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OpinionIsrael-Palestinian Conflict

Israel’s stark option: Arabs in Gaza or Jews in the Negev?

If back in 2005, on the eve of the “disengagement,” some far-sighted individual had predicted that reality would be as it is today, his caveats would have been disdainfully dismissed as unfounded scare-mongering.

Martin Sherman
Martin Sherman
Martin Sherman spent seven years in operational capacities in the Israeli defense establishment. He is the founder of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), a member of the Habithonistim-Israel Defense & Security Forum (IDSF) research team, and a participant in the Israel Victory Project.

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”Albert Einstein

The nightmare stories of the Likud are well-known. After all, they promised Katyusha rockets from Gaza as well. For a year, Gaza has been largely under the rule of the Palestinian Authority. There has not been a single Katyusha rocket. Nor will there be any ... ” — Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Sept. 28, 1995

I am firmly convinced and truly believe that this disengagement … will be appreciated by those near and far, reduce animosity, break through boycotts and sieges and advance us along the path of peace with the Palestinians … ” — Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Oct. 25, 2004

The problem in Gaza is not operational. It is conceptual!

If the Israeli leadership persists with its perception of the Palestinian Arabs in general and the Gazans in particular, as potential partners in some future peace arrangement, rather than perceiving them as they perceive themselves—as implacable enemies, whose enmity towards the Jewish state is not rooted in what it does, but in what it is—it will never be able to formulate a policy capable of effectively dealing the continuing, and continually intensifying, threat emanating from the Gaza Strip.

Fatal failure of conventional wisdom

The dramatic escalation in violence on Monday—the very day after Israel permitted the transfer of millions of Qatari dollars into the Hamas-ruled enclave, allegedly to alleviate the worsening humanitarian crisis there—underscored the futility of adhering to the dictates of conventional wisdom—i.e., that increasing humanitarian aid will work to quell the violence along and across the border with Israel, or at least to significantly reduce it. Indeed, recent events have only highlighted just how baseless the prevailing dogmas, that dominate the discourse, have proved to be.

Time and again, over the course of the conflict, it has been shown, clearly and convincingly, that the penury and privation are not the reason for Arab enmity towards Israel. Quite the reverse. It is Arab enmity towards Israel that is reason for the prevailing penury and privation.

Almost inevitably, the dismaying recurrence of violence along Israel’s southern border brings to mind the pithy dictum attributed to Albert Einstein, who reportedly observed: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

 After all, the problems of Gaza are the undeniable outcome of the ill-conceived attempt to foist self-governance on Gaza and the Gazans. As such, it is a problem that cannot be solved by persevering with the same mode of thinking that created it. Accordingly, the failed formula of self-rule for Gaza must be set aside—since any obstinate insistence on it will only continue to exacerbate the current situation and extend the misery it precipitates—for Arab and Jew alike.

Irresponsible restraint

It is in this context that the Israeli government’s decision to refrain from decisive military action after almost eight months of violence against its civilians in the south must be assessed—and branded not only imprudent but irresponsible!

To grasp the significance of this rather harsh allegation, we should recall that since Israel unilaterally abandoned the Gaza Strip almost a decade-and-a-half ago, its enemies have succeeded in upgrading the scope and scale of their arsenal beyond recognition. At the end of every round of fighting, the interbellum period of calm was not utilized for developing their society or advancing their economy, but rather to enhance their martial capabilities for the next round of fighting.

If back in 2005, on the eve of the “disengagement,” some far-sighted individual had predicted that reality would be as it is today, his caveats would have been disdainfully dismissed as unfounded scare-mongering.

If back then—when the most formidable weaponry the Gaza-based terror organization possessed were primitive rockets with an explosive charge of up to 5 kilograms and a range of no more than 5 kilometers—someone had warned that in the foreseeable future, all Israel’s population centers within a 100-kilometer radius would be threatened by high-trajectory weapons with warheads of up to 100 kilograms; if, back then, someone had suggested that Israel would be threatened with firepower of hundreds of missiles/rockets/shells within one hour, no one would have taken his prediction seriously.

