Analysis: Is Israel’s deterrence losing steam?

A year after Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip, the clashes along the border may be a sign that Hamas has become the primary and most immediate security challenge for Netanyahu.

gaza strip idf tank 311 (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
gaza strip idf tank 311
(photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
After a year of no wars or major terror attacks, the clashes along the border with the Gaza Strip over the weekend may be a sign that Hamas has become the primary and most immediate security challenge for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
With three IDF soldiers killed last week, Netanyahu was faced with a major decision about the level of Israel’s response.
A year after Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip, it appears that the deterrence Israel achieved there during its three-week operation in early 2009 has significantly eroded. This is in contrast to the volatile border with Lebanon, where despite the almost four years that have passed since the Second Lebanon War, Hizbullah continues to refrain from attacking Israel.
What was interesting about Friday night’s attack was that while it is presumed that it was carried out by Islamic Jihad, Hamas also claimed responsibility. This will force a reassessment within Military Intelligence regarding Hamas’s involvement in terrorist attacks. Until recently, IDF officers openly admitted that they were impressed by the way Hamas was refraining from terror activity and was even in some cases rounding up operatives from other groups who were firing Kassam rockets into Israel.
Nevertheless, Israel’s response will likely be measured. While Friday afternoon’s clash in Gaza was costly and included the deaths of two soldiers, one of them the deputy commander of the Golani Brigade’s 12th Battalion, it is unlikely that it will lead Israel to launch Cast Lead II.
There are a number of reasons for this. First, at the moment Israel does not have the diplomatic justification for another big operation like it had on the eve of Cast Lead. The combination of the effect of the Goldstone Report, the fallout from the Mabhouh assassination in Dubai and the current crisis with the United States makes clear that for Netanyahu, quiet is most important.
On the other hand, he could surprise us. With Israel already suffering diplomatically, some might argue that now is the time for another major operation on the basis that there is not much more to lose.
Whatever happens, the attack leaves the IDF with two clear conclusions.
First, while rocket attacks are down since Cast Lead, attempts to plantbombs along the border are up. The public just doesn’t hear of most ofthem since they usually end without any Israeli casualties and aredealt with by tanks or attack helicopters. If this is the mostimmediate threat to Israel, then the IDF needs to be sure that it hasinvested the right amount of resources in neutralizing it.
Second,there is the erosion of Israel’s deterrence that needs to be dealtwith. This will not be achieved by bombing yet another smuggling tunnelor empty arms manufacturing plant. On the other hand, Israel likelywill decide against a large-scale operation, meaning that while theobjective is clear, the means of getting there are not.