengagement plan.” Even the Supreme Court went along with this unparalleled violation of the settlers’ civil rights.

A radical move advertised as improving Israel’s security resulted in a drastic deterioration of Israel’s security. Already a day after the completion of the disengagement, rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel. It foreshadowed what was in store for Israel’s civilians in the coming years.

It was left to Sharon’s heirs, Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni, enthusiastic supporters of his fatal mistake, to deal with the consequences. Less than three years after the disengagement, persistent rocket launches against Israel from Gaza forced the Olmert government to react with Operation Cast Lead, which lasted 22 days and saw the IDF enter Gaza. During that operation, over 750 rockets and mortar rounds were fired on Israel from Gaza, some reaching as far as Be’er Sheva, Ashdod, and Gedera.

The operation resulted in the death of over 1,000 Palestinians and 13 Israelis. It ended with the withdrawal of Israeli forces and a unilateral cease-fire declared by Jerusalem. Olmert was under the impression that this demonstration of military might would be sufficient to deter Hamas from renewing its attacks against Israel. He was mistaken.

Less than four years later, in November 2012, it was Benjamin Netanyahu’s turn to deal with the attacks from Gaza against Israeli civilians; he launched Operation Pillar of Defense. During an operation that lasted eight days, over 1,500 rockets were fired at Israel, some reaching as far as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Over a hundred Palestinians and six Israelis lost their lives. Israel’s strategy was the same: Give them a good dose of air power and they’ll understand that these rocket attacks on Israel have to cease.

It didn’t work, terrorist rocket attacks continued. A year ago the Netanyahu government launched Operation Protective Edge, a 51-day operation against Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza involving ground troops, tanks, aircraft and ships. Over 4,500 rockets were launched against Israel, Ben-Gurion Airport was closed for a day, millions in Israel ran for shelter, and 72 Israelis and more than 2,000 Palestinians lost their lives.

When it was over, Netanyahu declared victory, convinced that this time the Gaza Palestinians had been taught a lesson and Israeli “deterrence” had been restored. Now a year later it’s not at all clear that this objective was attained.

The time has come to reexamine the theory that terrorists can be deterred and that therefore there is no need for the IDF to enter Gaza and disarm the terrorist organizations there. With this theory proven wanting three times, it should be clear that deterring terrorists is in the realm of wishful thinking.

Terrorism can be halted only by destroying their ability to commit acts of terror. Entering Gaza to accomplish this task is preferable to having all of Israel’s civilian population living under the threat of rocket fire.

Gaza Lapse from Omer Messinger on Vimeo.

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