Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman resigned on Wednesday in the wake of a ceasefire deal that prevented war in Gaza. Prior to the ceasefire, a Kornet anti-tank missile and 460 rockets were fired at Israel by Hamas from the Gaza Strip. Liberman described the ceasefire as a surrender to terrorism.
Israel responded to the unprecedented rocket fire by carrying out strikes on 160 targets in Gaza, but the government knew that without a strategy behind a new war in Gaza, there was no reason to continue the air strikes. This was an important cessation of hostilities and the government should be praised for not making rash decisions without clear goals in mind.
While Hamas should be punished for its attacks, more importantly it must not be allowed to dictate the tempo to Jerusalem. As a strong and powerful state with technology that can confront Hamas rockets and other threats, the most important question to ask before waging another ground campaign in Gaza, or even expanding the air war, is what is the goal and what does Israel want?Momentary quiet on the border is not a long-term solution, but a major offensive into the Strip is also not a solution. It would simply put us back again in the same place we were in the aftermath of the Gaza War in 2014. That has kept the peace for three and a half years. Hamas has been trying to start a war with Israel over the last six months to gain legitimacy.
The public rightly demands answers from the government regarding the ceasefire. Protesters gathered near Sderot and burned tires Tuesday. They are angry after six months of intermittent rocket fire, incendiary balloons and other threats that have made life difficult. They have also seen ceasefires come and go throughout the summer and fall. They must have security.
In Gaza on Tuesday night there were celebrations. Hamas thinks it came away with a kind of victory after 24 hours of rockets and reprisals by Israel. Hamas says that its “steadfastness” has triumphed over Israel’s bombardment. It also praises Qatar, Egypt, Norway and the UN for “stopping the Israeli attack.”
The conflict that almost erupted on Monday evening is part of growing tensions between Hamas and Israel over the last six months. This began in March when Hamas decided to launch its March of Return. The massive riots and constant attempts at infiltration have largely failed to ignite a spark in the last six months. More than 200 Palestinians have been killed and thousands injured, all sacrificed so Hamas can save face for more than a decade of failures in Gaza. Hamas thrives best when it can claim to be a “resistance” movement. It gained popularity in the 1990s for its opposition to the Oslo Accords and for its murderous campaign of bombings. It thrived politically by portraying itself as the anti-corruption party, the opposite of Fatah’s ossifying leadership. But Hamas has failed at governance. This is because at its heart it is an Islamist extremist terrorist group, not a responsible governing party. It has no interest in governing the Gaza Strip or improving the lives of people. Insofar as Gazans do receive any bits of hope in life it is because of investment by states like Qatar, which have spent hundreds of millions to build infrastructure. This props up Hamas and enables it to continue to experiment with different threats against Israel. The firing of a Kornet missile and massive barrages of rockets were designed to test the security forces. But Hamas also sought to limit the conflict by not firing long-range rockets.
This is a dangerous and deadly dance. The public is rightly outraged at the ceasefire and the lack of quiet. When this ceasefire is violated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his security cabinet must have a real answer for Gaza. Another six months of intermittent rockets are not acceptable.
The biggest failure is that Netanyahu has been prime minister for 10 years and has no long-term solution to Gaza. He seeks to manage the conflict and divide the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. Is this status quo the best that Israel can achieve? It shows a lack of strategic thinking and policy. It’s time for a long-term strategy.