It’s time to target the terrorists

If Hamas knew that in return for every cross-border explosive fired, 50 or 100 of its members would be targeted, there is no question that they would think twice before ordering an attack on Israel.

Palestinian protesters burn tires during a night protest near the border with Israel in the southern Gaza Strip, Feb. 14, 2019. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.
Palestinian protesters burn tires during a night protest near the border with Israel in the southern Gaza Strip, Feb. 14, 2019. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.
Lt. Col. (res.) Maurice Hirsch
Lt. Col. (res.) Maurice Hirsch is the director of the Initiative for Palestinian Authority Accountability and Reform in the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs; a senior legal analyst for Human Rights Voices; and a member of the Israel Defense and Security Forum.

Hamas terrorists from Gaza launched a long-range missile on March 25 that indiscriminately targeted a civilian community in the heart of Israel’s most populated area. The missile completely destroyed a house and injured seven people, all in the same family.

This was not the first such attack. On March 14, Hamas fired two similar long-range missiles. According to statistics published by Israel’s Security Agency, between October 2018 and February 2019, terrorists from Gaza have indiscriminately fired no fewer than 528 explosive projectiles into Israel.

Since most of the rocket attacks “only” target Israel’s civilian population that resides in close proximity to the Gaza Strip, they are tolerated.

The latest attack, which not only strayed from the areas adjacent to the Gaza Strip but rather fell in the heart of Israel’s residential and industrial area, was perceived in Israel to be much more nefarious.

Israel’s prime minister, who also holds the position of Minister of Defense, even cut short his diplomatic trip to the United States. The Israel Defense Forces also launched a military operation against Hamas.

However, seen in its entirety, Israel’s response reflects a sad and worrying reality. Israel’s leaders, together with the IDF, have lost the desire to defend Israel’s sovereignty and defeat its enemies.

In any normal self-respecting country, just one cross-border missile attack carried out by the terrorist organization that controls the area from which the attack originated would be seen as a Casus belli, an act or event that provokes or is used to justify war.

By ignoring the “small attacks,” Israel is waiving its most basic sovereign right and responsibility: to protect all of its citizens. Turning a blind eye to these attacks erodes Israel’s deterrence and invites the terrorist groups to up the ante and target other parts of Israel.

Having invited the attack outside of the “permitted area,” one would have expected the response to be more painful for Hamas.

‘The rules need to change’

Sadly, as has been the approach time after time in the past 10 years, the IDF attacks have focused solely on the military targets that form part of Hamas’s infrastructure: A secret Hamas headquarters that had previously been evacuated was targeted and destroyed; the office of the head of Hamas’s political bureau, Ismail Haniyeh, was also targeted and destroyed.

But before attacking Haniyeh’s office, Palestinian media reported that the IDF had given a prior warning called “knock on the roof,” which is a small explosive device that lands on the roof of a building that the IDF intends to attack, designed to warn the non-combatant inhabitants of the building to leave so as not to injure them. The warning however, does not differentiate between combatants/terrorists and non-combatants; rather, it provides both with the ability to flee the scene.

With all due respect to the arguable strategic value of the sites targeted, they ignore one basic reality so prominent specifically in Gaza: Buildings can be rebuilt!

Paradoxically, the damage caused by the IDF to the Hamas buildings, will most likely be used by Hamas to put pressure on Israel to allow more building materials into Gaza. The additional materials and need to rebuild will provide Hamas with the ability to employ many of the otherwise unemployed Gazans.

In contrast, entirely missing from the equation were any casualties on the Palestinian side. The pinpoint precision of the hundreds of IDF airstrikes that often followed “knock on the roof” warnings, coupled with the precautionary steps adopted by Hamas, meant that not one terrorist was killed.

As opposed to destroyed buildings that can be and are rebuilt, dead terrorists cannot be brought back to life. While the Hamas leadership is happy to send regular Palestinian plebs to die for Allah, they themselves do not want to die.

Herein lies the simple answer to restore Israel’s deterrence and lay the groundwork to beat Hamas.

While it is reasonable to argue that all Hamas terrorists are legitimate targets, there can be no question that senior Hamas members and all the members of its military wing are, without a doubt, legitimate targets. If Hamas knew that in return for every cross-border explosive launched, 50 or 100 of its members would be targeted, there is no question that they would think twice before ordering or approving an attack on Israel.

Albert Einstein is widely credited with saying, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” By this token, by focusing time after time on infrastructure targets, Israel’s leaders are not only insane, but also lacking the desire to vanquish Israel’s enemies.

To avoid more rocket fire, the rules need to change. In the wake of an attack on Israel, Hamas needs to occupy itself burying its members, not providing them with employment. Only dead terrorists will allow Israel to win the war.

Col. (res) Maurice Hirsch is the Head of Legal Strategies for Palestinian Media Watch. He served for 19 years in the IDF Military Advocate General Corps. In his last position he served as Director of the Military Prosecution in Judea and Samaria.

You can find more in-depth articles on Israel and the Middle East @en.mida.org.il.

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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