By Martin Sherman
The policy of trying to placate Hamas with enhanced humanitarian aid is sadly no less farcical than trying to convert a man-eating tiger into a cuddly bunny-rabbit by offering it a diet of premium carrots
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman ordered…[the] reopen[ing of] the Kerem Shalom and Erez border crossings in Gaza. The defense ministry said that the decision was made after consultations with security officials – Y-Netnews, October 21, 2018.
Most of the resources entering the Gaza Strip go toward digging tunnels and manufacturing rockets. – Brig. Gen. Yehuda Fuchs, outgoing head of IDF’s Gaza Division, Times of Israel, October 24, 2018.
On October 13, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman announced resolutely that Israel would not resume the supply of fuel to Gaza until the rioting on the fence stops.
On October 24, Defense Minister Liberman announced that Israel would resume the supply of fuel—despite the fact that rioting on the fence continued unabated.
The proof of the pudding…
The juxtaposition of these two diametrically contradictory declarations of intent starkly underscores the utter lack of any coherent strategy on the part of Israel regarding Gaza.
Indeed, ever since Israel’s foolhardy unilateral withdrawal in 2005, the military capabilities of the terror organization that rules that hapless enclave—and those of its even more radical off-shoots—have been developed to levels inconceivable back then.
Every time the Gazan terrorists developed some offensive tactic, Israel devised some countermeasure that was designed to thwart the attacks, rather than prevent them being launched in the first place.
Thus, suicide attacks resulted in a security fence and secured crossings; which led to the development of enhanced rocket and missile capabilities; which lead to the development of the multimillion dollar Iron Dome; which led to the burrowing of an array of underground attack tunnels; which lead to the construction of a billion dollar subterranean barrier; which led to the use of incendiary kites and balloons that have reduced much of the rural South, adjacent to the Gaza border, to blackened charcoal.
Indeed, it takes little imagination to envisage the deployment of future modes of Judeocidal assault on the Jewish state and its citizens–such as a possible drone swarm carrying explosive—perhaps even some non-conventional—charges, to be detonated on, or over, some luckless Jewish community.
Seen in this context, Israel’s Gaza policy has clearly failed hopelessly—proving not only unable to provide security for its civilians in the South, but also unable to prevent an increasingly menacing threat from emerging within Gaza itself—ominously reminiscent of what it has allowed to develop on its northern border in the wake of the 2006 Lebanon War.
Israel’s self-inflicted helplessness
Perhaps, one of the most astonishing –and disturbing—features is the seeming resignation of many in the Israeli establishment that there is little that Israel can do to solve the problem of Gaza’s abiding enmity.
Thus, in a recent radio interview, former National Security Advisor, Maj-Gen (res) Yaakov Amidror, downplayed the hostilities in the South, alleging that Israel is facing a far greater threat in the North–and all its energies should be directed towards contending with that danger. Then, somewhat alarmingly, he declared that wagng a decisive military campaign in the South would siphon off 50% of the IDF forces, leaving inadequate resources to deal with threats in the North.
In a similarly pessimistic vein, the usually feisty Caroline Glick writes—with uncharacteristic despair:
“If Israel tried to retake control over Gaza…it would never stop paying the price for the move. Even if Israel had the ground forces to undertake such an operation without leaving northern Israel vulnerable to aggression from Iran and its proxies in Lebanon and Syria, the cost of conquering Gaza in blood and treasure would be prohibitive…”
This, of course, is great news for Israel’s enemies—for it essentially means that Israel—in stark contrast to past tradition—cannot wage war on two fronts, even if one does not involve fighting a regular army, but a non-state terror organization, at most 20,000 strong–without an air-force, armor, or navy of any consequence.
Indeed, little could be more perturbing to Israelis than Amidror’s assessment that the IDF would have to commit half its strength to overrun Gaza and impose surrender on Hamas—especially as he sees the threat in the North as being more serious “by an order of magnitude, if not more”!
Echoing this gloomy appraisal, Glick suggests: “The main strategic takeaway from Gaza…is that there is no solution, military or otherwise to the Palestinians’ never-ending war against the Jewish state.”
Despondently she laments: “The coming days and weeks may and should see a significant escalation in IDF offensive strikes against Hamas targets in Gaza. But no matter how successful they may or may not be, they shouldn’t be seen as anything more than a military version of mowing the lawn. And just as grass grows back, so Hamas will rebuild its strength. Israel’s challenge is not to uproot the grass, but to maintain the capability to keep it as short as possible.”
But this “mowing the lawn” thesis is precisely the formula that has precipitated the current situation. Indeed, because of Israel’s reticence for embarking on preemptive initiatives to vanquish its perennially aggressive adversaries, it has been dragged into four indecisive military engagements in the last thirteen years—one in the North and three in the South.
After each round, both Hamas and Hezbollah have managed not only to regain their military capabilities but to upgrade them significantly—evolving from a terrorist nuisance to a strategic threat, allegedly able to inflict unacceptable losses on Israel.
Misguided and misconceived
The bloody impasse, in which Israel seems to have ensnared itself, is not really a problem of operational limitations of the IDF, but conceptual misperception on Israel’s policy makers.
Indeed, as long as they persist with their incorrect conceptualization of the conflict—as long as they delude themselves that the Palestinian-Arabs in general, and the Gazans in particular, are a prospective peace partner rather than an implacable enemy—they will continue to lead the country down a perilous cul-de-sac.
