Who Will Demilitarize Gaza?

Many nations want Hamas to be disarmed, but the Israel Defense Forces will doubtless be left to do the dirty work. It is a task of paramount importance.

Moshe Arens
Moshe Arens
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Palestinian members of the Al-Qassam brigades, Hamas' military wing, December 7, 2012.
Palestinian members of the Al-Qassam brigades, Hamas' military wing, December 7, 2012.Credit: Reuters
Moshe Arens
Moshe Arens

There is a long list of countries that would like to see Hamas in Gaza disarmed. To rid this terrorist organization and its terrorist ally, Islamic Jihad, of the labyrinth of tunnels they have dug under the Gaza Strip, housing its command and control centers, its supply depots, and which serve as launching points for attacks against Israeli cities, towns and villages. To rid it of the thousands of rockets still in its possession, after having launched more than 3,000 rockets against Israeli civilians during the past four weeks, and of the manufacturing facilities for these rockets.

This list is obviously headed by Israel, which has had to deal with this arsenal of weapons in the hands of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and will have to contend with it in the future unless Gaza is demilitarized.

But in addition, there are many countries who realize that the existence of this arsenal in the hands of terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip constitutes a ticking time bomb that may go off at any moment and threaten the stability of the entire region. Among them are many of the region’s Arab countries, foremost among them Egypt. And, not surprisingly, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas would like nothing better than to see the Gaza Strip demilitarized. But who is going to bite the bullet and demilitarize Gaza?

It is not going to be the United Nations, and it will not be Abbas. The hope voiced here and there that Hamas will disarm, within the framework of a political agreement between Abbas and Israel, is a pipe dream. Or that, in return for large-scale economic assistance to Gaza, Hamas will abandon its war against Israel.

Hamas will not give up its weapons arsenal and terrorist infrastructure of its own free will. And none, except for Israel, is going to come forward to force Hamas to disarm. Only the Israel Defense Forces can demilitarize the Gaza Strip. If the IDF does it, it may well be applauded in many quarters, but it will have to do it alone.

It is a task that has to be accomplished quickly. The longer it takes, the more casualties there will be among the Palestinian population in Gaza; the greater the demands to put an end to the tragedy of the Palestinian population there by an immediate cease-fire – even if the task of disarmament has not been accomplished; and the higher the probability of another round of fighting and more tragedy in the future. Speed is of the essence.

By now, everyone has been disabused of the idea that terrorist organizations can be deterred from attacking Israel. The Cast Lead and Pillar of Defense operations, which did not finish the job – in the expectation that, after Hamas had been hit, it would be deterred from additional attacks against Israel – were sufficient proof of that.

The failed strategy that “quiet will be met with quiet” has hopefully been left behind. And one more concept that has been disproved in past operations against Hamas, as well as in the first eight days of Protective Edge, is that Hamas can be defeated by air power alone – it takes a ground operation supported from the air.

The success of the Iron Dome anti-missile interception system seems to have led to the conclusion that the primary danger Hamas poses to Israel is the underground tunnels leading from the Gaza Strip into Israel.

Actually, they are only one part of the Hamas offensive against Israel. To them must be added Hamas’ arsenal of rockets that send millions of Israeli civilians to the shelters daily, and Hamas’ command structure underneath Gaza hospitals, schools, mosques and UN facilities, directing the war against Israel.

Until this terrorist infrastructure is destroyed, Hamas attacks against Israel will continue.

Should Israel show itself to be unable or unwilling to complete the task of destroying Hamas, even those who have shown understanding and support for Israel in this war will lose patience and demand, with some justice, the cessation of hostilities that do not seem to be leading anywhere.

A number of arguments have been proposed against handing Hamas a total defeat. Most fall apart after scrutiny. The one that most impresses many Israelis is advanced as a question: What shall we do after we have defeated Hamas? No doubt, there will be many possibilities when the time comes, but let’s get there first.

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