The rocket that hit Moshav Mishmeret on Monday is apparently about to bring about a “powerful response,” as the prime minister puts it. What sort of force does the IDF intend to use? What is the goal? Will it be liable to drag Israel, at the height of a dramatic election campaign, into a protracted operation whose beginning is known to all but whose end is known to no one? Will one rocket that wounded civilians require putting all residents of Gaza border communities at risk, the people exposed on a daily basis to attacks by incendiary balloons, in addition to the people living in the cities of Be’er Sheva, Ashdod, Sderot and Ashkelon?
The automatic response expected of the Israeli government and the IDF, based on a zero-tolerance concept with regard to attacks on Israeli communities, is understandable. A sovereign state cannot allow itself to come under attack. But Israeli citizens cannot ignore the state of war which their nation already is in, despite it being a low-intensity war, a war with organizations engaging in terrorism that doesn’t cause mass casualties.
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At the moment there is no realistic diplomatic solution to this warlike reality. The peace process with the Palestinian Authority has been frozen for several years and there are no chances of holding any diplomatic dialogue with Hamas. The most that Israel can aspire to is an extended period of calm that doesn’t ensure we’ll ever win any agreed upon, final resolution of the conflict. And in fact Israel and Hamas, under praiseworthy Egyptian mediation efforts, have succeeded in achieving periods of temporary calm from time to time, forged on the basis of a working assumption that neither side has an interest in escalating their campaign.
This assumption is still valid. As part of these efforts, Israel has agreed to let tens of millions of Qatari-donated dollars reach Gaza. The Israeli government, IDF and Shin Bet have already made the calculation that even a limited degree of economic well-being can improve the chances of sustaining a military calm. But it would be a mistake to see this aid as providing any magical, long-term solution for the circumstances of the residents of Gaza, and for Hamas’s capability to control rival groups that seek to shatter the calm.
Large-scale military operations such as 2012’s Pillar of Defense and 2014’s Protective Edge achieved periods of calm, but the need to launch such operations again and again shows that they alone cannot guarantee our security. There is no reason to believe that one more military campaign, as large and violent as it would be, could produce any greater outcomes than what its precursors have achieved.
In light of the huge pressure on Israel at this time, the government must reconcile its aspiration to punish, avenge the rocket fire and demonstrate its determination to restore deterrence with a recognition of the uselessness of launching any large-scale military action. The aim is to achieve calm, not to bog the country down in yet another war.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.
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