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A more threatening stick, with baby carrots

Israel must not fall for the illusion of a long-term diplomatic arrangement with Hamas.

A Hamas rally in Beit Lahiya in the Gaza Strip, on May 30, 2021. Photo by Atia Mohammed/Flash90.
A Hamas rally in Beit Lahiya in the Gaza Strip, on May 30, 2021. Photo by Atia Mohammed/Flash90.
Dan Schueftan
Dan Schueftan

The frustration is understandable. Those who have convinced themselves that “there is no military solution” for the Gaza Strip are beginning to buy into the illusion of a “long-term diplomatic arrangement,” because otherwise “we would have to keep fighting over and over again” and because we “have failed to accomplish anything” in previous flare-ups.

That’s just wrong. We better get used to the frustration generated by Gaza: It’s unpleasant, but not terrible. Over the past 100 years, we have built a strong and prosperous state even as we established a forceful deterrence and engaged in occasional conflicts with our enemies. If and when it is needed, we will continue to engage our enemies over the next 100 years—on much better terms. One can hope things will continue to improve as time goes on.

Those who want to worry about something truly disconcerting should look at the Iranian nuclear threat. This poses a much greater challenge, but not an insurmountable one. When it comes to Gaza, we need to strike and deter, and this can be done alongside various economic measures. There is no reason to block European or American financial aid to the Strip, but Israel must not orchestrate such an initiative. Israel must also take aggressive action to prevent the Muslim Brotherhood, Turkey and Qatar from taking Gaza under their wings. In other words: Israel’s deterrence must be upgraded; alongside a more threatening stick, Israel can offer baby carrots.

If it were possible to stop Hamas from being violent, perhaps a more thorough rehabilitation plan would make sense. But armed conflict to destroy the Jewish state is what lies at the very core of the movement and its many supporters. Only the ignorant or self-deceiving could believe we’re talking here about “a minority of extremists who have taken their people hostage.”

While there is a grain of truth to this concept when it comes to Iran, it is not the case in Gaza or, to a large extent, even in the West Bank. No wonder Hamas was looking forward to the now-canceled Palestinian elections. They were confident they would win because they have the support of the people. “The resistance” comprises the twisted reality Palestinians live in. Rather than investing in their children’s future, Hamas took billions of dollars in aid and used them to build tunnels and rockets.

Israel must no longer let Hamas gain strength. The terrorist organization’s endorsement of a ceasefire serves only one purpose: to buy time so that it can build more lethal force that would be at its disposal if hostilities break out again.

Jerusalem must change the rules of the game: It will take out Hamas’s arsenal at a time of its choosing, without waiting for a provocation. There may be pushback from the European Union, and the Biden administration might allow the United Nations to target Israel, but the vital strategic benefits would come at a manageable cost.

The government can force Hamas to become heavily dependent on Egypt, which understands the dangers of the terrorist organization and is afraid that this offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood could get its hands on weapons capable of reaching Cairo.

Israel and other moderate forces in the region are engaged in a zero-sum game with Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. Whatever is good for them is bad for us. There is an Arab “state” in Gaza, which is ruled by radical, violent and reckless Islamists. Showcasing their failures would bode well for Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and even the Palestinian Authority. Washington and Brussels may be wedded to the “rehabilitation” illusion but Jerusalem should rethink its approach.

Dan Schueftan is the director of the International Graduate Program in National Security Studies at the University of Haifa’s National Security Studies Center.

This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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