Supporters of Israel’s 2005 disengagement from the Gaza Strip have claimed for years that the move bolstered Israel’s national security. That is a major point, one that lies at the heart of the current debate about whether Israeli presence in Judea and Samaria is vital to the security of the country. Do withdrawals have a positive or a negative effect on Israel’s strategic situation? And what, actually, is the criterion by which we measure security?
Those who justify the disengagement usually rest their arguments on two assumptions: 1) Since disengagement, there has been a sharp decrease in the number of terrorism casualties in Gaza; and 2) withdrawal to a “recognized state border” improved Israel’s diplomatic standing.
So let’s look at the figures. A report from Molad–The Center for the Renewal of Israeli Democracy notes that from 2000 to 2005, 162 people were killed in terrorist incidents that originated from the Gaza Strip, whereas in the decade after 2005 “only” 140 people were killed by terrorism from Gaza. The figures are used to prove that the withdrawal was a success.
But that is a biased, deceptive use of the data. The choice of the year 2000 as a starting point is problematic, since that was the year the Second Intifada erupted. There is no data available about the number of victims of terrorism originating from Gaza prior to the Second Intifada, but nationwide figures indicate that the pre-intifada period was much less deadly in general.
Throughout the 1990s, 344 Israelis were killed nationwide in terrorist attacks, compared to 1,178 in the decade that followed. The vast majority of those 1,178 were killed between 2000-05, the period Molad uses as a comparison.
Remember, the Second Intifada was the result of the Oslo process strengthening Fatah and Hamas and allowing them to entrench themselves in Palestinian cities. After the towns of Gaza were transferred to the PLO, Israel had limited control over what happened there. Terrorist groups in Gaza towns grew stronger, creating the major security challenge Israel was forced to contend with throughout the early 2000s, which led to the sense that Israel was being trapped in the Gaza Strip and ultimately prompted the decision to withdraw.
In Judea and Samaria, Israel took a different course: AS part of “Operation Defensive Shield” (2002), the army resumed maneuvers in Palestinian cities, and the terrorism that had emanated from Judea and Samaria was almost entirely stamped out.
Numbers from the Shin Bet security agency show that from 2005 to 2015, 88 Israelis were killed by terrorist attacks that originated in Judea and Samaria, far fewer than the number killed by Gaza terrorism in the years that followed the disengagement.
The statistics prove, therefore, that Israeli offensive actions and military control in Palestinian cities are more effective in eradicating terrorism than unilateral withdrawals.
Apart from that, security isn’t measured by the number of victims of terrorism alone. Most important is the level of deterrence. The potential damage a certain player could cause is the true reflection of their power, and can translate into political achievements, as well. In that sense, there is no doubt that Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza greatly strengthened Hamas. One need only look at the map of the increasing range of the group’s rockets in recent years.
If up until the disengagement Hamas rockets had a reach of 6 miles, that range was extended to 10 miles in the years following 2005—and Hamas rockets currently have a range that covers most of Israel.
Those rocket capabilities are much more reflective of the strategic balance between Israel and Hamas than the number of actual casualties.
The fact that the group has weapons that can interfere with flight traffic at Ben-Gurion International Airport, damage all Israel’s industrial areas and attack strategic infrastructure makes it a key player in the region, at a level unprecedented in the history of Palestinian terrorism.
In the years it has been in power in Gaza, Hamas has formed political and military ties with regional powers such as Egypt, Turkey, the Gulf states and Iran, and increased international involvement in its conflict with Israel.
On the whole, even the people who support the disengagement say that it brought only a marginal decrease in the number of victims of terrorism, while causing threats from the Gaza Strip to worsen significantly, to the point where they can only be addressed through lengthy and expensive ground operations, similar to the one Israel carried out in Judea and Samaria.
Akiva Bigman writes for Israel Hayom.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.