In a jaw-dropping display of irony, on Wednesday the Neve Dekalim Girl’s High School was forced to cancel a scheduled celebration to mark its 40th birthday.
Since 2005, the school has been located in Nitzan, around 30 kilometers outside Gaza. For its first 22 years, it was located in Neve Dekalim, the capital of the Gush Katif settlement bloc in southern Gaza. The school moved to Nitzan when the Sharon government ordered the IDF to expel all Jews from Gaza, destroy their communities and withdraw IDF forces to the 1949 armistice lines.
On Wednesday, Nitzan, like all the other communities in the western Negev, came under missile assault from the ruins of Neve Dekalim and the ruins of the other destroyed communities of Gaza. After Israel withdrew 18 years ago, Hamas and its fellow terror groups transformed what had been flourishing communities into terror bases and rocket launching sites.
Islamic Jihad, which is currently attacking Israel with rockets, missiles and mortars, is supposedly Hamas’ junior partner. But even as a junior terror master, the organization formed by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps in 1988 has become a formidable problem. With rockets and missiles capable of attacking Tel Aviv, Beersheva and their environs, the supposed little guy in Gaza managed to shoot off close to 600 missiles, mortars and rockets in two days and force more than two million Israelis to run to bomb shelters for cover. The wizened experts sitting in the TV studios all explain that Israel is right to try to keep Hamas out of things, because if we think Islamic Jihad is a problem, their capabilities are but a faint echo of Hamas’ amassed power.
It is considered impolite to discuss the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza these days. It’s old news. Time to move on, irritated anchors and editors insist. And anyway, no one wants to sound like a broken record. That’s why the story of Neve Dekalim Girl’s High School barely registered on Wednesday.
But from time to time, it’s imperative to bring up the 2005 operation. It stands as a glaring lesson that we ignore at our peril.
For all the misery that Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah terror forces in Gaza rain down on Israel—particularly on the western Negev communities—the fact is that Gaza is a sideshow. Lebanon, Judea, Samaria and even Syria are also sideshows. The main event remains Iran, its nuclear weapons program and its rising power in the region. Israel’s main effort has to be focused on Iran—not on its puppets. Without Iran, none of them would be anywhere near as dangerous as they are today.
Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the rest in Gaza would be reduced to dependence on Turkey and Qatar alone. And while their support is significant, Iran is the real engine for their military expansion and power. Iran is the reason that Islamic Jihad is running its third campaign against Israel in two years, and it began the current round with a full arsenal of missiles.
It is because of the withdrawal that the sideshow in Gaza is much bigger and far more dangerous than the sideshow in Judea and Samaria. Although Palestinian terrorists in Gaza and Palestinian terrorists in Judea and Samaria are equally committed to murdering Jews, only the ones in Gaza have missiles, rockets and mortars to shoot off at will at Israeli civilians.
IDF forces in Judea and Samaria work day and night to round up terrorists and seize their weapons and ammunition stores. Whereas Gaza has nearly unlimited access to weapons through its border with Egypt, Israel controls the international border with Jordan.
In 2022 alone, Israel intercepted smuggled weapons intended for Palestinian terror groups at the border with Jordan 570 times. True, the number of shooting attacks in Judea and Samaria skyrocketed last year from 12 in 2021 to 41, and the number of rock-throwing attacks also increased dramatically. But Israeli forces prevented far more attacks last year than it failed to prevent.
In Gaza, Israel has no such capabilities. Since Israel withdrew, it lost all capacity to block weapons transfers to Gaza from Egypt. As for operations inside Gaza, five years ago, Lt. Col. Mahmoud Hir a-Din, a commander in Israel’s elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit, was killed in a botched operation in Khan Yunis in southern Gaza. That failed mission, by the IDF’s most elite unit, demonstrated just how difficult it is for ground forces to operate in Gaza. In contrast, units carry out operations every day throughout Judea and Samaria.
In the months leading up to Israel’s withdrawal, Ariel Sharon, his allies and the media sold the public a number of fables. They insisted that Israel would be more secure without Gaza because its defensive lines would be more defensible. They said that the international community would side with Israel against the Palestinians if they dared to attack after Israel withdrew. They said Gaza would turn into Singapore, as the Palestinians would embrace their independence and build a flourishing state. The state-of-the-art greenhouses Israel left behind for them would place them on the road to economic prosperity. When Palestinians in Judea and Samaria saw the Gaza success story, they would be inspired by the model and set down their rifles too.
