Burning Issues 23: Should Israel retaliate for Eilat bombing?

Is a large-scale Gaza ground offensive or a resumption of targeted assassinations called for?

eilat attack 298 ap (photo credit: AP)
eilat attack 298 ap
(photo credit: AP)
Burning Issues brings our best opinion writers to one podium, where they respond, in brief and in real time, to a question about one of the hottest news topics on the agenda. A link to the writer's most recent column appears after each post. Burning Issues 1-22: Last three: US candidates' Iran stance, Road map relevancy, Barak's comeback.
Question #23
Should Israel launch a large-scale retaliation - such as a Gaza ground offensive or a resumption of targeted assassinations - in response to the Eilat suicide bombing, or should it continue policy of restraint while taking into account Palestinian infighting? Contributions by Jonathan Tobin, Isi Leibler, Michael Freund, Daniel Pipes, Gerald Steinberg, Caroline Glick and Elliot Jager. Caroline Glick: Israel should not respond to the bombing per se. Israel should defend itself against Gaza's effective transformation into a base for global jihad largely run by Iranian and Syrian taskmasters. Since leaving the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2005 Israel has played the role of chicken little, hiding its head in the sand refusing to contend with the growing strategic threat. A properly formulated plan to contend with the growing threat from Gaza does not involve a raid or two against terror infrastructures. A properly formulated plan does not involve spending up to NIS 200 million on a fence along the Egyptian border. A proper Israeli defense against Gaza would be multifaceted. It would involve the reassertion of Israeli control over the border between Gaza and the Egyptian Sinai and the reassertion of Israeli control of a 1-2 km buffer zone along the Gaza border with Israel from north to south. So too, an Israeli plan to contend with the terror state in Gaza would involve removing all Israeli support for Fatah - which took "credit" for the bombing in Eilat as well as for the repeated rocket attacks in the Western Negev. Moreover, a proper Israeli defensive response to the situation in Gaza involves arresting or killing the senior commanders of all terror factions and all agents of Iran and Syria operating in the area. To ensure that Gaza ceases to act as a haven for international terrorists and as a major forward base for the jihad against Israel, the Israeli government needs also to stop its ridiculous support for Egypt's "mediation" efforts among the various terror groups. These efforts have for the past 6 years and more egregiously in the past year and a half since the Israeli withdrawal, served only to empower the terrorists politically, economically and militarily. Israel must own up to the fact that Egypt's role in the transformation of Gaza into a base for global jihad has been instrumental. Our World: Welcome to Palestine Elliot Jager: If the goal is to stop the Palestinian factions from battling each other and return their focus to killing us, I think an large-scale IDF operation right now would be a bright idea. To the question: Shall we disturb Palestinian internecine warfare and bolster the Hamas-Fatah cease-fire (just announced) by having the IDF launch a major attack on Gaza? I think not. We should keep going after the tunnels, keep trying to identify the "ticking bombs" keep hitting the hard-to-locate Kassam teams, maintain full operations in Judea and Samaria, but for the time being avoid a campaign in Gaza that would bring unity to the enemy camp. Most of us fear that at some point enemy factions will stop killing each other and - rather than turn Gaza into the Hong Kong of the Mediterranean - they will again throw themselves full-time into the task of killing Israelis. Thus, when (and if) there is no choice, we will have to conduct a massive operation in Gaza - a campaign that will make Operation Defense Shield seem like a picnic. That's not something we should wish for ourselves right now. I am not keen on resuming full Israeli control of the Strip. Power and Politics: Boker tov, 'Economist' Gerald Steinberg: The attack in Eilat is a reminder that although the names of the groups, slogans, and circumstances change, Palestinian terror has continued for over 80 years (long before the excuse of "occupation"). These attacks have taken a major toll, but have not succeeded in weakening or defeating Israel. IDF responses have varied, and have, for the most part, been as effective as possible under the circumstances. Arafat's murderous terror campaign of 2001-2004, which took over 1000 Israeli lives, was defeated by a carefully designed military and diplomatic strategy, and was not blind "retaliation" - a term large inapplicable to Israel. Now, after the latest phony cease-fire has ended with the Eilat bombing, an appropriate combination of offensive and defensive measures is necessary. The new "security arrangements" between Gaza and Sinai, including the European control of the Rafah crossing and increased Egyptian forces, have failed, and may require a direct IDF presence. And by resuming the hunt for terrorist leaders in Gaza, including Islamic Jihad, Israel will force them to devote more energy to survival, and less to