analysisIsrael at War

Israel must make it clear: The era of surgical strikes is over

The IDF should immediately create a 300-meter security zone on the Gazan side of the border and declare that any Palestinian entering places his life at risk.

Palestinians riot at the Israeli border fence, east of Gaza City on Aug. 21, 2023. Photo by Atia Mohammed/Flash90.
Palestinians riot at the Israeli border fence, east of Gaza City on Aug. 21, 2023. Photo by Atia Mohammed/Flash90.
Meir Ben Shabbat
Meir Ben Shabbat
Meir Ben Shabbat is head of the Misgav Institute for Zionist Strategy & National Security, in Jerusalem. He served as Israel’s national security advisor and head of the National Security Council between 2017 and 2021. Prior to that, for 25 years he held senior positions in the Israel Security Agency (Shabak).

Beyond the heavy cost in lives, the Hamas’s surprise offensive has dealt a severe blow to Israel’s image and deterrence. A comparison can be made to the damage al-Qaida inflicted on the United States in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that killed almost 3,000 people.

The attack carried out by Hamas has also fractured Israelis’ trust in the defense establishment. That is one of the goals of terrorism.

The time for hard questions, debriefings and drawing conclusions will come, but right now we need to devote all our efforts to the battle against Hamas and give our unreserved support to the commanders and soldiers, who, as they struggle to digest what has happened, will need to march bravely into battle.

They face many and complex challenges. The time dimension does not affect everyone equally, and therefore operations against the enemy should be conducted according to properly determined priorities and be conducted in a cool and calculated manner.

First, Israel needs to clear out any Hamas terrorists still inside Israel (an analytical reconstruction of the information and images we possess should be conducted to check the numbers and make sure no terrorists are left).

At the same time, we need to reestablish control of the entire length of the border, formulate a complete and reliable picture of the missing and those held hostage, and prepare for the possibility that additional Iranian proxies will join the fighting. We can assume that Hamas will attack Israel not just from Judea and Samaria but from Lebanon and other arenas.

The government should instruct the IDF to immediately create a 300-meter-wide (330-yard) security zone on the Gazan side of the border and declare that any Palestinian who enters this zone is placing his life at risk. The rules of engagement should be changed to reflect this.

Supervision of this security zone and the use of lethal fire can be conducted from the air and will not necessarily require a physical military presence.

Destroy Hamas’s power

With regard to the operation in Gaza, according to the statement put out by the Prime Minister’s Office, the aim is to destroy Hamas’s and Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s military and political power in a way that will negate their ability and desire to threaten and harm the citizens of Israel for many years to come.

Without getting into complex analyses, the first goal Israel must achieve in the Gaza campaign is to reduce the harm caused to its deterrence, by exacting a very high price from Hamas. Unfortunately, in our neighborhood, the price is determined primarily by the extent of the casualties.

The current circumstances not only justify but necessitate a departure from the policy of surgical strikes. While they provide precision and show Israel’s special capabilities, they require protracted and complex preparations and in any event cannot constitute a sufficient price tag for the severe attack carried out by Hamas.

In place of this policy, Israel should warn the civilian population in the Gaza Strip that, following the expiry of the ultimatum, Israel’s intentions are to launch a massive assault.

Israel should destroy everything connected to Hamas: the homes of Hamas operatives, government offices and offices belonging to the organization, institutions, banks, vehicles, generators, boats, warehouses and workshops.

The practice of “knock on the roof” (dropping low-yield devices to warn of an imminent full-scale bombing) should be suspended as it slows down the pace of operations, and the liaison office with Gaza should be closed.

Israel should see itself as freed from any responsibility for the economy of the Gaza Strip and the welfare of its residents. All border crossings with Israel should be shut down, including for fuel and goods, the electricity supply should be reduced to a minimum and the Strip’s internet and communications should be disrupted.

At the present time, Israel should refrain from dialogue with Egypt, which could be seen by Hamas as “putting an end to the event.”

Moreover, Israel should impose a complete closure on the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria, prevent the possibility of copycat terrorist attacks there, and focus military operations on Gaza.

It is also the right time to examine proposals to change the conditions of incarceration of security prisoners in Israel. The scale of Hamas’s attack provides legitimacy for Israel to take extraordinary measures. It would be wrong to operate with a timer running in the background or fearful of how the United States and the international community will react.

The important plans concerning Saudi Arabia should not be a restraining factor when it comes to Gaza. The Saudi street won’t react positively to Israel’s operations, but it will respect a powerful response to such a barbarian assault.

Originally published by Israel Hayom.

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