Although it is still too early to determine the viability of the ceasefire in the south, we can say definitively that Israel has shown beyond a shadow of a doubt that it wants Hamas to remain in power in the Gaza Strip, and that on the other side of the fence, after numerous pleas for a ceasefire, Hamas happily and satisfactorily accepted the Israeli decision. This time, Hamas has had the last word.
Since March, Hamas has dictated the pace of events in the south, while Israel has shown restraint, seeking a mechanism to give the residents of the south another year or two of “quiet.”
The Israeli rationale is based on four factors: The first is the self-deterrence fostered by IDF generals, who have presented the cabinet with nightmare assessments about retaking Gaza.
The second is concern about a group even more extreme than Hamas filling the power vacuum if Hamas is ousted.
The third is the desire to preserve the separation between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank as proof that it is impossible for Israel to talk with the Palestinians when Fatah and Hamas leaders cannot even talk to one another.
The fourth factor is the sensitive situation on the northern border, which is far more threatening and combustible and requires more attention and readiness than Gaza does.
All these are reasonable in their own right. We cannot, nor should we, tell the political echelon that it is leading us into the abyss—that is not true, not to mention hollow vilification, certainly from those who have been claiming for quite some time already that the prime minister is war-mongering to divert attention from his pending investigations.
With that, we cannot ignore some serious, fundamental problems, which are worsening with time, as Israel avoids taking off the gloves when it comes to Hamas.
Hamas schools the IDF
The first problem is the erosion of the IDF’s operational effectiveness. It is hard to understand how wayward groups can launch massive, well-timed, lethal rocket salvos against the sophisticated weapons, missile defense systems and intelligence systems in which taxpayers invest a fortune every year. More than troubling, this is simply embarrassing. It is safe to say that Hamas is convincingly schooling the IDF.
The second problem is the inability to detach from the entrenched paradigm in which everything must be done to avoid making Hamas feel it is in danger of losing power. It is hard not to snicker at the IDF spokesperson’s absurd announcement about destroying buildings and “significant” Hamas assets, even as they continued raining fire on us. This too is embarrassing beyond belief. The emerging picture is that we are simply irrelevant to Hamas.
The third problem is the inability to provide security or a sense of security to Israeli residents of the south. This is the most serious problem, and it fosters basic mistrust in the political and military systems. This is corrosive and seeps down, and it has long-term consequences, not least for the government’s plans to increase the population in the south and settle the Negev. The situation renders these plans immaterial.
Problematic message to Iran
The fourth and final issue is how Israel appears in the eyes of its other enemies, specifically Iran.
What do they glean from all that is happening here? They see a deterred government, a hapless army, civilians living without security. Those enemies are looking on happily and licking their chops. This gives them a great deal of motivation to continue developing their terrorist militias on our borders within the framework of their strategy of protracted attrition. This is very bad.
The government’s decision to accept a ceasefire with Hamas and seek an agreement may be logical, but its consequences,—particularly the IDF’s apparent helplessness—are embarrassing and disconcerting, and cause a great deal of confusion about why we are spending so much money when this is the result.
And beyond all this, we ask why we expelled thousands of people from their homes when this is what we get in return.
Col. (res.) Ronen Itsik is a former commander in the Armored Corps and author of “A Man in a Tank.”