“Israel need not necessarily take control of the Gaza Strip, but it must take control of the situation.” — Jerusalem Post editorial, Nov. 3, 2019
“I would like Gaza to sink into the sea, but that won’t happen, and a solution must be found.” — Former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Sept. 3, 1992
“ … beyond the furrow that marks the border, lies a surging sea of hatred and vengeance, yearning for the day that the tranquility blunts our alertness, for the day that we heed the ambassadors of conspiring hypocrisy, who call for us to lay down our arms.” — Moshe Dayan, at the funeral of Roi Rotberg, of Kibbutz Nahal Oz, killed by terrorist gunmen from Gaza, April 28, 1956
The Israel Defense Forces swept triumphantly into the Egyptian-ruled Gaza Strip in early June 1967 and pulled out ignominiously in mid-August 2005—erasing every vestige of Jewish presence there that had been lovingly and laboriously developed over the preceding four decades.
Gaza has been an almost constant source of consternation for Israel, well before it took over the Strip in 1967 (see opening excerpt). However, matters took a sharp turn for the worse, when, following the Oslo I Accords (1993) and the pursuant Gaza-Jericho Agreement (1994), facilitating PLO chairman Yasser Arafat’s entry into Gaza on July 1, 1994 to the cheers of jubilant crowds, whose expectant hopes of future prosperity and security were soon to be dashed.
Since then, in large part due to Israel first reducing and then totally withdrawing its presence on the ground, Gaza has evolved from being a terrorist nuisance to a threat of emerging strategic dimensions. Indeed, this week the Israel Broadcasting Corporation (Kan 11) ran an exposé on the ongoing global efforts by the external arm of Hamas to acquire advanced, high-quality weapon systems to intensify the battle against Israel.
Indeed, one of the few areas in which Gazans have shown considerable expertise and enterprise, ingenuity and innovativeness is in honing their production and procurement of weaponry, with which to assault the Jewish state—attaining military capabilities seemingly inconceivable when Israel embarked on its poorly conceived policy of transferring control of Gaza to the Palestinian Arabs.
Gaza: A bone in Israel’s throat
Gaza has obstinately defied the effort of successive Israeli leaders and the naive largesse of international donors.
The enduring nature of the Gaza predicament was succinctly articulated in an earlier Kan 11 exposé, “The Gazan Predicament” (Dec 2, 2018). It begins with a dour review of events in Gaza over last the quarter-century:
“When Israel left Gaza in 1994 and transferred control [over it] to Yasser Arafat, the [Israeli] decision-makers certainly did not believe that in 2018 [when the exposé was aired]—26 [sic] years later—the [Gaza] Strip would be one of the principal security problems of the State of Israel. Even the Disengagement that Ariel Sharon initiated in 2005, in which all the Jewish communities in the Strip were evacuated, was to no avail—and the problem of Gaza remained unresolved.”
Gaza has evolved from being a terrorist nuisance to a threat of emerging strategic dimensions.
Turing to the accumulation and enhancement of weaponry in the Strip, it noted: “The rise of Hamas to power and its continual armament procurement dragged Israel into unending military conflicts with Gaza and brought numerous cities and communities into the range of rockets with powerful warheads. Israeli leaders changed but the security “hot potato” of Gaza was passed on from one to the other … ”
Thus, Gaza has, indeed, remained an irksome “bone in Israel’s throat.”
The obdurate resistance of Gaza to any type of resolution has apparently led to such overriding exasperation and frustration that it has begun to undermine the quality of the public debate on the issue.
Typical of such garrulous gibberish was a recent editorial in The Jerusalem Post titled “Gaza policy.”
It bewails—with good reason—the current situation: “The situation should not be allowed to continue like this, with residents in the South held hostage to the whims of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other terrorist organizations.”
It then diagnoses: “One thing is certain—the lack of a coherent, comprehensive Israeli strategy regarding Gaza has taken its toll during the years since the Disengagement in 2005 and particularly since Hamas took control of the Strip two years later.”
This, of course, is complete nonsense. It is clearly not because Israel lacked any coherent policy–before or after disengagement—vis-à-vis Gaza. Indeed, the policies adopted were very coherent: (a) the pre-disengagement policy was based on the unequivocal belief that it was possible to reach a negotiated agreement with the post-Oslo Palestinian Authority; and (b) the post-disengagement policy was based on an equally unequivocal belief that it was not, and therefore unilateral unnegotiated measures needed to be taken.
Coherent, but misguided
The problem with Israeli policies was not that they were incoherent in the sense that they lacked internal logical consistency, but that they were misguided in that the assumptions on which they were based, were dangerously detached from prevailing Gazan realities.
So, although Israel’s policies were based on flawed assumptions—concordant with political correctness but sharply discordant with factual correctness—they were comprised of measures totally—or at least, largely—compatible with those assumptions and the pursuit of their desired goals. In this regard, they were indeed coherent. Sadly however, the elemental foundations on which they were based were defective. Accordingly, no matter how they were implemented, they were doomed to failure.
Both policies—bilateral negotiations and unilateral measures—conceived of the Gazan-Arab collective as a future partner, either in (a) a mutually beneficial peace (the former); or (b) an uneasy, but durable non-belligerent coexistence (the latter). Neither conceived of the Gazans as they conceive of themselves: as an implacable enemy whose collective raison d’être is to combat and cast out the infidel Zionist invader, or at least, to subdue him and compel him to submit.
In this regard, it is a dangerous misperception to view the Gazan public as somehow a hapless victim of its elected leadership; for it is, in fact, the crucible, in which that leadership was formed and from which it emerged.
