The Israeli communities near Gaza are no longer the border of the violent conflict between Israel and Gaza. Towns in the Eshkol region, the cities of Ashdod and Ashkelon, and even Tel Aviv are well within the range of rockets, missiles and balloon-mounted bombs fired from Gaza.
The demand to respond forcefully against Hamas and Islamic Jihad doesn’t just stem from warmongering by right-wing politicians looking to reap political capital. It’s the desperate cry of people who can’t carry on with their everyday lives and go outside for work, school or entertainment due to the onslaught on their homes and towns. These are people who justifiably feel that the country isn’t upholding its part of the deal, its commitment to offer them stable, safe and anxiety-free living conditions.
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Some of them believe that only an onslaught that destroys Hamas and the other Palestinian groups will bring the quiet they deserve. Others note the uselessness of previous military operations that brought death and destruction, and how the relative quiet following the 2014 Gaza war – one of Israel’s fiercest, most destructive operations in Gaza – evaporated. Between these extremes lies the government, which is aware of the limits and risks of an all-out war against Gaza, just as it understands that the people are at the limits of their patience.
Israel’s government is relying heavily on praiseworthy Egyptian diplomacy. But Egypt doesn’t completely control the Palestinian groups in Gaza, and it can’t – and it’s not its job to – influence political conflicts in Israel. Egypt is an intermediary with important means of pressure, but the effectiveness of these tools is largely dependent on the obedience of Gaza’s groups, on wise Israeli policy, and on strategic planning that avoids war and ensures quiet in the south.
Israel’s prime minister must decide whether he wants to launch a bloody war of honor against Hamas, or solidify and expand the diplomatic and economic route, not as a gift or humanitarian gesture for Gazans but as a security strategy. The belief that the economic rehabilitation of Gaza – ending the closure and creating jobs for Gaza’s hundreds of thousands of unemployed – is “giving in to terror” or “yielding to Hamas” must be replaced by the view that Gaza’s distress and financial blockade are a security threat to Israel.
This may not be a popular policy at a time when Israel’s far-right parties are trying to force Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hand in every sphere, but given the failure of the military strategy, it’s crucial to give this policy a chance before we wind up at war.
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The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.