IAF fighter jets during the Red Flag joint exercise at Nellis air force base in Nevada .
(photo credit: COURTESY IDF SPOKESMAN'S OFFICE)
On Sunday afternoon, a single rocket landed in the town of Sderot, whose children are still on vacation, but thankfully no one was hurt.
Shortly after the rocket struck, the Israel Air Force bombed a couple of what the IDF termed “terrorist targets” in the Gaza Strip. It seemed like a classic case of titfor- tat, a routine that Israeli residents of the South have gotten used to over the last 15 years of rocket fire from Gaza.
But then overnight Sunday, the Israeli air strikes continued.
Dozens of targets were struck throughout Gaza, even though a small-scale Salafi extremist group took responsibility for the rocket that hit Sderot and not Hamas. Israel, the IDF later said, was prepared to continue fighting but was not interested in an escalation.
It remains to be seen, but it could be that what we witnessed on Sunday is a change in Israeli policy vis-à-vis the Gaza Strip and the rocket fire from there since 2001, when the first Kassams were fired into Sderot. Since then, close to 20,000 rockets and mortars have been fired into Israel.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman might be implementing what prime minister Ariel Sharon vowed to do ahead of Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in the summer of 2005 but failed to follow through on – an aggressive response to future Palestinian rocket attacks. Despite Sharon’s assurances and Israel’s withdrawal to internationally recognized borders, the Palestinian rocket fire continued. Israel’s responses, though, did not change all that much. A rocket would be fired and Israel would strike a terrorist target in response.
There is no question that Israel has the right to defend itself and it is doubtful that any other country in the world would tolerate a reality in which 20,000 rockets are fired into its cities. Israel’s response should be aggressive to the extent that it sends a clear message to the Hamas rulers of Gaza that additional attacks will not be tolerated.
We hope that message has been received.
The extensive retaliation on Sunday night fits in to the new “carrot and stick” policy that Liberman publicized last week. Under the new policy, Israel will reward Palestinian cities and communities which work to reduce terrorism, but will punish those places from which terrorists emerge.
Liberman’s thinking seems to fit into the idea that Israel cannot destroy Hamas but can deter it from deciding to engage Israel in another war. By approving attacks against so many targets, Liberman is trying to strengthen Israel’s deterrence and stave off, for as long as possible, another wide-scale conflict with Hamas.
This is however a slippery slope. There have been cases in the past when small-scale skirmishes led Israel into larger-scale conflicts it did not originally seek. This happened, for example, in the summer of 2014, when the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank eventually escalated into Operation Protective Edge, a 50-day war in the Gaza Strip.
This is a delicate balance that carries risks, but one that we believe is worth taking. Deterrence comes and goes in cycles and needs to be maintained. The deterrence achieved from the Second Lebanon War against Hezbollah has served Israel until today, more than 10 years later.
Israel should do everything possible to prevent another conflict in Gaza as well.
Nevertheless, air strikes will not be enough to prevent war. The economic situation in Gaza is deteriorating on a daily basis. Electricity comes and goes, quality water is running short and unemployment, according to the World Bank, is one of the highest in the world, at 43 percent, including 68% among those aged 20-24. Since 1994, real per capita income has fallen by nearly a third and manufacturing has shrunk by 60%.
While the fault for all of this rests solely on Hamas’s shoulders, Israel can take steps to ease the economic pressure and possibly reduce terrorism as a result. Plans have been proposed to build a port on an artificial island off the Gaza coast as well as a desalination plant and new power plant inside the Gaza Strip. The security cabinet is slated to meet and decide on these proposals in the coming months.
In the meantime, Hamas needs to decide what it wants in Gaza. Does it want to improve the lives of its residents or does it prefer continued war with Israel? Based on the IDF response to Sunday’s rocket attack, if it is war Hamas seeks, it seems it is war they will receive.