This is not about politics. It’s about peace. And while after yet another round of conflict in Gaza, one might be forgiven for thinking that nothing has changed in the perennially troubled enclave, we must now look to a new a dawn; a dawn of regionally backed peace.
Of course, there have been numerous clashes between Israel and Palestinian terror organizations in the Strip since Israel’s withdrawal in 2005; indeed, one frequently employed metaphor for Israeli policy in the area has been “mowing the lawn.” This is based on the idea that, since Israel can do nothing to change the fundamental equation of Hamas/Islamic Jihad rejection of its existence, all it can do is occasionally use military force as a deterrent.
There are signs, however, that this equation may be changing. At the outset, some observers thought that the operation had the potential to lead to violence on several fronts. As in the past, they worried about the risks of a relatively restrained operation inadvertently becoming something much larger and riskier. However, the IDF admirably stuck to its aims without falling victim to mission creep. It assassinated two senior Islamic Jihad leaders who commanded the terror group’s northern and southern section. It significantly reduced the organization’s military capacity. And it did this while preventing a major attack on the Gaza envelope region – the risk of which prompted the military operation in the first place.
It did all this while avoiding any loss of life on the Israeli side, with Islamic Jihad failing to cause any significant damage. This is not to downplay the very real trauma of Israelis living under the threat of missiles – especially near the Gaza Strip. But the fact that not a single Israeli was killed during a major military operation is of great credit to the IDF and its Home Front Command, the residents of the area, and of course to Iron Dome.
On the Palestinian side, nearly 50 people were killed, the vast majority of whom were combatants, with the tragic civilian loss of life mostly attributable to misfired Islamic Jihad rockets. Israeli precision and accuracy continue to improve. Despite the lies spread around the world, the IDF has nothing to gain by killing civilians and everything to gain by not killing them. For the first time, rather than allowing the Jihadi organizations to seize control of the narrative, the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit rapid distribution of footage of the errant missile that tragically killed several children in the Jabalia Refugee Camp was shared by media outlets around the world, immediately rebutting the blood libel of an Israeli massacre. Often the Palestinian terror groups’ greatest weapon is the ability to accuse Israel of war crimes and atrocities; here the whole world could see that it was the Islamic Jihad who were guilty. An additional complication this time was the need to not only target specifically military targets, but only those belonging to Islamic Jihad, so as to avoid drawing Hamas into the conflict. Again, Israel passed this test successfully.
The final difference from previous rounds – and perhaps the most crucial in the long term – was the reaction from other Arab stakeholders within Israel and the Gaza Strip. As mentioned, Hamas stayed out of the fighting, concerned at undermining the relative stability they have accrued from the increasing number of Gazans who have received permits to work in Israel. Inside Israel, Mansour Abbas, the Ra’am leader (United Arab List) spoke out in favor of peace while saying “we have no influence on military operations. We are in the Knesset to work for Arab society and not to influence the foreign and security policy of the State of Israel.” Most importantly, the wider region was relatively quiet, allowing Israel to carry out its operation with greater diplomatic freedom than usual.
This, I think, is of vital importance moving forward. When he was foreign minister, current Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid suggested an “Economy for Security” two-stage plan for Gaza. The first stage would involve humanitarian reconstruction, during which Israel would allow Gaza to rehabilitate its electricity system, connect to a gas pipeline, build desalination plants, and improve its health system in exchange for long-term quiet. The second stage called for building an artificial island off Gaza on which a seaport could be built, as well as promoting international investment and joint economic projects with Israel, Egypt, and the Palestinian Authority. Much of this plan may seem like a fantasy.
Hamas’s restraint last week should not obscure the reality that they are an internationally recognized terrorist organization who are both sworn to Israel’s destruction and anti-peace in the region. But the Abraham Accords teach us that dramatic change is possible, and there is an increasing sense that both the residents of Gaza and the wider Arab world are coming to the realization that there is nothing to be gained from the current policies of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad. A line in the sand has been drawn between the extremists and those who want peace and prosperity. If the peace-seekers continue to work together, constant fighting in Gaza may yet become a thing of the past.