Accordingly, any policy—no matter what its internal coherence—that does not conceive of the Gazan-Arab collective as anything else, is doomed to continuing failure.
Fusing the banal with the illogical
The Jerusalem Post editorial continues, warning that the recent unprovoked volley of rockets fired at Israel “… indicates Hamas might be losing its grip to more radical terrorist organizations, and that an internal struggle among these terrorist groups could result in them trying to gain points by attacking Israel or even trying to drag Israel into an escalated conflict.”
Accordingly, it assess that: “It is a matter of time before more rockets are launched and the country cannot rely on miracles and the quick responses of local residents finding shelter in time.”
Then, fusing the banal with the illogical, the editorial recommends: “The next government—regardless of who leads it—must form and implement a strategy regarding Gaza. This initiative needs to be both defensive and diplomatic.”
So the next government will have to have “a strategy regarding Gaza”? Gee, who would have thought? How profound! How insightful!
And that strategy should be “both defensive and diplomatic”? Really?!
One can only wonder, with some bewilderment, what kind “diplomatic” measures the editorial staff at the Post envisage Israel undertaking that it has not already undertaken. Sadly, the editorial offers not even the slightest hint of what the authors have in mind. Moreover, it is no less intriguing as to why they would believe that Hamas and its more radical affiliates (over which it “might be losing its grip”), would be moved by any conceivable diplomatic initiative, however creative and ingenious it may seem to Western minds.
But perhaps even more puzzling is the recommendation that Israel’s future strategy should be “defensive.” After all, Israel already has a wide array of “defensive” strategic initiatives—from a billion-dollar barrier to encircle Gaza, above and below the ground, to the multimillion Iron Dome and other missile-defense systems, to a land and maritime quarantine of Gaza.
One might wonder not only as to what ingenious defense mechanism or strategy the authors behind the Post’s editorial are contemplating that will be more effective than those already in place, but also why the Gazans will be less effective in circumventing it than they have been in the past.
After all, the pattern of violence in Gaza has been almost monotonously repetitive. Time and again, the Gazan terrorists have developed some offensive measure to assault Israel. In response, Israel devised some countermeasure to contend with it—defensive countermeasures that were designed to thwart the attacks, rather than prevent them being launched in the first place.
Thus, suicide attacks resulted in a security fence and secured crossings, which led to the development of enhanced rocket and missile capabilities, which led to the development of the vastly expensive Iron Dome air-defense system, which led to the burrowing of an array of underground attack tunnels, which lead to the construction of a billion-dollar subterranean barrier, which led to the use of incendiary kites and balloons that reduced much of rural southern Israel adjacent to the Gaza border to blackened charcoal (and only by luck did not result in the loss of life).
Perhaps the Post’s editorial staff are conjuring up in their minds some futuristic “force field” that will stop any overhead rocket or underground tunnel, block any incendiary balloon, explosive kite or armed drone, sink any vessel attempting to attack from the sea …
A cavalcade of failure
Virtually every kind of policy has been tried by Israel to resolve the Gaza conflict with or without the backing of third parties. As we have seen, the attempt to reach a negotiated resolution with the Gazans failed.
The attempt to defuse the conflict by unilateral concessions that gave the Gazans everything, which they could have demanded (and more) in a negotiated settlement, failed.
The attempt to placate Gaza by enhancing the socio-economic conditions with massive international aid also failed, as all the funds either found their way into the padded pockets of well-placed cronies or were channeled into expanding and upgrading weaponry and military infrastructure/installations at the expense of the civilian sector: schools, hospitals, housing and so on.
The attempt to constrain Hamas by weakening it—certainly, by disarming it—will undoubtedly result in making matters worse. After all, as the Post editorial notes itself, even now, Hamas is in danger of “losing its grip to more radical terrorist organizations.” Accordingly, if Hamas were to be significantly weakened—and certainly, if it were disarmed—the most plausible outcome would be that it would be replaced by an even more formidable foe with the probable backing of Iran, even less susceptible to “diplomatic and defensive” strategies.
It is this cavalcade of failed past policies that comprises the context in which future proposed strategies should be assessed.
In this regard, it is edifying to refer to recent threats, issued by Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar: “We have hundreds of kilometers of tunnels, hundreds of control rooms above and below the ground, thousands of anti-tank missiles and thousands of mortar shells … , ” warning that his terror organization can “strike at Tel Aviv for six full months [and] turn the enemy cities into ghost towns.”
Boasting of “70,000 armed young men from all the Palestinian factions,” Sinwar appears clearly unimpressed by Israel’s defensive abilities.
The Post editorial ends with a vain attempt to balance the dictates of prevailing political-correctness with some new, but unspecified, operational rationale: “Israel need not necessarily take control of the Gaza Strip, but it must take control of the situation.”
Whatever this means, it seems to be the archetypical example of the gratuitous gobbledygook that has come to dominate the discourse on Gaza.
For there is little alternative to Israel “taking control of Gaza,” and the blame for the blood and treasure that will be expended on that endeavor will rest entirely on those who urged Israel to leave the Strip.
Simple and compelling
After all, the foregoing analysis confronts Israeli policy-makers with almost mathematical algorithmic logic:
* The only way to ensure who rules (and does not rule) Gaza is for Israel to rule it itself.
* The only way for Israel to do this without “ruling over another people” is to relocate the “other people” outside the territory it is obliged to administer.
* The only way to effect such relocation of the “other people” without forcible kinetic expulsion is by economic inducements—i.e., by means of a comprehensive system of enticing material incentives to leave and daunting disincentives to stay.
What could be simpler or more compelling?
This then, should be the conceptual foundation of any new coherent strategy for Gaza.
Martin Sherman is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.
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