The Limits of Deterrence

In the absence of any alternative leadership in Gaza, Israel would be better off recognizing that the deterrence formula has limits and adopting the mechanism of informal agreements instead.

Haaretz Editorial
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Haaretz Editorial

The State of Israel is not entitled to let thousands of its citizens live under fire. The dispute is over how the state should achieve this goal.

Until now, successive governments have operated according to an almost fixed model: For every rocket launch or attempted attack from the Gaza Strip, Israel responds in various ways, from targeted killings of terrorists through the assassination of Hamas' political leaders, aerial bombings, ground incursions, building a fence around the Strip, imposing a stringent blockade on it, reinforcing houses in communities near the border and developing missile interception systems, to conducting indirect negotiations with Hamas.

Some of these measures have succeeded in stopping the rocket fire for a limited time, and some have kept lives from being lost. But the goal of permanently and completely deterring the Gaza terrorist organizations from attacking Israel hasn't been achieved.

The creation of a buffer zone between Israel and Gaza, located inside the Gaza Strip, has also turned out to be a source of dangerous friction. Hamas views this area as part of the territory under its control and has been working to counter Israel Defense Forces operations there. The IDF, for its part, views this area as an open-fire zone under Israel's control. From here, as the current round of violence makes clear, the way is short to a war for control over this security zone.

In its war on terror emanating from Gaza, Israel is still imprisoned in the deterrence equation, which assumes that use of greater force will lead to a more submissive enemy, and that assassinating Hamas' political leadership will destroy the organization, or at least its motivation to continue fighting Israel. Operation Cast Lead in late 2008 admittedly provided temporary support for this aggressive worldview, though at a high moral price. But the operation's effect has since lapsed.

In contrast to this worldview, the indirect dialogue with Hamas, via Egyptian mediation, has actually proven its ability to achieve periods of calm and even cooperation in the battle against terrorist organizations that see shooting at Israel as a way of undermining Hamas' control over Gaza.

In the absence of any alternative leadership in Gaza, and at a time when the use of force is achieving only partial results, Israel would be better off recognizing that the deterrence formula has limits and adopting the mechanism of informal agreements instead. Tough talk and escalation won't ensure quiet for residents of the south. Thus recognizing the limits of deterrence isn't a blow to Israel's prestige but a strategic necessity.



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