None of these promises came true. The U.N. continuously accuses Israel of war crimes for defending itself against Gazan aggression. The media continue to attack Israel as evil. Europe, the U.N., the international media and the U.S. Democratic Party all insist that Israel “still occupies” Gaza and is responsible for the welfare of its residents who went to the ballot box and freely chose to be ruled by Hamas terrorists in 2006.
The Palestinians burned the greenhouses. Gaza’s financial model is to attack Israel, absorb airstrikes, plead poverty and wait for the U.N., the E.U., Qatar, Turkey, Egypt and untold other anti-Israel entities to rush in to save their economy. Even the U.S. has been brought into the game. The campaign to deny Israel’s right to exist has massively expanded since Israel withdrew from Gaza.
On the other hand, every single warning that withdrawal opponents sounded has been borne out. Every single one. Opponents of the withdrawal warned that Hamas would take over from the Palestinian Authority. They warned that Iran would come in. They warned that Israel would have to face missiles on Tel Aviv. They said that Hamas would turn Gaza into Afghanistan.
They said that no one in the global media would give Israel a break after the withdrawal. The U.N., the E.U., their assorted agencies, the progressive global NGO network and all the other usual demonizers would simply step up their game. And they did. In 2005, it was considered extreme to deny Israel’s right to exist. Now it’s the default position in universities throughout the U.S. and Europe. A growing Congressional caucus agrees.
Then there is Iron Dome. To protect itself from the tens of thousands of rockets, mortars and missiles that the Palestinians in Gaza have attacked it with, while avoiding admission of the fact that the withdrawal was a disaster on every level, Israel developed the Iron Dome system. Iron Dome does a decent job of intercepting the missiles, rockets and mortars. But it is also expensive and Israel doesn’t have enough batteries. Every Iron Dome missile costs $100,000. Since Israel agreed to have the production lines in the U.S., rather than Israel, with the anti-Israel caucus ascendant in the Democratic Party, Israel can no longer trust that its missile stores will be replenished in an automatic and timely manner. On the other hand, there are no Iranian versions of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and J Street in Tehran holding up the resupply of Hamas and Islamic Jihad missile stores.
The left doesn’t want to talk about the withdrawal from Gaza. They have worked for 18 years to shove it down the memory hole, because they want to repeat the experience in Judea and Samaria. Commanders for Israel’s Security is a massively funded remake of Commanders for Peace and Security, a group of far-left retired IDF brass that campaigned for the withdrawal from Gaza. Like their predecessor, CIS insists that to survive, Israel must withdraw as well from Judea and Samaria. CIS is joined in its efforts by groups like the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), which passes itself off as Israel’s premier national security think tank. University professors, strategic consultants, 90% of the Israeli media and their counterparts in the U.S. and Europe all parrot the same lines. They all make the same promises and threats. They insist that Gaza is irrelevant. We have nothing to learn.
But reality doesn’t care how much money you have in your bank account, how many prizes you win from your friends or what your rank was when you retired from the IDF. The withdrawal from Gaza stands as a warning.
The opponents of withdrawal got it completely right. The advocates of withdrawal got it completely wrong. And it is imperative that we learn the lesson.
In 2005, Gaza was a nuisance. Today it is a tactical mess with no good solutions. Today Judea and Samaria are manageable, albeit challenging tactical threats. If Israel is ever foolish enough to listen to the “experts” and walk away, it won’t be a tactical mess. With easy access to Israel’s population centers and strategic nerve centers, an independent Palestinian entity in Judea and Samaria that looks like Gaza (and it will look like Gaza) will be a hundred times more dangerous than Gaza is today.
Probably Neve Dekalim Girl’s High School will reschedule their festivities for after another ceasefire is reached. Graduates and families from the past 40 years will come together and celebrate. They will go on, as all of us have for 18 years since the withdrawal and expulsion. But even as we move forward, we have to look back and recognize the truth. The withdrawal from Gaza was an epic, predictable and predicted failure. It brought catastrophe on the country. It must be recognized for what it is and we must never, ever repeat the mistake.
Caroline B. Glick is the senior contributing editor of Jewish News Syndicate and the host of the Caroline Glick Show on JNS. Glick is also the diplomatic commentator for Israel’s Channel 14 as well as a columnist at Newsweek. Glick is the senior fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs at the Center for Security Policy in Washington and a lecturer at Israel’s College of Statesmanship.