(photo credit: )
On Saturday, four Palestinian terrorists broke through the Gaza fence in a jeep emblazoned with the large "TV" markings customary for journalists' vehicles. Once through, they rammed a small outpost, which had been set up as a decoy by the IDF. An Israeli patrol quickly arrived, but only after three of the terrorists had escaped back into Gaza. The fourth hid, and was killed in a battle with the soldiers. This incident ended relatively well, with none of our soldiers wounded, killed or kidnapped. It was hardly, however, an unassailable success.
Even disguised as journalists, the question remains how the terrorists managed to get through the fence. There was reportedly no intelligence warning of the attack. Worst of all, most of the terrorists were able to escape unharmed, with no IDF force pursuing them.
It is fair to assume that this incident, like all others of such seriousness, will be investigated and the appropriate lessons learned. Indeed, it was an inquiry into the kidnapping of Gilad Schalit almost a year ago that led to a change in the IDF's deployment, ending the presence of just a few soldiers in various isolated points on the border. The decoy pill box attacked was one such evacuated point.
It should be noted that there have been hundreds of attempted attacks by terrorists across the Gaza border since Schalit was captured. Obviously, most of them were foiled. There is no doubt that some lessons have been learned, but the terrorists know that if they keep trying they are bound to succeed.
Ultimately, a defensive posture that leaves the initiative in the enemy's hands will always be flawed; what is necessary is to ensure that the enemy decides not to attack in the first place.
This is happening to some extent in the form of fewer Kassam attacks on Sderot as the IDF has picked up the pace of its operations in Gaza. The reduction is assumed to be a result of a decision by terrorist groups to try to reduce the IDF's military pressure on themselves, not a lack of missiles or the capability to fire them.
The reported recommendation by IDF Chief of General Staff Gabi Ashkenazi to widen existing Gaza operations, short of a massive land-based assault to weed out the terrorists from populated areas, does make sense. In particular, attacks such as the joint Islamic Jihad and Fatah assault on Saturday must be punished, in crucial part so that future would-be perpetrators and their dispatchers are deterred. The token operation against empty targets on Saturday night did not impose the significant cost that should be exacted upon the relevant groups in the wake of so serious an attack.
Military pressure, however, is not the only sort that must be brought to bear. When Prime Minister Ehud Olmert travels to Washington next week for his White House meeting, he should stress that the best way to help Mahmoud Abbas is to stop the weapons flow to Hamas and reduce the flood of foreign assistance going into the Palestinian areas. Giving Abbas more weapons as is apparently being mooted, without doing anything to staunch the flow of weapons across the Egyptian border to Hamas and other terror groups, will not fundamentally change the situation for the better. If, by contrast, that flow were staunched, along with increased financial and military pressure, it is possible that Hamas would find a reason to pursue a different course. For this to happen, both Washington and Jerusalem must decide that more intense pressure on Egypt is necessary, rather than treating Cairo as a fragile, helpless and constructive partner.
The US is reportedly pressing Olmert to bring some kind of diplomatic initiative with him, but no "diplomatic horizon" that Israel might conceivably offer can substitute for such pressure. The diplomatic stalemate is not a consequence of a lack of formulae or ideas, but of the lack of fundamental goodwill and desire for reconciliation on the part of the Hamas-dominated PA leadership. If anything, new initiatives, if not accompanied by a palpable change on the Egyptian-Gaza border and other moves that constrain and deter Hamas, would only increase the incentive for Palestinian attacks.