planning attacks. In the long term, terror will end when Palestinian leaders and society accept Israel's legitimacy and a two-state solution. The next Zionist revolution Michael Freund: The suicide bombing in Eilat, along with the ongoing Palestinian rocket attacks on the Negev, underlines the failure of Israel's policy of restraint. Rather than demonstrating the will and determination to uproot the terrorist infrastructure and remove the threat that it poses to Israel's citizens, the government has abdicated its responsibility and refrained from hunting down those who seek to murder innocent Jews. This has not only proven to be a grave tactical error, but it is also a dangerous strategic mistake too. By projecting weakness, Israel only invites further acts of violence and aggression. It is pure delusion to think that the terrorists appreciate Israel's restraint, think we are nicer because of it, or will show us any courtesy as a result. In effect, by not confronting the terrorists, Israel has effectively given them a respite, allowing them to regroup, retrain and plan additional attacks. Excuses can always be found to explain why this is not a good time to launch a major counter-terror operation, but there is no excuse for the government's unwillingness to protect the Jewish people from those who seek to do it harm. Now is the time for Israel to take off the gloves and clear out the hornets' nest of terror that has arisen in Gaza. Failure to do so only sets the stage for further violence and bloodshed. Right On: The straightforward arithmetic of jihad Isi Leibler: A tough response to the Eilat suicide bombing may temporarily unite Hamas and Fatah. However doing nothing merely reassures terrorists that they can continue killing Israeli civilians with impunity. Besides, what sort of a truce is it when Prime Minister Olmert stands aside as the Kassam rockets continue being launched against us and terrorists carry on business usual? What sort of truce is it when Hamas leaders publicly boast with pride that the suicide bombing in Eilat was a legitimate act of "resistance"? What sort of truce is it when Abbas urges his people to stop killing one another and turn their guns on Israelis? What is the point of holding back when our intelligence tells us and we are all aware that weapons and terrorists continue pouring into Gaza from Egypt and Hamas even boast that their intention is to unleash more attacks when they are ready? Indeed, the real question we should now ask is how, under such circumstances, can we continue endorsing a Palestinian terror state? Would it now be unreasonable for Olmert to inform the Americans that he will terminate all contact with Abbas and withdraw his support for a Palestinian state until Abbas at least apologizes for his call on Palestinians to kill Israelis? The writing is on the wall but we continue maintaining our state of denial until a terror attack or catastrophe temporarily, alas only temporarily, shakes us out of our state of stupor! Israelis aren't 'racist' - they're worried Jonathan Tobin: The question of whether or not the Israel Defense Forces should counter-attack the Palestinian terror groups is a tactical one that should be decided by the government and the military based on the information they have in hand and not by pundits looking on from afar. Such a decision should be based on whether or not there is more for Israel to be gained from launching a large-scale or a small scale operation against the terror bases in Gaza than to be lost by the military and/or political cost it must pay. Last summer's fiasco in Lebanon certainly illustrates the possible drawbacks of a large-scale operation. However, the notion that, as a matter of principle, Israel should not hold those who groups that send their members to murder Jews accountable, seems to me to be a lamentable strategy that is bound to do the country a great deal of harm. View from America: Be careful what you wish for Daniel Pipes: I cannot think of a single case when the Israeli government (or any other democratic government) should passively accept violent assaults on its people or its interests. Deterrence is the only way to convince Palestinians and the other enemies that the Jewish state is tough, strong, and permanent. Every suicide bombing that goes unanswered diminishes that deterrence and encourages Palestinians to indulge their fantasy of eliminating Israel. Whether to retaliate is the easy question; the tougher one is how to do so. What to do when the attacker is anonymous and unidentifiable? Or what if the oil and gas depot at Pi Glilot had been blown up in May 2002, potentially killing 20,000 in Tel Aviv - what retaliation could have sufficed then? To the first question, about anonymous attackers, I offered an answer in August 1998: If the perpetrator is not precisely known, then punish those who are known to harbor terrorists. Go after governments and organizations that support terrorism, not just individuals. To the second question, about mega-terrorism, we witnessed one answer in late 2001, when a US-led coalition overturned the Taliban regime in Afghanistan; but that is not a course open to Israelis. I hope we do not have to learn what the IDF strategists have in mind.
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