For the origins of the anti-Israel enmity of the Palestinian-Arabs in general, and the Gazans in particular, are not rooted in what the Jewish state does (or does not do) but in what the Jewish state is—i.e. Jewish.
Thus, the only way Israel can dissipate that enmity is to cease to be what it is—Jewish.
The clash between Jew and Arab over control of the Holy Land—or parts thereof—is an existential clash between two enemy collectives, with mutually exclusive foundational narratives. Although in theory, it might be possible to conceive of seductive paradigms of win-win compromises, in practice it is a classic zero-sum encounter, in which only one side can emerge victorious, the other vanquished.
There are no consolation prizes!
Of man-eating tigers and cuddly bunny rabbits…
No less delusional—and detrimental–is the hypothesis that efforts to improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza will somehow serve to promote stability and quell the violence.
The reason for this is two-fold.
Firstly, as the opening excerpt from the outgoing commander of the Gaza division indicates, the bulk of any humanitarian aid reaching Gaza does not go to alleviating the predicament of the general public but is appropriated by Hamas for its own nefarious purposes. Indeed, Dore Gold, former director-general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, informed the 2016 UN World Humanitarian Summit that Hamas seized up to“95 percent of the cement transferred into the Gaza Strip intended to rebuild homes, so that it can use it for military purposes.”
It was Hamas top-dog, Ismail Haniyeh, who underscored the irrelevance of humanitarian supplies for the organization’s policy decisions, stating: “Our marches [i.e. Marches of Return ] are not for diesel fuel or dollars”—indicating that the Hamas-orchestrated violence on the fence will continue, regardless of fuel or other supplies.
This policy, aptly described by Glick, as trying to “bribe Hamas into standing down by increasing humanitarian aid to Gaza”, and largely endorsed by the top IDF brass, is sadly no less farcical than trying to convert a man-eating tiger into a cuddly bunny-rabbit by offering it a diet of premium carrots.
Singapore in Gaza?
Of course, Liberman should be acutely aware of just how futile offers of material wellbeing are for inducing Hamas to desist from its hostile designs against Israel.
After all, it was in February last year that he proposed an initiative for transforming Gaza “into the Singapore of the Middle East” – an offer that included building a seaport, an airport and creating an industrial zone that would help produce 40,000 jobs in the Strip, if Hamas agreed to demilitarization and to dismantling the tunnel and rocket systems it has built.
The Hamas response was both swift and predictable—and should have dispelled any illusions as to the efficacy of proposing economic gains as an impetus for ending hostilities. Mahmoud al-Zahar, a senior Hamas official, dismissed the proposal derisively: “If we wanted to turn Gaza into Singapore, we would have done it ourselves. We do not need favors from anyone.”
This tart retort prompted a stark comment from Gatestone scholar, Bassam Tawil : “Why did Hamas reject an offer for a seaport, airport and tens of thousands of jobs for Palestinians? Because Hamas does not see its conflict with Israel as an economic issue. The dispute is not about improving the living conditions of Palestinians, as far as Hamas is concerned. Instead, it is about the very existence of Israel.”
He added caustically: “Hamas deserves credit for one thing: its honesty concerning its intentions to destroy Israel and kill as many Jews as possible. Hamas does not want 40,000 new jobs for the poor unemployed Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. It would rather see these unemployed Palestinians join its ranks and become soldiers in its quest to replace Israel with an Islamic empire.”
See what I mean when I said: It is not what the Jewish state DOES but what the Jewish state IS?
The two-front excuse
There is of course, no denying the grave threat facing Israel along its northern border. But this cannot be an excuse for not dealing with the evolving threat in the South. Indeed, the gravity of the threat in the North is, in large measure, due to Israel’s inaction, which allowed it to reach its current dimensions. Accordingly, there is little reason to believe that a similar evolution will not occur in the South, unless the process is summarily curtailed.
Moreover, if the threat from the North is so grave–and would be difficult to deal with simultaneously if the IDF had to deal with a second front in the South, there seems little logic in letting the southern threat fester and grow—rather than engaging it immediately before it inevitably assumes greater dimensions.
After all, if Israel were compelled to engage the threat from the North without neutralizing the threat in the South, there is little reason to believe that it would not have to face both—with choice of time and place being that of its enemies.
Thus, if anything, the specter of a two-font engagement would appear to militate strongly in favor of eliminating the threat from the South—sooner rather than later.
Arabs in Gaza or Jews in Negev
Glick raises two commonly aired objections to an Israeli takeover of Gaza. She claims “Israel would be stuck ruling over a hateful population until it finally abandoned Gaza again and another terror group took over.”
Likewise, she contends, correctly, that “if Hamas were toppled tomorrow, it wouldn’t be replaced by a peaceful regime. It has no moderate opponents”.
Neither of these objections holds water!
To end the ongoing saga in Gaza, Israel must retake Gaza. To reduce Israeli casualities, it must pulverize the enemy enclave from the air before inserting ground troops –while preserving rules of war by giving non-belligerents ample warning to evacuate to designated safe zones. It must then dismantle the Hamas administrative apparatus and take control of governing the enclave itself –for the only way Israel can determine who rules Gaza is by ruling it itself.
The only way Israel can rule Gaza without ruling over a “hateful population” is to remove that population from Gaza—preferably by economic inducements—so they can find more prosperous and secure lives elsewhere, outside the circle of violence and free from the clutches of the cruel, corrupt cliques, who have led them from disaster to debacle for decades.
The fact that this more easily said than done in no way diminishes the imperative to do it. For at the end of the day, 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 & executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies