One of the most oft-repeated arguments against Ariel Sharon’s decision to
disengage from the Gaza Strip in 2005 is that this decision resulted in mounting
Palestinian rocket fire on an ever-increasing number of Israeli cities, towns
On the face of things, this criticism is entirely true and
accurate. Just two weeks ago more than 170 rockets were fired on
Beersheba, Ashdod, Ashkelon and dozens of smaller communities, with Islamic
Jihad spokespersons threatening to strike even deeper inside Israel, implying
that Tel Aviv was also within range.
The underlying premise of this
argument is that Israel either should never have withdrawn from the Gaza Strip
or, at the very least, should not have done so unilaterally, in the absence of a
political agreement with the powers that be in Gaza.
That premise is
accurate, provided the cost-gain equation is restricted solely to the volume and
scope of the rocket fire that followed disengagement. However, if one
includes additional factors, such as the end of Gaza’s occupation, which was a
diplomatic and strategic millstone around Israel’s neck, and the drastic
reduction in Israel’s control over and interaction with Gaza’s 1.6 million
residents, the cost-gain equation changes significantly.
It is unlikely
that the development of increased-range Palestinian rocket fire out of Gaza
could have been entirely curtailed and averted had Israel not withdrawn from the
Gaza Strip in the summer of 2005. While it certainly would have been more
difficult for Palestinian organizations to obtain, deploy and fire longer-range
rockets with the IDF closer at hand, one must not forget that rockets had been
fired into Israeli civilian population centers even prior to
Speculation aside, the fundamental question posed by the
critics of disengagement is whether occupation is the best answer to the threat
of rocket fire out of Gaza.
Israel is within range of rockets and
missiles from Lebanon, Syria and Iran as well. Would anyone suggest that the
conquest and occupation of all of Lebanon, Syria and Iran is the solution?
Surely, the overwhelming majority of Israelis would not.
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such as Syria, made a strategic decision decades ago to arm themselves with
surface-to-surface missiles and rockets because of their own presumed inability
to defeat the IDF on the battlefield.
Israel responded by developing the
Arrow Missile System for intercepting ballistic missiles, and the David’s Sling
System, also known as Magic Wand, for intercepting mediumrange missiles, with
the goal of diminishing if not entirely eliminating the strategic threat posed
by its enemies’ missiles.
The Palestinian organizations in Gaza made a
similar strategic shift and opted to focus on missile development in the 1990s
after the separation fence that Israel built around the Gaza Strip made carrying
out crossborder ground terror attacks nearly impossible. Rocket fire remained
the only readily available tool for applying military pressure on Israel since
ground operations, such as the one in which Gilad Schalit was kidnapped in 2006
and the more recent attack via Sinai, had become much more difficult to
The impressive success of the Iron Dome system in preventing
casualties from the huge number of short-range rockets that were fired out of
Gaza two weeks ago significantly detracts from the strategic value of the rocket
arsenal in Gaza and Lebanon. While the Palestinian organizations in Gaza, as
well as Hezbollah, still have the ability to terrorize Israelis and to disrupt
normal life with rocket fire, they no longer have the capacity to inflict
casualties with the same ease and impunity they possessed before the deployment
of the Iron Dome batteries. That is a strategic setback of enormous
importance for those organizations.
Israel has always had an acrimonious
and belligerent relationship with the residents of the Gaza
Strip. Cross-border attacks by the Fedayoun were staged repeatedly even
before the Six-Day War, and terror attacks, by rockets and other means, continue
to this day. That belligerence was not tempered by either the occupation in 1967
or disengagement in 2005, and the situation is unlikely to change unless peace
In the meantime, however, a number of important developments
that are strategic and politically advantageous to Israel have occurred in Gaza
in the past year, developments that could not have occurred were it not for
Against the backdrop of changes brought on by the Arab
Spring, Gaza under Hamas has forged increasingly close ties with Egypt at the
expense of its former dependency on Israel. The new regime in Cairo has backed
away from some of Mubarak’s staunchly held policies that had been designed to
keep Gaza Israel’s responsibility.
Last May, Egypt fully opened the Rafah
border crossing to goods and people, effectively ending Gaza’s
isolation. Earlier this month an agreement was reached between the Hamas
regime and Cairo to connect Gaza to the Egyptian electricity grid and for Egypt
to supply fuel and water to the Gaza Strip. The end of Gaza’s isolation and
privation, when not at Israel’s expense, are developments that are to Israel’s
Occupation never was nor is it the answer to the
threat of missile attacks and other forms of belligerence at the hands of
Israel’s neighbors. The political, military and ethical costs of
occupation by far outweigh the benefits, even when occupation is militarily
feasible. Just as this is true of Syria, Lebanon, Sinai and Iran, so it is true
of Gaza. In the absence of peace, forced non-belligerence, which is achieved by
a combination of deterrence and diminishing the strategic efficacy of missile
fire through active defense systems, was and remains the optimal solution.
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