For two days now, Israelis have been caught in an absurd trap; they have seen that the Gaza Strip has come to envelop Israel just as much as Israel envelops the Gaza Strip. Not only were many of them forced to stay home from school and work, and constantly feared a rocket strike, they also had to worry that Hamas would join in the conflict alongside Islamic Jihad and the clash would become an all-out war between Gaza and Israel.
This danger still exists. A fragile balance of deterrence exists between Israel and the Gaza Strip, and any upsetting of this balance has the potential to deteriorate into a protracted and pointless war. The Shin Bet security service and the Israel Defense Forces certainly demonstrated impressive capabilities in locating and killing Baha Abu al-Ata and his wife in a “surgical” operation, but the high economic cost and toll on morale brought on by this action only underscores the question of what exactly is gained by targeted killings. It has been clear for decades that assassinating terrorist leaders and commanders does not affect their organizations’ ability to strike at Israel, nor does it alter their policies. These are not cells that are dependent upon a single commander and will fall apart if that person is eliminated.
But in the absence of a policy aimed at finding a practical and agreed-upon solution with the Palestinians, the government is offering its citizens false substitutes such as targeted assassinations, collective economic punishment, draconian restrictions on movement and empty bluster about military power. The political leadership, the IDF and the Shin Bet themselves probably have little faith in the usefulness of any of these measures. The IDF has long stated quite clearly that there is no military solution to the Gaza problem. The Shin Bet has supported and continues to support easing of the blockade, and even the prime minister recognizes the need for at least an economic solution that will reduce the potential threat from Gaza, and was persuaded to allow an influx of millions of dollars to Gaza to enable Hamas to guarantee workers’ salaries and aid to needy families.
- Hamas deserves blame, but not for Gaza’s economic crisis
- Netanyahu can no longer pacify Gaza with Qatari cash and empty promises
- The Palestinian economy is collapsing. Its future depends on Israel
Hamas’s restraint, so far, from joining in the violent response from Islamic Jihad to the death of Abu al-Ata can be ascribed in large part to pragmatic considerations, chiefly its desire to preserve its standing as the group that can provide for the local population’s needs. This policy and Hamas’s consent to the cease-fire conditions formulated in Cairo, manifested in part by the prevention of rocket fire into Israel, shows that the equation of “economics in return for quiet” can work.
Israel, which has learned to distinguish between Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and is avoiding hitting Hamas targets this time, must expand the understandings and agreements with Hamas, give it the economic tools to run the Gaza Strip and lift the blockade that paradoxically ends up strengthening the most extremist movements. The present government has shown that it is incapable of this. Until it is replaced, Israelis will go on living between one rocket barrage and another.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.