After years of rockets and murder from Hamas and the other terrorist organizations headquartered in Gaza, and four previous large-scale military operations ending in stalemates, when Israel launched Operation Protective Edge there was a sense among Israelis that this would be the last straw. Hamas and its allies would finally be defeated.
Yet from the outset of the operation, the Israeli government was never so ambitious.
The prime minister and the IDF spokesperson explained that Protective Edge had limited goals. Primarily, Israel aimed at compelling Hamas to accept “quiet for quiet,” or in other words, a cease-fire.
Hamas, however, repeatedly rejected or violated the numerous cease-fires Israel agreed to. When the public learned of Hamas’ underground tunnels meant for future attacks on Israeli communities, Protective Edge was expanded to include a ground operation to destroy the tunnels.
All the while, members of the cabinet, including the prime minister’s coalition partners and senior ministers from his own party, called for Hamas to be toppled or destroyed. A variety of polls showed that the vast majority of Israelis favored those goals, and even more favored generally expanding Protective Edge as opposed to ending the operation with a cease-fire.
So no matter what the official objectives were when Protective Edge was launched, Israel would clearly not settle for yet another temporary cease-fire. It even seemed that Israeli agreements to cease-fires throughout the course of the operation must have actually been schemes to gain diplomatic legitimacy for a much more expansive operation.
But whatever the public may have thought or expected, the operation’s goals remained the same.
According to a report in Haaretz, the prime minister told the cabinet that retaking Gaza would be too costly in blood and treasure.
The prime minister and the IDF officers present at the meeting were so adamant that some cabinet members referred to the meeting as an “intimidation meeting.”
Somewhat contradictorily, a “senior” IDF source told Yediot that although the IDF could topple Hamas within 10 days, Israel needed “a single address” in Gaza with which to negotiate.
One way or another, the country’s decision makers adopted the argument made by Meretz chairwoman Zahava Gal-On when the operation first began, namely that “there is no military solution.” (Labor party chairman Isaac Herzog held his tongue at the beginning of the operation, but has since said the same).
As Gal-On argued, without a military solution, the only way to achieve a relative period of quiet is through negotiations with Hamas. And, as of the time of writing, that is exactly what Israel is doing.
Unfortunately, diplomacy and whatever commitments Hamas may make are small comfort to the public, especially to Israel’s southern residents whose lives are most drastically affected and threatened.
Hamas’s charter repeatedly commits the organization to violence against Israel and Jews, with the aim of Israel’s destruction.
For nearly 27 years it has remained faithful in word and deed to those goals, regardless of past cease-fires.
Hamas’ lack of tolerance for dissent or opposition to its rule in Gaza means that it need not heed the concerns of Gazans who may be suffering from battle fatigue.
The international community’s unique commitment to obsess over, scrutinize and criticize Israeli use of force provides Hamas with a diplomatic shield for its aggression.
The lack of Israeli presence in Gaza since 2005 means that Hamas and other terrorists operate freely there. They can store and fire rockets, train operatives, construct underground tunnels, and otherwise prepare for terror attacks or the next round of conflict with little obstruction and often without detection.
And Israel’s adoption of the no-military- solution policy, as displayed by its reluctance to engage in a decisive battle with the terror group in the style of Operation Peace for the Galilee or Operation Defensive Shield provides Hamas with a certain immunity from military defeat.
So no matter what is agreed to in negotiations, when it is ready, Hamas will be free to commit more acts of terrorism and send Israelis fleeing to shelters.
In other words, Israelis must finally accept the reality that was inaugurated with the withdrawal from Gaza in 2005. The state of Gaza exists. It is ruled by religious fanatics.
Its constitution calls to terrorize and destroy us, even at the expense of its people’s welfare, and it will do so at will. And most importantly, it is not going anywhere anytime soon.
The author is Likud Central Committee member and an attorney.