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Ten lessons of the recent Gaza war

Only time will tell whether Israel has successfully bought itself some time before it needs to “mow the grass” in Gaza again. In the meantime, it must learn from what transpired in “Operation Guardian of the Walls.”

Rockets are launched into Israel by terror groups in the Gaza, May 19, 2021. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.
Rockets are launched into Israel by terror groups in the Gaza, May 19, 2021. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.
Efraim Inbar and Eran Lerman

Here are 10 takeaways from last month’s “Operation Guardian of the Walls” that should guide Israel’s preparations for the next conflict.

1. Most of the Israeli public is dissatisfied with the results of the operation, and believes that the operation should have continued until Hamas was crushed, despite the expected casualties. This willingness to continue the fight makes it apparent that Israeli sensitivity to casualties is not as great as is generally presumed. The public mood was not accurately reflected in Israeli media.

2. At the same time, Israeli leaders should not be tempted to “crush Hamas.” There are advantages to the current policy of “mowing the grass” (i.e., occasional military action to degrade Hamas’s capabilities), to avoid wallowing in the Gaza mire. The blows sustained by Hamas at the hands of the IDF achieved temporary deterrence, though for how long depends not only on the price that Israel exacted from the organization but also on factors over which Israel does not have full control.

3. This is especially true given that Israel faces a more significant challenge from Hezbollah on its northern border. Israel must maintain freedom of action with respect to that threat, which is tenfold more serious than that posed by Hamas. A public campaign should be conducted within Israel to explain the underlying logic of the current policy, underscoring its advantages compared to other alternatives.

4. The operation constituted a warning regarding the possibility of a multi-arena war. The implications of this for IDF force buildup must be examined. This includes an assessment of whether Israel has enough advanced precision munitions and anti-missile (Iron Dome) interceptors. Israel Police manpower needs to be examined, too. Preparations must be made to contend with widespread disorderly conduct during wartime, especially in mixed Jewish-Arab cities.

5. Maintaining deterrence requires decisive responses to ceasefire violations on the part of Hamas and to any sign of a return to the “trickle” of rockets or incendiary balloons. Ceasefire violations should be exploited to eliminate senior Hamas members, provided the necessary intelligence is available.

6. Israel should not rush to help rebuild Gaza since any aid inevitably will be used by Hamas for rearmament. It is unlikely that U.S. efforts to establish a reconstruction mechanism without Hamas’s involvement will succeed.

7. Israel and Egypt have a common interest in a gradual and controlled process of reconstruction that will not provide military resources for Hamas. Qatar’s involvement should be replaced by mechanisms that will enhance the influence of Egypt. The resumption of the flow of funds from Qatar directly to Hamas leaders in Gaza must be prevented. As the rocket-fire on Jerusalem demonstrated, allowing these funds into Gaza does not buy quiet. Ultimately, Qatar supports the Muslim Brotherhood and reinforces Hamas’s hold on Gaza.

8. Israel must insist on linking the rebuilding of Gaza with the return of the Israeli hostages and MIAs. Humanitarian gesture in exchange for humanitarian gesture.

9. Israel must recognize that there is no practical way of demilitarizing Gaza without prolonged IDF occupation. Nonetheless, the demand for demilitarization can serve tactical purposes: Delay rebuilding until a broad arrangement is reached, and/or establish a rebuilding mechanism that will diminish what Hamas leaders stand to gain.

10. Israel must sever the linkage between Hamas and Jerusalem. Accustom the Arabs in Israel and the entire world to the idea that Jews have a right to ascend to the Temple Mount, Judaism’s most sacred place. The renewed visits of Jews (and tourists) to the Temple Mount was a positive move, demonstrating that the “status quo” (which is also important for Jordan and signifies in effect acceptance of Israel’s sovereignty in the city) has been re-established. The Israeli government must also strive for a practical solution in Sheikh Jarrah, without succumbing to pressure that would erode Israel’s sovereignty in its capital. In any event, policies in eastern Jerusalem that encourage the integration of east Jerusalemite Arabs into Israeli society should be continued.

Animosity between the Jewish and Arab sectors within Israel will not disappear any time soon. Tense coexistence at one level or another will continue to accompany life in Israel due to the prolonged ethno-religious conflict. Nevertheless, efforts at integration of Israeli Arabs in all areas of life should be continued, while at the same time demarcating strict boundaries of acceptable behavior. Violent behavior should be sharply responded to. In this regard, confiscation of weaponry in the Israel Arab sector is the Israel Police’s first and foremost mission.

Professor Efraim Inbar is president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security.

IDF Col. (res) Dr. Lerman is vice president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies. Lerman was deputy director for foreign policy and international affairs at the National Security Council in the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office. He held senior posts in IDF Military Intelligence for more than 20 years and teaches in the Middle East Studies program at Shalem College in Jerusalem.

This article was first published by the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security.

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