In 2007, over 2000 Qassam rockets and mortars were fired on Israel
from Gaza. Sderot
has become a ghost town. For unfathomable reasons, the Israeli government is unwilling to invest in proper shelters for the people of Sderot. It is also unwilling or unable to negotiate with the Hamas
who control the Gaza strip, and yet at the same time is unwilling or unable to undertake a decisive military "solution."
At the same time, Israel has not been idle. Gaza, as Israel's opponents point out, has been under siege from land and sea. The Hamas and its allies expend extraordinary efforts to import arms and explosives via tunnels from Egypt, but food, fuel and medicine are in short supply. The IDF has not been idle either. Over 300 people were killed by IDF raids in Gaza in the four months following the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit in 2006. In November and the first half of December, about 53 people were killed in Gaza by IDF, of whom about 30-35 were probable terrorists. The IDF has preformed 115 targeted operations on Gaza in the last six months, killing some 300 terrorists, according to army sources. Not all IDF operations are directly related to stopping rocket fire. IDF raids in Gaza seem to be primarily aimed at stopping arms smuggling from Rafah in the south. Several Gazans have been killed when they approached too close to the security fence. In almost every case, the Israelis claim they were probable infiltrators, while the Palestinians claim they were innocent farmers or bird watchers.
Every other day in the past months, IDF Chief of Staff Ashkenazy and others have said that a large scale Gaza incursion is inevitable, drawing near, being prepared, imminent and about to happen (see here
, here here
). On alternate days however, other IDF personnel explain
that IDF is not ready for an incursion, that there would be many IDF casualties and that the political timing is not right.
This frustrating situation is ideal for internal political opposition, which can point out that the Israeli government has left the people of Sderot and other communities defenseless against rocket fire. It is also ideal for anti-Zionist propagandists, who can point out that Israel has killed, and is killing, a very large number of Palestinians, at least some of whom are civilians.
Those who clamor for drastic action now should take into account the following:
Controlling the area - Chief of Staff Ashkenazy gives as a rationale for an invasion that terrorists can only be controlled if IDF controls the area. But the Qassam rockets began falling before the disengagement, when IDF was in Gaza. IDF presence was not sufficient to deter the terrorists.
Massive retaliation - Armchair generals who advocate bombing square blocks of Gaza need to understand that apart from moral considerations, this is not an option. Carpet bombing of Gaza will surely isolate Israel completely in the international community, and unite the Palestinians behind the most militant leadership. Apart from that it would have no result except to intensify the terror attacks. Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists don't care about civilian casualties and suffering among their own people, except to use them for propaganda purposes, and they are not deterred by them in any way.
Casualty equations - Qassam rockets have killed about 12-14 people in all. Most of these were killed at the start of the Qassam fire before there was an early warning system and at least minimal civil defense precautions. A wide scale operation in Gaza would probably result in 15 -100 casualties initially. In addition, while IDF occupies Gaza there would certainly be casualties every week if not every day. Gilad Shalit would probably be killed, as the Palestinians have threatened, as well as initiation of more and bigger terror operations as long as they are able to carry them out. At the same time, based on the experience of Jenin and the Lebanon war, any Palestinian deaths would certainly be trumpeted around the world by the BBC, Human Rights Watch and the other usual culprits as a massacre on the scale of those committed by the Huns, and Israel would be pilloried by the media. The Photoshop artists of Reuters news service would be employed overtime to manufacture pictures of smoke-covered Gaza cities, and the UN Human Rights Commission would break all of its previous records for condemnations of Israeli human rights violations. It would be Christmas for John Dugard. It is easy to say "do something," but it is not so easy to know what to do.
On the other hand, we must take into account the probability that unless the situation in Gaza is brought under control, the terror groups will develop longer range and more accurate rockets, that could hit population centers and factories in Ashqelon for example, and cause a very large number of deaths.
Palestinian politics - Whatever the government of Mahmoud Abbas may be worth as a peace partner, it is certainly less bad than Hamas and Islamic Jihad. An Israeli invasion of Gaza would likely end the peace talks and the hope for Palestinian reform, and empower the more radical elements among the Palestinians. Those who think this is a "good thing" should take into account that this would mean a resumption of suicide bombings from the West Bank.
What if it doesn't work? - The possibility of failure must always be considered in any military operation. Those who discount the possibility of failure, should consider the Second Lebanon War. One always knows how the military operation starts, but one never knows how it will end. A failure would destroy Israel's deterrent and create a very dangerous situation. Therefore, any intervention in Gaza requires very careful very careful preparation and commitment in advance of sufficient resources to ensure success.
Need for total success - An operation such as IDF contemplates may be insufficient to solve the problem, and if the problem is not solved, it would certainly get worse. Control of the Philadelphi route and control of northern Gaza might or might not guarantee quiet. There would still be ways found to smuggle arms and explosives into Gaza, and in addition, the motivation to carry out terror attacks from the West Bank would increase. An operation should be undertaken only if there is a reasonable chance of actually breaking the Hamas and the Islamic Jihad in Gaza by apprehending and imprisoning or killing their leaders and most of their active members, and eliminating every vestige of their organizational infrastructure. Gaza is not like the West Bank. This would not be another Operation Defensive Shield.
