While many claim Israel’s government has no strategy vis-a-vis Hamas, I’d say that it, or the prime minister at least, does have one. If we are destined to witness the establishment of a Palestinian state, says the strategy, then it must be in the Gaza Strip and only in the Strip. Such a state would comply with the various pressures to effect the “two-state solution.”
To prevent this state from expanding into Judea and Samaria, the government in Gaza must not fall into the hands of those who currently rule in Ramallah. The latter would claim sovereignty over both areas while Hamas, their bitter rival, would settle, even if after the fact, with sovereignty over the Strip. It follows that at this stage, when there is such profound hostility between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, Hamas must not be ousted from power. This, if you wish, is the main rationale behind Benjamin Netanyahu’s restraint in the face of the bitter diet Hamas has been feeding us since it came to power after the unilateral flight from Gaza in 2005 and the destruction of the Jewish communities there.
Not surprisingly, the one who is reading us right — even better than we do ourselves — is the enemy. Not just now and not just in Gaza. Aware that the Israeli aim in Gaza is a Palestinian state led by Hamas, not Fatah, it is confronting us, quite successfully, with a balance of terror. Yes, if Israelis are killed as a result of its provocations, Israel will embark on another large-scale military operation. But as in the past, Israel will limit the operation and avoid actions that could bring down Hamas. This is what happened in the previous three rounds of fighting, and this is what will happen in the inevitable next round.
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This is the only — and the correct — answer that Hamas can come up with when asking itself why Israel hasn’t hit the terror organization’s leaders, why it has furiously bombarded dummy targets but not the weapons workshops or the arsenals of rockets like the ones that Hamas fired this week at Be’er Sheva and at the Tel Aviv area. In return for the coddling, Hamas gives Israel just one thing in return: continued provocation. Over the past six months, it has also been trying to get Israel to pay for its strategy of enabling Hamas to stay in power, in part by getting it to consent to build infrastructure projects such as an airport and a seaport in the Strip. Should Netanyahu fail to agree to this (for now), Hamas will keep talking with him in the only language to which Israel responds: unceasing terrorism.
The Israel Defense Forces, say its commanders, is “ready and willing” for an operation that will take care of this terrorism. But if “ready and willing” means a rerun of operations Cast Lead and Defensive Shield, it will be just one more in a series of campaigns demonstrating Israel’s helplessness. The army has been fighting this terror organization for years, long enough to develop a different, surprising and effective combat doctrine that doesn’t merely repeat itself and that doesn’t necessarily entail occupying Gaza.
The IDF has the forces and the means to accomplish this without compromising the strategic objective the government has set. It is for this failure to come up with an operational response for ending Gazan terror that the army is being criticized by politicians and ordinary citizens. The criticism is well-founded, if often expressed with unnecessarily harshness. After years of endless spending on developing advanced, special-purpose weapons and on special forces units for the Gaza front, and in light of the enormous disparity in forces between the Israeli military and Hamas, it is not too much to ask the Israel Defense Forces to finally come up with operational measures to put an end — for years to come — to the suffering of residents of southern Israel, and of all Israelis.