Gaza: An Opportunity Missed

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Israeli troops near the Gaza border, August 3, 2014.Credit: Reuters

In baseball you’re out after three strikes. In the fighting against Hamas, Israel already has accumulated three strikes: operations Cast Lead (2008-09), Pillar of Defense (2012) and now Protective Edge. It is not out by a long shot, because the war is not over and you can bet your life that Hamas will come back a fourth time. Israel will get another chance. It is only a question of time.

In the last operation, Israel could have hit a home run and scored a victory, but instead the Israeli government snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. And at what a cost!

Facing Hamas – a small terrorist army – the Israel Defense Forces disposed of overwhelming force, but settled for a war of attrition, waiting for Hamas to agree to a cease-fire.

It would take a psychiatrist to explain how the government and so many media commentators were led down the proverbial garden path to a policy of hesitation, having become the captives of a number of inane slogans. These included:

The days of victory and defeat on the battlefield are over – tell that to the Marines and Ghassan Alian, commander of the Golani Brigade.

You cannot defeat terrorists by force – tell that to the soldiers who carried out Operation Defensive Shield in the West Bank 12 years ago.

If the IDF were to enter Gaza, we would not know how to extricate it from there. We may know how to get in, but we won’t know how to get out – tell that to all the armies who conquered enemy territory without knowing under what circumstances they would leave it. Tell it to those who decided to cross the Suez Canal during the Yom Kippur War, without knowing how they were going to leave the territory.

The basic calculus of warfare seems to have escaped our leaders: the shorter the war, the smaller the number of casualties on both sides. Whatever had to be done should have been done quickly, and the IDF had the capability to do just that – enter the Gaza Strip, and defeat Hamas and destroy its war-making potential.

To that idea, some put forth the puzzling theory that if Hamas were to be destroyed, it would be replaced by something still worse. Better to keep Hamas in its place, they concluded. Just who that something worse could be, and how much worse things could get, was never explained.

But the overriding argument against defeating Hamas was the “keep out of Gaza” theory. Conquering Gaza would, it was said, involve an unimaginable number of casualties. Once there, we would presumably be saddled with the responsibility for taking care of the population and would not find a way out. We would be stuck with Gaza. Therefore, no matter how many rockets and mortar shells Hamas launches against Israel, and no matter how long they continue their attacks, the IDF should not conduct a major operation in the Gaza Strip, went this theory.

As a matter of fact, the political constellation was particularly favorable to Israel. Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian Authority were eager to see Israel defeat Hamas. The same is probably true for many countries in the West. Once Hamas was defeated, there would have probably been a number of countries eager to participate in the reconstruction of Gaza and provide relief for the population there, thus not placing the burden on the IDF. Under these circumstances, the IDF would have been able to leave Gaza gracefully.

It could have been the beginning of a successful campaign against the fanatical Islamic terror spreading its tentacles through the Middle East, threatening not only Israel, but also many Arab countries. It could have been the beginning of Israeli-Arab cooperation in the war against terror. Many must have watched in dismay seeing that the IDF did not seem capable of taking on this small terrorist army, and were surely disappointed.

It was an opportunity missed. Better get ready for the next round.

Reserve soldiers returning to Israel from Gaza Strip.Credit: AP

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