Opinion |

How to Prevent a Gaza Explosion

A military incursion that ends the rule by Hamas and other extremists isn't the only possibility

Ephraim Sneh
Ephraim Sneh
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A Palestinian boy drinks tea outside his family's house on the outskirts of the Khan Yunis refugee camp, Gaza, January 5, 2018.
A Palestinian boy drinks tea outside his family's house on the outskirts of the Khan Yunis refugee camp, Gaza, January 5, 2018. Credit: Khalil Hamra / AP
Ephraim Sneh
Ephraim Sneh

All assessments indicate that the Gaza Strip is on the verge of an explosion. The economy has recently deteriorated even further, and what’s left of Gaza’s business sector is having problems because of the people’s growing poverty. All this is taking place amid a decreasing supply of electricity, drinking water and health services.

Hamas, under the cover of the fake reconciliation agreement with Fatah, has effectively abdicated civic and administrative responsibility for what happens in the Strip. The organization withdrew because it knows where things are heading. When a dense population lacks food and water and has no heat in the winter, the explosion is inevitable. It’s only a matter of time. The explosion will be aimed at us in Israel, and rocket fire isn’t the only possible scenario, or the worst one.

Actually, Hamas’ military wing and security apparatus are the ones who control events in Gaza. They hold the power. The Palestinian Authority can’t rule in the Strip, and there’s no point in it trying to do so. Its men would be humiliated in the first military confrontation.

No investor will come near Gaza now that Hamas has turned it into a launching pad for rockets hidden under 2 million poor people, so there’s no horizon for Gaza to rebuild economically. As long as the flag of the “resistance” – as Hamas calls the ideology of hatred and terror – flies above Gaza, its people are condemned to poverty and destruction. It’s impossible to advocate the annihilation of Israel, to strike at it incessantly, and not expect a response from the Israel Defense Forces.

The only force in the Middle East capable of dealing with Hamas’ military power (and of course, the Salafi groups and Islamic Jihad) and really disarming it is the IDF. We’re talking about a long and difficult operation, although not the occupation of the entire Strip, despite the dire predictions sometimes made. Such an operation is worthwhile if it ends Hamas’ rule in Gaza, eliminates the terror base now around a kilometer from Sderot and only a few kilometers from Ashkelon, and a leads to a diplomatic and economic solution that involves the region’s Arab states.

The new governing address in Gaza, to be recognized and supported by the international community, will be the PA. There is no true and permanent solution to Gaza’s troubles except for a comprehensive military, diplomatic and economic arrangement.

The Israeli government isn’t interested in such an arrangement. It will do anything so that an agreement, which in the end would involve giving up territory in the West Bank, doesn’t happen. That’s why over the past 10 years no effort has been made to eliminate Hamas’ military forces in Gaza. So long as this is the Israeli government’s position, Hamas will continue to control the Strip.

So what can be done? First, we must prevent pointless casualties among our soldiers. If a military operation has no strategic purpose, it shouldn’t be launched. Any operation that doesn’t end with the elimination of Hamas’ military power – a worthy strategic goal – doesn’t justify casualties. It should be avoided. The only deterrence likely to influence Hamas’ leaders is a direct hit on them. If we’re going to do this, logic dictates that we should dismantle their power base, which the government has avoided doing.

Israel can delay the Gaza explosion – and its postponement is also a worthy objective – if it launches an initiative to ease the suffering and poverty of Gaza’s residents. Such an initiative carries no military price and would improve Israel’s global image. This could include supervised options for employment in Israel and the supply of additional electricity, gas and desalinated water. The defense establishment has such plans; it just needs the courage to implement them.

Ephraim Sneh is chairman of the Center for Strategic Dialogue at Netanya Academic College and has served as a minister and deputy minister.

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