Hamas wants to keep things temporarily calm in the Gaza Strip so it can strengthen itself going into the next round of hostilities. At the same time, it is also behind terrorism in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem, in an attempt to promote itself as the patron of all Palestinians. It’s building a military infrastructure in Lebanon to create additional arenas of conflict, possibly in conjunction with Hezbollah. Israel is playing into its hands when it comes to strategy, because of an addiction at the operative level to the tenuous “calm” on the Gaza border.
In the conditions created after Israel dealt a major blow to Hamas during “Operation Guardian of the Walls” in May, after the completion of the underground security barrier that limits Hamas’s abilities to carry out terrorist attacks, and after it turned out that the isolation of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Arab world gives Israel regional freedom of action, Israel has a convenient opportunity to quash Hamas’s rearmament and take out its leaders.
Since there is no chance of avoiding a military conflict in the long term, it would be better to take a chance and fight a relatively weakened Hamas, when it is convenient for Israel, than to wait until a stronger Hamas joins forces with Iran and Hezbollah at a time and in conditions that will make it difficult for Israel to divert the needed resources to defeating it. It’s also important to prove that the fact that a party from the Islamic Movement is part of the coalition does not give a pass to Palestinian terrorism.
Gaza is the only de facto state in the Arab world that is controlled, through broad consensus, by the anti-Semitic barbarians of the Muslim Brotherhood, who are addicted to killing Jews and indifferent to the fate of their own children. Israel and its Arab partners (primarily Egypt and Jordan) have a strategic interest in showcasing the failures of this tiresome and dangerous model in order to prevent other Arabs from adopting it.
The policy of strengthening Gaza’s “civilian” sector is short-sighted and damaging. Unlike other hostile entities—the Palestinian Authority and even Syria—Israel is playing a zero-sum game when it comes to Hamas. What is good for Hamas is bad for Israel, because it’s good for the Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza. The dumbfounding delusion regarding a “long-term agreement” (which sometimes even includes an artificial island and a sea port for Gaza) is reminiscent of the late Shimon Peres’s despicable assumption in the 1990s that if Israel left the Gaza Strip, it would transform into “Singapore.” All that was lacking was to replace the Gazans with industrious, productive Singaporeans.
Anyone who is hoping for an “agreement” like that, without simultaneously keeping Hamas from growing stronger, encourages its aggression and weakens Israel’s bargaining position. Hamas is stepping up its activity in Judea and Samaria, in Jerusalem, among Arab Israelis and in Lebanon, and Israel is making this policy worthwhile. It allows Hamas to balance the diversion of billions of dollars for the purpose of building its military with civilian aid provided by Qatar, permits allowing 10,000 Gazans to work in Israel, unprecedented easements on imports and exports to and from Gaza and the entry of infrastructure for fortification, war and terrorism disguised as “dual-use” materials, along with encouraging the Egyptians to ease their restrictions at the Rafah border crossing.
In addition to all this, Israel is strengthening Hamas’s bargaining position, which is strategically damaging and morally unacceptable, via its commitment to “bring the boys home.” In Gaza there are two bodies of fallen soldiers and two unfortunate captives who entered the Hamas-controlled enclave voluntarily. A deal that will bring them to Israel will lead to soldiers and civilians being killed by the terrorists released in exchange, and will encourage terrorism, like the irresponsible deal that freed captive soldier Gilad Schalit. Terrorists released under that deal have murdered dozens of Israelis, if not hundreds, and continue to kill.
This insufferable addiction to an illusion of calm blows up in Israel’s face time after time—the rioting of the Bedouin, which interferes with the lives of residents of southern Israel; the police’s helplessness in the face of Arab protection rackets in the north; the justified fear that riots in mixed cities will resume; the terrorists’ control of the prisons in the face of the Israel Prison Service’s weakness; forgiveness toward the terrorist acts committed by the Israeli “hilltop youth”; the avoidance of violence in the Arab sector; the acceptance of organized mass violence in Haredi society and the laughable sentences handed down by “merciful” judges, all of which encourage crime in Israeli society and in general.
A leadership that is afraid to confront violence is in effect responsible for spreading it, resulting in much harsher measures being ultimately required to combat it than were required when it first reared its head.
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.