Tenacious strategic enmity

Accordingly, it would be perilous for Israel to underestimate the gravity of the long-term strategic significance of the tenacious enmity that Hamas and its more radical offshoots harbor against it.

Indeed, every time Israel has managed to thwart a given mode of terrorist activity, the Palestinian Arabs have managed to devise methods to overcome or circumvent the Israeli countermeasures.

Thus, when Israel managed to curtail terror attacks by means of a security fence and secured and regulated checkpoints, the Palestinians developed overhead rocket capabilities to by-pass them from above; when Israel developed anti-rocket defense systems, the Palestinians began excavating an array of underground attack tunnels, to bypass those systems from below; when Israel began constructing a massive billion dollar subterranean barrier to block the tunnels; the Palestinians began flying incendiary kites and explosive balloons, to by-pass it from above—and so on and so forth.

Indeed, one can hardly dismiss as implausible the specter of Israel being subjected, in the not-too-distant future, to attack by a swarm of drones armed with explosive, or worse, unconventional charges. Disturbingly, if the terrorist infrastructures in Gaza are left intact, there is little reason to believe that such a scenario, or an equally harrowing one, will not materialize.

Growing disaffection with government inaction

The ramifications of this enduring Judeocidal war are beginning to take their toll on Israeli society. The increasingly vociferous demonstrations by the residents of the Israeli communities close to the Gaza border, reflect the growing impatience with what is perceived as the government’s impotence in responding to the challenge from the terror organizations in Gaza—and its manifest failure to discharge its most basic duty—providing security to its citizens. They indicate mounting unwillingness to endure the evermore onerous conditions in which they are being forced to live, with their economy being devastated, particularly tourism and agriculture, their livelihoods drastically diminished, the constant disruption of daily life, the ongoing danger to their lives and their families.

It is difficult to decipher the strategic rationale, if any, behind the current policy of the government. After all, unless, for some unknown and certainly unspecified reason, it is banking on the Palestinian Arabs morphing into something they have not been for more than 100 years and indeed, show little sign of doing so in any foreseeable future, it is hard to understand, given its penchant for inaction, how it sees the situation evolving in the future. In the next 10 years? The next 20 years?

Justified skepticism

There is a perceptible sense of skepticism as to the government’s intentions regarding Gaza and its ability to deal adequately with the challenges it poses. This is hardly surprising, for when it comes to Gaza—as the opening excerpts clearly indicate (see above)—the Israeli public has been led gravely astray in the past, with previous assessments being proven wildly inaccurate.

It is thus understandable that cryptic government allusions to highly classified considerations, which cannot be made public, for eschewing large-scale punitive military action against Gaza, have been greeted with some suspicion.

The sudden resignation of the Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman in protest against IDF inaction, severely undercut any credibility afforded to such claims since it seems highly implausible that he, of all people, would not have been aware of these inhibiting factors.

Indeed, the events of the last few days also tend to discredit the claims that action in the south has been curtailed/deferred, so attention can be focused on the northern front, considered to entail a greater peril to Israel. For they demonstrated that, even against the hundreds of projectiles from Gaza, Israel’s missile-defense system was unable to prevent direct hits on residential properties.

One can only wonder, therefore, how it would fare against the thousands of more formidable missiles in Hezbollah’s arsenal in the north. Thus, surely, military logic would dictate that the minor threat in the south be eliminated, so that it would not have to be dealt with while having to engage the greater threat from the north.

After all, if the military infrastructure in Gaza is left intact, Israel cannot determine when it might be activated. Indeed, it is not unlikely that this may well be the case, precisely if and when fighting erupts in the north.

Given the continual upgrading of the military capabilities in Gaza, the irrelevance of humanitarian aid for stability, the growing disaffection of Israel’s civilian population and the looming threats on other fronts, the Israeli leadership must internalize the bitter truth: The solution to the problem of Gaza is its deconstruction, not its reconstruction. For, at the end of the day, it must face a regrettable but unavoidable dilemma: Eventually, there will either be Arabs in Gaza or Jews in the Negev.

In the long run, there will not be both.

Martin Sherman is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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