For all of Iron Dome’s success, Israel would score a resounding failing mark if its effort to stop Hamas from firing rockets into the country were graded on purely economic grounds.
One tenet of economic theory, the law of diminishing returns, states that the rate of return on an investment declines with every increment in capital invested.
That concept can be applied to the conflict between Israel and Hamas, and the other Islamic organizations in the Gaza Strip. In three major campaigns in recent years, Israel has dropped ever increasing amounts of explosives on Gaza to try to push Hamas et al to hold their fire, only to see rocket fire into Israel increase in each round of conflict. Hamas spent enormous resources on building up a huge arsenal of rockets, only to see them rendered almost completely thwarted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system.
In Operation Cast Lead, a 22-day campaign during which the IAF launched more than 2,500 strikes against the Gaza Strip, the Palestinians fired more than 750 rockets into Israel.
The cease-fire lasted until the next major round of conflict, Operation Pillar of Defense, about four years later.
That eight-day operation saw the IAF strike more than 1,500 targets in Gaza, while Palestinians fired close to 1,000 rockets into Israel. The second ceasefire lasted just over 18 months – Operation Protective Edge was declared on July 8. In six days of operations so far, the air force has carried out more than 1,400 strikes, while the Palestinians have fired more than 700 rockets into Israel, now reaching as far north as the outskirts of Haifa.
Past experience teaches us that if a cease-fire were called today, it is highly likely that the next round of major hostilities would also be subject to the law of diminishing returns and break out within an even shorter time frame than the 18 months between Pillar of Defense and the current conflict.
This time around though, the circumstances perhaps lean in Israel’s favor, and judicious application of force could lead to a different outcome.
Israel needs to weaken Hamas so that we escape the equation of “quiet will be met with quiet” that allows Hamas to dictate when the next round takes place.
Hamas is isolated on almost all fronts: Egypt, while publicly condemning Israel’s operation, is happy to let the IDF pound a group that it sees as being involved in the Islamist insurgency on its own soil; Syria has its own problems, to put it mildly, and the Assad regime has yet to forgive Hamas its support for the insurgents; Iran, too, has yet to resume the kind of relations it had with Hamas prior to the organization’s support for the rebellion against its Syrian client. Tehran continues to try to supply Hamas with weapons, but the Sinai route has been blocked by Egypt, which closed down smuggling tunnels into the Strip.
In current conditions, a weakened Hamas will find it much more difficult to regain the capabilities it had prior to Protective Edge. Israel should press its advantage to the maximum, by hitting hard on all fronts without shying from a ground operation if necessary, while doing its best to resist being drawn into an occupation of Gaza or thinking that force alone can change the political order.
The notion has been expressed by some parties, including in the pages of this newspaper, that “we can live with this kind of outburst every year or every few months” because Israel has thus far remained relatively unscathed by Hamas’s attacks. That opinion shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the region.
Hamas would like to draw Israel into exactly that cycle of violence; embroiled in a state of constant warfare is exactly the return on its investment in a rocket arsenal that Hamas craves.
Israel must take any action from land, sea, and air necessary to ensure that Hamas is stripped of military assets to the degree that it loses, for a significant period of time, the ability and/or the will to wage war. The country cannot afford to see a diminishing return in the form of shortening cycles of violence.