Qassam rocket 311.
(photo credit: Amir Cohen/Reuters)
The Palestinians in the Gaza Strip who fire homemade Kassam and imported
Soviet-type Grad missiles must be prevented from playing Russian roulette with
the people who live in southern Israel.
As a sovereign state which bears
responsibility for the safety and security of its citizens, Israel must take
effective action to this end. The government cannot allow nearly a million of
them to live in constant dread.
These deadly projectiles have been
launched sporadically since August 2005, when Israel withdrew its military
personnel and civilian settlers from Gaza unilaterally and unconditionally – an
act that ran counter to international norms and precedents.
the casualty toll has been light, thanks to many near-misses and close calls,
but if any of the region’s sensitive targets, among them kindergartens, schools,
hospitals and industrial facilities, are hit the consequences might be
horrendous and the retaliation severe.
In that case, the gun crews which
are tolerated or supported by Gaza’s Hamas regime would have chosen the timing
and determined the magnitude of Israel’s response, and that is undesirable from
a tactical standpoint.
The chief of staff, Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz, has said
that a major ground operation would be necessary to bring an end to the missile
attacks once and for all. It evidently is on the drawing boards while the
military command has confirmed that the units designated for this mission
already are being trained for it.
However, objectives are one thing and
consequences are another – especially in the long term.
option would be a swift takeover of the Strip in toto, something Israel did in
1956 and in 1967. But that would generate a mini-war of attrition between
the Israeli soldiers and the well-equipped Palestinian gunmen (whose arms were
obtained mainly by means of the tunnels from Sinai which were spurred by
Israel’s unwise and counter-productive land and sea blockade). The latter belong
to extremist groups backed by the Iranian and Syrian regimes.
inevitable result would be a constant toll in military and civilian casualties
while the operation was under way and in its aftermath. Besides this, it might
prompt a concurrent missile onslaught against northern Israel by Lebanon’s
Hezbollah militia which also is backed by Syria and Iran. And in the possibly
worst scenario, it could prompt Iran to intervene by means of its medium-range
Even the least dangerous of these military options would
undermine the diplomatic effort to preserve the normal (though cool) relations
with Egypt that are based on the peace treaty signed in 1979, regardless of the
political character of Cairo’s future government.
Egypt, which ruled the
Strip from 1949 to 1967, has been treating Gaza ever since as if it were part of
the Egyptian sphere of influence.
De facto reoccupation of Gaza would
also generate severe criticism throughout the Arab world and in the
international community. Annexation would sabotage the highly touted two-state
solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, if only because the Strip is part
of the area earmarked for Palestinian sovereignty by the so-called Quartet
consisting of the US, European Union, Russia and UN.
On the other hand,
Israel may have no choice. It could and probably should step up its hitherto
phlegmatic recourse to the international news media, to make a convincing case
for armed intervention in Gaza. This could be followed by a clear-cut decision
to assure foreign correspondents access to the areas retaken by the troops, if
only to refute claims by Hamas and its local allies or front organizations that
atrocities were committed by the incoming forces.
One of the biggest
problems in the current phase of the Gaza situation is that Hamas has mobilized
and trained a sizable number of armed contingents consisting of police and
pseudo-military personnel who could be transformed into a major source of
resistance against the Israeli troops. Hamas also has militant political cadres
whose members would pose a constant obstacle to Israeli attempts to give Gaza’s
moderate elements, especially those who oppose its totalitarian style of
government, a more effective role in the Strip’s political arena.
could also take the political initiative during a total or even partial
takeover, by trying to mollify the Strip’s majority of Palestinian Arab
refugees. This could be done by a partial resettlement program which would run
parallel to Israel’s ongoing support of Jewish settlement projects in the West
Bank. That might give the refugees a sense of compensation and symbolize Israeli
understanding of their plight.
On the other hand, the last time Israel
tried to ameliorate the conditions in which the refugees live, (this occurred
immediately after the Six Day War nearly 45 years ago), they refused the offer.
New housing that had been built for them in the Rafah area at the southern end
of the Gaza Strip was totally boycotted.
A footnote to all this is the
long-forgotten declaration made by then-cabinet minister Yisrael Galili, who
served as then-prime minister Golda Meir’s political confidant and supreme
adviser in the 1970s, that the Gaza Strip “never again will be separated from
the State of Israel.”
The fact that a commitment like that could be
totally ignored by his successors effectively discounted the importance or
relevance of statements made by Israel’s policy-makers. In other words, the
conclusion was that their words cannot be taken seriously – not by their
Palestinian adversaries and not by other elements on the international scene.
And that is not the way it should be.The writer is a veteran