What Next in Gaza? / A Rocket and a Hard Place

The best way to describe Israel's military situation vis-a-vis the Gaza Strip is "between a rock and a hard place." In order to put a complete end to the Qassam rocket attacks, we must occupy the Gaza Strip and stay there, and assume responsibility for the administration over a large Palestinian population. Some have correctly described this scenario as "taking over a cesspool." However, under the current political-security circumstances, Israel cannot distance itself from the Gaza Strip. For years, the Qassam rockets were neglected, and it is only a matter of time before one strikes a sensitive target in Israel, causing many casualties and serious damage.

The cabinet held discussions yesterday about possible military responses in the Gaza Strip. The Winograd Committee would have certainly been pleased with the discussion - one that was not held on the eve of the Second Lebanon War. But it was also a strange discussion. In order to preserve secrecy, it was agreed that the discussion would be held by the security cabinet. The minute the meeting was set, nearly every possible alternative available to the IDF was released to the public. Most of the ministers told the media which military option they favored. The only thing that was missing was an invitation for a Hamas representative to attend. Nearly everything is open to the public on both sides of the border.

It is important that we know a number of basic facts regarding the situation in the Gaza Strip:

The rivalry between Hamas and Fatah in the Gaza Strip was essentially decided in favor of Hamas. Proof of this is that for some time now, Fatah leaders in the Gaza Strip have avoided spending the night in their homes. They do not feel safe in Gaza. This does not mean that Ismail Haniyeh, the Palestinian Authority prime minister and a Hamas member, is in control there. He does not decide to launch Qassam rockets, and cannot prevent them. The military wing of Hamas, the various clans and the Islamic Jihad decide when and how many to launch. Some of them fire rockets at Israel, and others are busy killing each other. The assassination of opponents has become a Palestinian hobby. Their fingers are quick on the trigger, and there are certainly some who are willing to destroy the border crossings, the lifeline of Gaza's population.

The IDF and the residents of the Gaza envelope towns need to be more careful given the risk of Palestinian militants trying to carry out abduction raids. Palestinian plans to gain the release of thousands of prisoners in return for Gilad Shalit have failed so far, so they are looking for another abduction. Vigilance is important, but Israel also needs better intelligence.

The claim that the IDF is pressing the government for permission to carry out a large military operation in the Gaza Strip is the invention of someone who does not know the facts, and is being continuously repeated. The IDF would like to be permitted to improve its operations in different parts of the Gaza Strip and to be authorized to broaden its objectives. These requests are, for the time being, restricted to the tactical levels. Therefore, there is no need to "rescue" the government from the IDF allegedly pressing for a new war. Similar authorization was granted two weeks ago, when IDF forces began operating deeper in the Gaza Strip, along the border fence, in cases where Palestinians were trying to lay explosive devices or launch Katyusha rockets.

The great operational difficulty lies in preventing the smuggling of weapons, explosives and ammunition into the Gaza Strip. In this case as well, there are no magic solutions. The Philadelphi Route and parts of the city of Rafah could be reoccupied, but anyone who wants to prevent smuggling will also have to stay there. The threat of rockets from the Gaza Strip will undoubtedly increase in the future, in terms of their range, impact and possibly also accuracy.

One of the conclusions from the cabinet meeting yesterday is that the military threat coming from the Gaza Strip has no solution in the near future. The IDF will be authorized to take more aggressive measures, including assassinations that include clearly political targets. Unless, of course, there is a sharp change, and then we will also see the deployment of ground forces in specific locations, but not an occupation of the Gaza Strip.