Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a cabinet meeting, June 17, 2018..
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
At the end of a sleepless night, and following a weekend of unending alerts warning of rocket fire heading towards Israel from the Gaza Strip, it is becoming increasingly clear that the deterrence Israel achieved four years ago in the last Gaza war has eroded and that we are engaging in tactics instead of creating a strategy. As a result, we are missing out on a historic opportunity to change the reality in the region.
The combination of the passive defense offered by security rooms, which have been installed in most communities in the Gaza envelope area, together with the active defense provided by the Iron Dome missile systems, which can now also intercept mortar shells, has prevented human casualties. It has also enabled residents of the Gaza envelope area to remain patient and continue their support of the Israeli government and the IDF, which is actively retaliating against Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip.
Despite the numerous nightly interruptions when children and their parents are forced to run for shelter into their safe rooms, residents of southern Israel continue to show restraint and wait for the government to present a long-term plan and clarify its policies.
The time has come for the prime minister to present a long-term strategy, to stop managing reality and instead to change it. The time has come to put a stop to the intra-cabinet competition in which members propose superior ways to boycott Hamas. This is counterproductive since the Israeli government engages with Hamas on a daily basis through its Egyptian and other intermediaries.
We must keep in mind that even at the end of the Second Lebanon War, Israel negotiated with Hezbollah through international mediators, even though this group is also not listed among the greatest lovers of Zion. And yet, once an agreement was approved by the UN Security Council, there has been quiet on Israel’s northern border to this day.
But we can turn the current escalation into an opportunity. Due to the difficult situation Hamas has currently found itself in, its boycott by most of the countries around the globe, including the Arab world, the openness of moderate Arab countries who have shared interests with Israel, and the support of the US and the entire global community, we are in a situation in which we can push forward a political move based on disarmament in exchange for economic rehabilitation. This would change the reality on the ground in Gaza and would improve the humanitarian situation of Gazans. It would also ensure quiet for Israelis living in the Gaza envelope area.
The cabinet met on Sunday to discuss solutions for the Gaza Strip. We can no longer continue taking the same actions, but expect a different outcome.
If Netanyahu and his ministers are interested in altering the situation and not having to return to bi-weekly confrontations, they must make a strategic decision that will clarify how we view the reality on the ground in Gaza, and formulate a plan that will secure international support, including from the Palestinian Authority, the US, the EU and moderate Muslim countries.
This agreement must be presented at an international conference where all the financial aid commitments for the rehabilitation of Gaza are decided upon. These changes will take place either through diplomatic channels or in a military operation that will lead to the creation of a new political process. Either way, we must not wait for the next round of war. We must not wait to be dragged into another military operation that has no defined goals and no clear purpose.The writer served as defense minister and currently chairs the Subcommittee for Home Front Defense of the Knesset Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee. He lives in Sderot.
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