(photo credit: [file])
Former IDF chief of staff Lt.-Gen. (res.) Moshe Ya'alon on Tuesday accused the government of responsibility for Hamas's victory in the Palestinian elections by disengaging from the Gaza Strip this past summer and of not sufficiently protecting Israeli cities targeted by Kassam rockets.
"We need to escalate military action against the Kassam launchers even if it means entering the Gaza Strip," Ya'alon said in a speech during a conference of the Jerusalem Center of Public Affairs. While Israel did not have to keep troops on the ground in Gaza "for generations" it made a mistake, Ya'alon said, by not responding immediately after the "Kassam rain showers" began. The former chief of staff, currently a visiting fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, came to Israel for one day to participate in the conference.
Ya'alon slammed the unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip this past summer and blamed Israel for Hamas's take-over of the Palestinian Authority. "There is no question that the disengagement from Gaza strengthened the Hamas and weakened [PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas] Abu Mazen," he told the conference which convened at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.
The disengagement, Ya'alon said, could have been done differently. "Many people see the occupation as an obstacle to peace instead of the Palestinians who started the conflict," the former military officer said. "The bottom line is that we could have done it [disengagement] differently and we could have strengthened the Zionist story and not the Palestinian story. The Hamas saw what happened and understood that terrorism had won."
Unilateral steps that did not create a profit for Israel should not be taken, Ya'alon continued. "Instead of making the Palestinians understand they will pay a heavy price for terror, they learned they are better off as terrorists and that is a serious problem," he said.
Meetings this week between the head of Hamas's political wing Khaled Mashal and officials in Teheran including Iran's radical president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Ya'alon continued, "should make us lose sleep at night."
"Hamas's victory in the elections will tighten the ties between the PA and Iran and will grant Iran a great deal of influence over what happens in the West Bank and especially in the Gaza Strip," Ya'alon said. "With or without financial assistance [to the PA] from the West, the Iranians will enhance their involvement in the PA, will support terror attacks against Israel and will transfer information, technology and weapons."
The Iranians, Ya'alon said, also planned to use the results in the Palestinian elections as a "platform to try and undermine other governments connected to the West - particularly Egypt and Jordan."
The Palestinian terror groups, Ya'alon said, would use Hamas's win to try and improve the weaponry and to develop long-range and accurate rockets. Al-Qaida, the former chief of staff said, was also operating in Gaza and "young Palestinians were easy recruits" to enlist in the radical terror group. "We need to assume that the Palestinians will try and improve their rocket abilities," Ya'alon said. "We can assume that we will soon face accurate and deadly long-range rockets that can reach Ashkelon and possibly even farther west."
Israel, Ya'alon said, should use Hamas's victory in the elections to create a unified international bloc against the radical group as well as global terrorism. The challenges, he said, were not just Israel's but also affected the entire western world.
"Isn't it clear already that a society which educates its youth to prefer death over life is not a partner in dialogue," Ya'alon asked the crowd. "A society with a narrative that rejects Israel's existence is not someone we can talk to. It is someone to wage war with."
While a military strike against Iran should be a "last resort," the former IDF chief called on Israel to exercise restraint and to allow other countries to launch the strike in its place.
"It is better if the strike is carried out by others and not Israel," Ya'alon said adding that for the first time the entire western world was unified in its opposition to what was clearly an Iranian military nuclear program.