(June 29, 2018 / JNS) Iran is seeing anti-government protests because of the grim economic situation there, which wasn’t good even before the United States withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal and has been getting worse ever since then. Still, the demonstrations are far from being a real threat to the regime, which has seen darker days and much bigger protests than these. Headlines about the events tend to exaggerate as hope is filtered into analysis.
Meanwhile, on our own border, incendiary kites from Gaza continue to burn up our fields as the farmers watch, helpless. The Israel Defense Forces still has no good way of combating the ongoing airborne terrorism. Some argue that this means Israel is losing its sovereignty and power of deterrence.
The truth is that while the kite and balloon attacks are unpleasant, it might be better to assess Israel’s sovereignty by the Friday on which no Gazan was allowed to breach the border, though some 60 Palestinians were killed trying to do so, and more than 2,000 were wounded in the clashes. It might also be better to judge our sovereignty by the lack of any response from Hamas to the events of that Friday, which marked the end of its aspiration to march a million Palestinians into Israel.
Remember, Israel has dealt with much bigger threats than the kites. If we evaluate these fires calmly and rationally, we will understand that they are only a minor achievement for Hamas and no real threat to the country. They don’t cause loss of life (although there are no guarantees) and even the economic damage is small.
Yes, it’s tough to see; it’s unpleasant that the other side is hitting us with such primitive weapons, but we must also understand that it’s all our enemies have left. Burning a few thousand acres of fields is almost nothing compared to what they had expected to do through these demonstrations.
So we would do better to focus on the bigger threats, particularly from the north, and understand that if we listened to those who blew everything out of proportion, then we’d currently be embroiled in a violent conflict in Gaza—one that would send Israelis into bomb shelters, distract us from our efforts in the north and hurt the diplomatic work with which Israel is involved. And after all that, we would probably have achieved very little.
When it comes to Gaza, there is no “in and out” solution. The use of heavy force and paying the international price for doing so will postpone the next armed conflict, but not prevent it. Force employed in the field cannot take out the Hamas regime unless the IDF occupies the Gaza Strip and goes house to house, tunnel to tunnel, to attack most of the Hamas operatives who have hidden among the civilian population or gone underground into the tunnel system it built.
The IDF can do it. After a long, exhausting effort, most Hamas members will be dead or under arrest, but then the question will arise that we should be asking ourselves today: What next? Who will be responsible for maintaining the area after the fighting is over?
The Palestinian Authority won’t be willing to govern Gaza after an IDF victory there. Egypt will close its border crossings to and from Gaza, and the burden will fall on Israel as an occupying power according to international law. After some time, Israel could withdraw, but who would enter the vacuum that would create? Perhaps the Islamic State, which has strong representation in Sinai, or maybe some other terrorist group backed by Iran. Or maybe Hamas would return, claiming it had run off the IDF and slowly rebuild itself at the expense of the residents. These alternatives all make it very clear why it makes no sense for the IDF to reoccupy the Gaza Strip—not because the military isn’t capable of it, but because life doesn’t end when the occupation is in place.
On the other hand, we must not make the mistake of deluding ourselves—neither a port nor an artificial island will force Hamas to stop improving its belligerent capabilities. Hamas might be ready for a truce, which it would use to strengthen itself militarily while Israel would be unable to take any action against it. It would be an important achievement for Hamas and give Gaza residents a few years of quiet.
But Israel would pay the price when the truce ended, so we shouldn’t declare one. Both the Gaza and Iran events show us that life is much more complicated than it is portrayed in simplistic headlines.
Maj.-Gen. (Ret.) Yaakov Amidror is a senior fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies.