Opinion

Why ‘mowing the grass’ when it comes to Gaza is not so clean-cut

The Hamas organization is aware of Israel’s strategic logic and not worried that Israel will engineer a large-scale war to end its rule over Gaza.

Palestinian protesters clash with Israeli forces near the Gaza-Israel border on May 14, 2018. Credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.
Palestinian protesters clash with Israeli forces near the Gaza-Israel border on May 14, 2018. Credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.
Efraim Inbar

The strong desire to end the terror from Gaza, once and for all, is understandable but unrealistic.

Beyond the border is a large population that hates the Jews and carried out terror attacks against Israel in the past even when Israel ruled the Gaza Strip. In addition, conquering the area would constitute a complex military operation that may well involve much blood-letting. Afterward, it would be Israel’s responsibility to take care of Gaza’s residents, which is inadvisable.

Similarly, putting an end to the Hamas rulership would not end the popularity of Hamas among the Palestinians and would not serve Israeli interests. Hamas rule actually weakens the peace-rejectionist Palestinian national movement. The rift between Gaza and the West Bank proves that the Palestinian national movement is not capable of establishing a state and does not constitute a partner for peace.

The Hamas organization is aware of Israel’s strategic logic and not worried that Israel will engineer a large-scale war to end its rule over Gaza. As a result, when it runs low on cash (as happened in 2014 and recently this year), Hamas raises the bar of violence against Israel in the hopes that Israel and the international community will be convinced to send financial assistance to Gaza. Some of the money will go straight into the organization’s treasury, and the rest will be used to buy political silence on Gaza’s streets. In order not to appear as caving into the terror organization’s blackmail, the money transfer is euphemistically called “humanitarian assistance.”

It is a well-known fact based on numerous studies in many countries that there is no direct connection between standard of living (poverty) and terrorist activity. For example, the Palestinian wave of terror that began in 2000 took place when the standard of living of the Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip was higher than ever before. Similarly, Hamas chooses to use terror against Israel not because of the low standard of living of Gaza’s residents but because of an extremist ideology that advocates the elimination of the Jewish state. The timing of terrorist activities is influenced also by the political and economic circumstances faced by Hamas.

Therefore, Israel must wean itself from the naïve belief that improving the standard of living of the Palestinians in Gaza will reduce terror. Actually, the opposite is probably true. The suffering of the Gazans might induce them over time to rebel against Hamas. It makes no sense to make Hamas rule more tolerable.

But Israel’s unwillingness to bring down the Hamas government does not exempt it from continuing to fight that radical Islamic entity, mainly to minimize the enemy’s ability to inflict harm on Israel. We must remember that it is very difficult to influence the behavior of Islamic extremist organizations due to their willingness to pay very heavy prices for sticking to their goals. Therefore, all that Israel can hope to achieve through the use of force is temporary deterrence.

As a result of these factors, Israel wisely adopted a patient military strategy of attrition or “mowing the grass,” which was conceived, first and foremost, to harm the enemy’s capabilities. Israel uses force to destroy the enemy’s abilities only after it absorbs a series of attacks, during which it demonstrates a great measure of restraint in its assaults in order to achieve international legitimacy. The hope is that the few large operations that take place from time to time will generate temporary deterrence that will enable lengthy intervals of respite from Hamas violence.

It is quite possible that continuous Hamas violence will soon prompt a large-scale ground operation on the part of Israel to restore temporary deterrence. Hopefully, conquering the whole Gaza Strip is not its goal.

Professor Efraim Inbar is president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies (jiss.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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