The Israel Defense Forces has reached a dead end in the Gaza Strip. The defense minister and the prime minister are arrogantly threatening Hamas day and night with a painful reaction if the rocket fire doesn't stop. And the chief of staff has declared that "the IDF is powerful and ready to react, initiate and respond to any threat at any time."
But the bitter truth is that the army doesn't have a solution.
This year alone, around 1,000 rockets have been fired from Gaza at Israeli towns and villages, from Sderot and Ashkelon to Be'er Sheva. Hardly a day goes by without the alarm sending residents rushing to protected areas - but the IDF has no answer.
Sad to say, in the past decade the IDF has failed to deal with Hamas' and Islamic Jihad's rockets. What hasn't it tried? It has tried targeted killings, attacks on "infrastructure," artillery fire at militants launching rockets, a broad campaign in the Gaza Strip (Operation Cast Lead ), an anti-rocket system, and the reinforcing of thousands of homes at the cost of hundreds of millions of shekels. Only last week the prime minister pledged protection for every building within four and a half to seven kilometers of the Strip.
But despite all this, the launchings continue. In effect, it's Hamas that decides the rules of the game. When it wants to, it fires rockets, and when it wants to, it declares a lull. The initiative is with the other side and the IDF is forced to respond.
Chief of Staff Benny Gantz has hinted that this can't continue and there will be no choice but another big military operation in Gaza. Last November, Gantz told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee: "The recent repeated rounds of escalation, the injuries to people and the disruption to people's lives in the south create a situation where the IDF will have to carry out a significant attack in the Gaza Strip. We cannot continue with round after round." That was nearly a year ago. Since then there have been other "rounds," but the IDF hasn't entered the Strip.
The chief of staff is right not to have recommended another Operation Cast Lead. He is well aware that even a broad military operation in Gaza will not solve the rocket problem. It's reasonable to assume that the IDF would kill quite a few Hamas militants and maybe even capture launchers and rockets, but the firing would not stop. We must not forget that even during Cast Lead, during the actual fighting, Hamas continued to launch rockets. It even picked up the pace.
It seems the last thing Gantz wants is to occupy the Gaza Strip. And besides, what would happen when the fighting settled down? Would the IDF stay in Gaza and its surroundings? Probably not. And after it left, the situation would go back to square one. There is no substance to the claim that another broad operation is needed to deter Hamas. The illusion created by the top brass that Cast Lead strengthened Israel's deterrence has long been smashed.
It seems the time has come to change our way of thinking and realize that the IDF has reached a dead end. It's very possible that Hamas has found the IDF's Achilles' heel, and it's possible that no effective solution to the rocket problem is available.
Despite our tendency to believe that every threat has a military solution and that the IDF will always find an appropriate military response, the reality is much more depressing. It's hard to demand that the chief of staff tell the government that the IDF has failed and that no effective military solution is available to the rocket problem. But that's what he has to do.