What Next? - In the imagination of some, it is sufficient to occupy Gaza in order to guarantee success: "Mission accomplished." But Israel occupied Gaza since 1967. The Hamas was born and bred when Israel occupied Gaza. And for most of the time that Israel occupied Gaza, most Israelis who thought about Gaza at all were thinking of how to get out of there. If Israel reoccupies Gaza, it has to ensure that our troops are not pinned down there indefinitely, sitting ducks for Hamas or a Islamic Jihad or a successor organization. It is certain that Iran and Syria and Al-Qaeda will not give us a free pass in Gaza. If we destroy the Hamas, they will attempt to create something else. We had better know how we are going to prevent that before we go in.
In the future, perhaps Israel will really have a proper defense against Qassam and Katyusha rockets, though it is not certain how effective it will be, or how long it will take before it is fully operational. If it is effective, there is no doubt that terrorists will eventually find means to attack in other ways. Meanwhile, it is clear that Israel must end the suffering of the people of Sderot and put an end to the anarchic and dangerous situation in Gaza. Indeed, it should be a responsibility of the international community, and not just of Israel. But it is not clear how to do it. Intensified sanctions such as those favored by Defense Minister Ehud Barak are not going to weaken the hold of the Hamas on power. They have had no effect until now, and it is unlikely that they will in the future. Hamas simply doesn't care about its citizens and capitalizes on the economic hardships. The people are unable to do anything to influence their "government" or the terrorist groups that really make the decisions, and are apt as not to blame the situation wholly on Israel.
Negotiating with Hamas is not an option either. There is no deal imaginable in which Hamas would agree to end the smuggling of arms or preparations for its own wider assault on Israel. Any truce would clearly be just a dangerous postponement of the inevitable and would cost many more lives in the long run. It would also pull the rug out from under the moderate Palestinian government of Mahmoud Abbas.
Nonetheless, there are a number of things Israel and its supporters should be doing:
Protect Citizens - If the government cannot find an immediate solution for the Qassam rockets, it must protect the citizens of Sderot and other communities in the Western Negev by suitable civil defense measures including better shelters and fortified public places. There is no good explanation for why this has not been done. There cannot be higher priorities.
Make people aware of the situation - A recent Israel Project poll revealed that most Americans are totally unaware that 2000 rockets have fallen on Israel this year. Media have largely ignored the rocket barrages unless they produce casualties. The low casualty rates do not reflect in any way on the dedication of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad to murder. Palestinian terrorism is not less of a war crime because they have bad aim or because Israel has relatively efficient civil defense. Each of us needs to make sure that media report the story of Sderot and other communities victimized by the Qassams, rather than focusing exclusively on complaints about Israeli rights violations. The world, and in particular the US, cannot ask Israel to stand by indefinitely while Sderot and other communities are subjected to terror.
Use leverage and make the US answerable - A large share of the blame for the mess in Gaza rests with the United States. At US insistence, Israel evacuated not only settlements from Gaza, but also the IDF. This was contrary to the original disengagement plan. At US insistence, Hamas was included in the elections for the Palestinian authority. The US did nothing to stop Fatah from entering into the ruinous unity government with Hamas, at the urging of US ally Saudi Arabia. The US is anxious for a Palestinian state and a final settlement in 2008, but these goals are totally absurd as long as Gaza is ruled by Hamas. It is simply incredible that the Gaza situation was not even mentioned at the Annapolis meeting. When President George Bush comes here next month, he should be hearing about Gaza day and night, at every opportunity. If nothing else, Mr. Bush should be made to understand that if the situation in Gaza continues, the days of the Olmert government are numbered. It will be replaced by a militant right-wing coalition, that will not be interested in any peace process. Mahmoud Abbas is not the only one who can use the radicalization card.
You can also email the White house at firstname.lastname@example.org and politely tell President Bush why Gaza has to get top priority.
Gaza, we should remember, was supposed to be the model of the Palestinian state in the making. It is a very edifying model that has given us a very useful demonstration. Palestinians murder each other, fire rockets at Israel, and focus their energies on smuggling in armaments from Egypt. That is hardly an incentive for Israel to enter into peace negotiations.
Stopping Qassam rocket fire is important, but it is only treating a symptom. The goal in Gaza must be to end Hamas rule, restore orderly government, hold elections that exclude armed groups and those who are unwilling to abide by the peace accords, and make possible the flow of civilian goods between Gaza and the rest of the world, without the smuggling of arms and explosives. This general solution cannot be brought about by IDF action alone. It won't happen without international cooperation. In the absence of such cooperation, Israel will have to act to defend itself. That in itself would not be a solution, but it could stop the Qassam rockets for a while. But before doing so, Israel must make the world understand its case, and it must at least make an effort to get the United States and others to do their part.
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