Islamic Jihad operatives 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz has stated several times that a
large-scale operation in Gaza is inevitable. If he is right, this is the time.
Postponing the inevitable is likely to increase the cost.
reason for silencing the forces that have been attacking Israel from Gaza is
that no nation should tolerate massive military attacks against its civilians.
We cannot allow the forces in Gaza to fire hundreds of missiles against Israeli
cities as they have in recent days. Moreover, their ability to strike at
strategic installations such as a port, a power station, an airbase and even
Dimona must be eliminated. If no action is taken, these attacks will surely
What most terrorist organizations fear most is that their
organization – especially their leadership – will be destroyed. Gaza is
small enough that Israel can find and destroy most of Hamas’ military
leadership, as well as the leadership of Islamic Jihad and the other
organizations that have been firing missiles at Israel. It is likely that doing
so would reduce the missile fire on Israel from Gaza for a much longer period
than Operation Cast Lead did.
The goal of Cast Lead was to deter missile
fire by dealing a blow to Hamas. It provided relief for over a year. The goal
this time should be to destroy the Hamas military organization and the forces
that have been firing at us. This stronger action will give more relief, at a
not much greater diplomatic and political cost.
Clearly, the deterrence
created by Cast Lead is wearing thin. Recent attacks from Gaza show that Cast
Lead, which took place only three years ago, was too limited an action, rather
than an excessive one. Military action now could restore deterrence.
addition, striking a serious blow against Hamas and other Islamist organizations
in Gaza would be a signal of Israel’s determination to battle the rising
Islamist forces in the region, buttressing Israel’s standing among those powers
in the region and elsewhere which fear the Islamist wave.
IMPORTANT reason for acting in Gaza now is that Israel is presumably considering
an attack on Iran’s nuclear sites. By taking the current opportunity to act in
Gaza, Israel can greatly reduce the missile retaliation it would face if it does
Not only would most or all of the Gaza missiles and the organizations
preparing to use them be destroyed, but deterrence against missiles from Lebanon
and elsewhere would be increased. Such an action in Gaza would also increase the
international perception that Israel really might attack Iranian nuclear
In addition, today’s political conditions seem appropriate for
Israeli action. The government is stable and would draw large popular
support for putting an end, even for a while, to the terror against its
citizens. In contrast, Hamas is currently weak and divided as its
political leadership had to leave Syria and there are tensions with
Furthermore, one of the effects of the fluidity and uncertainty in
Egypt and Syria is that neither country can focus on dealing with Israel right
now. They are too busy with domestic power struggles. And it would be
better for Israel if whoever ends up in control of those countries has a fresh
reminder of Israel’s ability and willingness to protect itself.
because of the election campaign in the US it is likely to be safer for Israel
to act against missile attacks from Gaza now rather than in eight months. From
now until November the US is likely to restrain rather than promote
international action against Israel in response to an action in
These political circumstances indicate that the diplomatic costs in
the international arena might be minimized, although it is not impossible that a
Gaza operation could start an unexpectedly harmful train of political or
If the IDF capitalizes on this opportunity, the
operation must end with unequivocal victory. This time the Philadelphi Corridor
(at the Egyptian border) must be taken in order to encircle Gaza. If Israel
completes the job this time, by pursuing and destroying Hamas’ military and
leadership, it will also make it clear that its objective is not civilian
destruction but the defeat of the forces that have been attacking and
The IDF should be able to capture or kill the
majority of the leadership and “officer corps” of Hamas and the other fighting
forces in Gaza – as well as their existing stockpiles of missiles and advanced
weapons and many of their files and computers – every physical component of the
organizations that have been attacking Israel.
This is what the kind of
unequivocal victory Israel needs would look like – although it cannot be a free
or final victory.
Although an Israeli action in Gaza could significantly
increase Israel’s security, we have to keep in mind that Israel cannot gain any
final victory. There is a good chance that Hamas would be able to restore itself
in a year or so – if the Palestinian Authority doesn’t prevent it from doing so.
In any event Gazans and their outside supporters will create new organizations
to fight Israel.
Even though Israel can destroy a large share of the
military equipment that has been smuggled into Gaza in the past several years –
which will be an important benefit for the next year or two – we must assume
that sooner or later other weapons will be smuggled in to replace them. Israel
will probably have to “mow the grass” again.
Israel can never win this
war, but it can lose it. That is, the state of Israel can be destroyed but the
Palestinians and the Arab states cannot be. To protect itself from Arab
determination to eliminate Israel, Israel has to define specific victories that
provide large improvements in its security – military and diplomatic, and the
IDF must do what it takes, including suffering necessary casualties, to make
sure that it achieves those victories.
In international relations,
despite fine words, weakness provokes criticism and contempt, while strength and
success – even limited success – create respect, and sometimes
support.Efraim Inbar is a professor of Political Studies at Bar-Ilan
University and director of the Begin Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies.
Max Singer is a Hudson Institute founder and senior researcher at BESA.