Palestinians Hamas supporters take part in a rally ahead of the 27th anniversary of the movement founding, in Jabaliya in the northern Gaza Strip.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The media have recently focused heavily on the “surprise” appearance of Muhammad Deif, the elusive head of Hamas’s military wing, on the battlefield, and on the fact that he wasn’t actually killed, but is alive and kicking in the Gaza Strip. Does the presence or absence of Deif really have such a strong effect on the way we conduct ourselves militarily vis-à-vis Hamas in Gaza? The State of Israel has carried out eight military operations so far in the Gaza Strip: Operation Rainbow and Operation Days of Penitence in 2004; Operation First Rain in 2005; Operation Summer Rains in 2006; Operation Hot Winter in 2008; Operation Cast Lead in 2009; Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012; and Operation Protective Edge in 2014.
Deif wasn’t actively involved in some of these operations due to his multiple injuries and medical conditions. Since the legends about the infamous terrorist’s immortality have begun circulating, Hamas has undertaken structural and organizational changes in Gaza. The Strip has been divided up into sections, and experienced commanders have been appointed to manage operations of each one. Each time commanders are killed in military operations, they are quickly replaced.
We must understand that Muhammad Deif is not the problem; Hamas and its underlying ideology are. Leaders rise and fall, but ideologies – especially ones based on religious fanaticism – are harder to eradicate. And when these ideologies are backed by extremist militant organizations that have not been curtailed, they develop and spread like a cancer. This is our main problem.
Operation Protective Edge, which took place last summer, cost us more money and more lives than any previous operation.
In addition, it shut down the economy in the “Gaza envelope” area near the Strip for months, which greatly affected the overall economy in Israel. Our leaders and many commentators adopted the IDF’s claim that Israel came out of the last operation victorious and that Hamas was severely beaten and would not succeed in recuperating for a long time. But the reality is actually quite different. Like all the previous operations, this last one was initiated by Hamas.
Each time it is the same – a rocket is fired into Israel, an Israeli is kidnapped or there is a shooting incident near the border and then farther into Israeli territory. And in the last operation, just as in previous ones, we waited and waited and did not retaliate for as long as we could and then finally when we were finally dragged into the fighting we went in with a lukewarm and limited initiative that did not have much force. Instead of going in with determination and hitting the enemy with daunting strength, we remained restrained and indecisive. And although our leaders claim otherwise, the operation ended without any resolution or military and political achievements. In fact, Israel’s situation visà- vis Hamas deteriorated as a result of the last operation, since our military deterrence has been weakened. And it is clear to everyone that the countdown to the next operation has already begun.
Back in December 2014, I wrote that the next campaign had already begun. Everything is clear and well-known. Hamas has manned all of its observation points and Hamas military intelligence has once again begun gathering information about Israel’s weak points. They’re producing rockets at lightning speed and have begun firing them into Israel as the sirens blast (near the Gaza border, of course, since Hamas knows well that the Israeli government finds this bearable and won’t retaliate).
Hamas knows that at most, Israel will send a jet into Gaza to bomb an abandoned building, a meaningless display of power.
And once again Hamas snipers are managing to get close to the border, where they can take shots at Israelis at close range.
Gazans began digging new tunnels toward Israeli communities the second the operation ended last summer. Once again, we are letting huge amounts of cement be brought into Gaza (which they say they need to rebuild homes), and Hamas is preparing explosives which it uses to booby-trap tunnels and buildings it abandoned.
Hamas commando training has been renewed in the northern Gaza Strip; they carry out simulations so they’ll be prepared when they reach their target destination: Israeli communities in the “Gaza envelope.”
And what’s going on here at home? We’ve been busy holding unnecessary elections, creating superfluous political parties, and expanding our fragmentation and polarization.
We hear about case after case of corruption, and we’ve found no solutions for our domestic problems: healthcare, the high cost of living, racism and personal security.
Hamas is sitting just across the fence, smirking at us as we busy ourselves with internal politics and bickering. They, on the other hand, are making good use of their time out of the spotlight to regroup and ready themselves for battle.
In the north, Hezbollah has rearmed and dug in, knowing full well that we have no battle plan to deal with them.
And just across the Syrian border, Islamic State continues to conquer territory, rape women and chop off the head of anyone who crosses its path, all the while knowing that the leadership in the West looks on silently. All of this will continue to occur with or without Muhammad Deif.
The other side is ready and prepared to fight, while we sit here, wasting our time bickering over who will be a deputy minister in the next government, which anyway has no chance of lasting anywhere close to four years, and will soon fall just as all the previous governments did. It’s only a matter of time before the next military operation begins on our southern or northern border. In the absence of a clear plan of action, neither side will be able to claim victory. There will be more civilian casualties, more economic damage and our level of deterrence will once again plummet.
All in all, without long-term strategic military and economic plans, and a genuine willingness to carry out political negotiations from a position of strength, no positive change will take place here.
The writer is a former brigadier-general who served as a division head in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).
Translated by Hannah Hochner.