Analysis: 'Waiting for babies to die is no strategy'

Former Mossad chief Shavit: When we did take a pro-active, offensive approach, Hamas called for calm.

Tue Kassam 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Tue Kassam 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Imagine how this page would have looked if, God forbid, 12 children had been killed yesterday in the rocket attack on a Sderot kindergarten instead of "just" being sent to Ashkelon's Barzilai Hospital and treated for shock. Our main story would likely have read something like this: "IAF warplanes and helicopters pounded Gaza from the air Monday, warships fired artillery from the sea, and three tank battalions rolled into the Strip at various points after an Islamic Jihad rocket attack on a Sderot kindergarten left 12 Israeli toddlers dead. The government declared total war on the Hamas movement in Gaza, including its political leadership, and vowed to grant the IDF all the time it deemed necessary to get the job done. "Meanwhile, Hamas and Islamic Jihad mobilized their newly organized divisions to prepare for the coming onslaught. Heavy fighting was reported in the northern and eastern parts of the Strip, in areas used by Palestinian rocket squads to launch Kassams at Sderot. Meanwhile, public anger mounted as funeral announcements were posted on Sderot homes..." Instead, we have fighting words from the prime minister: "We will exact responsibility all along the chain of command of terrorists who harm Israel." But as of this writing, there had been no major shift in IDF strategy against the terror infrastructure in the Gaza Strip as a result of the kindergarten near-miss. The fact that the 12 children had to be given hospital care on day two of the school year after a Kassam attack on their day care center exposes not only the total absence of Israeli deterrence in the area, but also the weak premise of what seems to be the current IDF strategy regarding the menace from Gaza: Do not escalate battle against Hamas because conflagration with Syria is still possible; and do not invade Gaza while you are negotiating a deal with the Palestinian Authority ahead of a peace conference in November. Speaking to The Jerusalem Post on Monday, hours after the rockets struck, former Mossad chief Shabtai Shavit said that if, as he feared, the government was essentially adopting a strategy of "waiting for babies to die" before sending IDF divisions into the Gaza Strip, it would show that "Israeli deterrence is in its dregs." Shavit headed the Mossad external spy service from 1989 to 1996. He is now chairman of the International Institute of Counter Terrorism at IDC Herzliya. "Our strategy should be one of offense, not defense," Shavit elaborated. "We should be pro-active, and not react. There is no need to send three battalions into the Gaza Strip. There are varied means to achieve a pro-active strategy, as we have done in the past. And when we did take a pro-active approach, largely through targeted assassinations, Hamas called for a period of calm [tahadiya]. We have in the past employed tactics of a low intensity attack strategy, and it has worked. And when we were hitting their political leadership, military leadership, and weapons experts, Hamas looked for a cease-fire. "The answer is not to send in divisions and occupy Gaza again, but to attack the terror leaders and the infrastructure in a smart, sustained manner. We need to change the equation from one of 'they fire at us and we respond,' to 'we attack them and they go into defensive mode,'" Shavit urged. Critics of this approach argue that since the IDF pulled out of the Gaza Strip two years ago, gathering the type and quality of intelligence needed for a low intensity, strategic strike campaign has become more complicated. But Shavit said Israel doesn't need "territorial contiguity" in the Gaza Strip to have intelligence assets there. He used as an example the botched terrorist attempt to shoot down an Arkia civilian aircraft with shoulder-launched missiles in Mombasa in 2002. "We don't have territorial contiguity from Israel to East Africa, but we managed to solve that case," he said, without elaborating. It would be easier to obtain quality, actionable intelligence if Israel did have a presence in the Strip, Shavit acknowledged, but it is not absolutely necessary to get the job done. The feeling in the defense establishment is that it would not be wise to be dragged into a major offensive inside the Gaza Strip while the situation along the Hizbullah-Syria front, a potentially much bigger conflagration, remains fraught. Hamas is, after all, controlled from "media liaison offices" in Damascus, and could be aiming to bog the IDF down in a lengthy fight in Gaza under orders from Israel's enemies in Syria. The IDF wants to avoid fighting simultaneously on two fronts if possible. But Shavit, who was also a Southern Command officer, rejected this thinking. "This is a defeatist approach," he insisted. "We live here. We are a sovereign state. There cannot be a situation in which Kassams fall on Jewish communities and we don't attack those responsible because of other potential threats. Our deterrence is not served by this approach. Are we going to sit and wait until a rocket falls on a building housing babies and they are killed, and only then respond? What sort of thinking is that?" As the Sderot Parents Association said Monday, it may have been a mistake to send children to schools in Sderot thinking they would be safe. All of the government and army's statements to the contrary, many of the classrooms are unfortified, and even if they were, the 15 to 20 seconds needed to run to such protection, should the children be outdoors, is not always going to be sufficient. Although it can never hurt to fortify classrooms and to create readily accessible bomb shelters, the real solution to the problems of rocket attacks on Sderot and the western Negev, according to Shavit, must be a "war to the end" on the terror leadership and infrastructure of the Gaza Strip.