The state comptroller’s report provides a great deal of information on the decision-making process during Operation Protective Edge, the 2014 Gaza war. Although there is room for criticism here and there, the process on matters dealing with military operations has improved considerably since the establishment of the National Security Council in 1999, especially since the council has taken its place in the decision-making chain in recent years.
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Since the cabinet is composed of political rivals representing parties in the governing coalition, its deliberations are unfortunately but inevitably also influenced by political considerations. That’s the price to pay for parliamentary democracy. There is little reason to expect substantial improvements in this area in the future. It’s the basic battle plan for the operation as formulated by the trio – prime minister, defense minister and Israel Defense Forces chief of staff – that must be examined if another military operation in the Gaza Strip is required.
From the comptroller’s report one may get the impression that the tunnels dug by Hamas were the main problem facing Israel during the operation. They obviously constitute a frightening problem to Israelis living near Gaza who could suddenly find terrorists coming out of a tunnel on their doorstep. But a bigger problem, of a strategic nature, is the arsenal of mortars and rockets in the hands of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The mortars threaten the entire population in the Strip’s immediate vicinity, while the longer-range rockets cover all of southern Israel. The Iron Dome batteries provide only a partial answer to these threats.
If another operation against Hamas is required, it will be the fourth such operation carried out in recent years. Would it, like Protective Edge, drag out for weeks with the attendant increasing casualties on both sides and the growing international pressure calling for restraint?
Should its objective, like the objective of the previous operations, be limited to an attempt to gain a few years’ respite from rockets launched against Israel from Gaza, or should it be targeted at removing this threat against Israeli civilians? It wasn’t the comptroller’s task to address these questions, but they require deliberation by the cabinet before there is a next time.
The suggestion heard at the time that Hamas’ rule in Gaza is preferable to any alternative and that therefore Hamas’ leadership should be left in place surely requires reexamination. The “quagmire syndrome,” according to which dismantling Hamas’ ability to launch rockets and build tunnels will inevitably bog the IDF down in Gaza for an indefinite period, is of uncertain validity. The National Security Council should be charged with looking at alternatives to these assumptions.
I think many will agree that a repetition of the results achieved by Operation Protective Edge would not be considered a satisfactory result for Israeli security if another round of fighting breaks out. They will agree that regardless of whether you consider Protective Edge a success or failure, the next time around whatever needs to be done will have to be done in a matter of days, not weeks.
If there is another operation its objective will have to be to bring permanent quiet and tranquility to the Israeli civilians in the south. The formula proclaimed last time that “in return for quiet there will be quiet” in effect granting immunity to the Hamas leadership in Gaza may not achieve that objective.