Gaza missiles threat to Israel’s sovereignty

Different Perspective: As a sovereign state, Israel must take effective action to end rocket attacks.

Qassam rocket 311 (photo credit: Amir Cohen/Reuters)
Qassam rocket 311
(photo credit: Amir Cohen/Reuters)
The Palestinians in the Gaza Strip who fire homemade Kassam and imported Soviet-type Grad missiles must be prevented from playing Russian roulette with the people who live in southern Israel.
As a sovereign state which bears responsibility for the safety and security of its citizens, Israel must take effective action to this end. The government cannot allow nearly a million of them to live in constant dread.
These deadly projectiles have been launched sporadically since August 2005, when Israel withdrew its military personnel and civilian settlers from Gaza unilaterally and unconditionally – an act that ran counter to international norms and precedents.
Fortunately, the casualty toll has been light, thanks to many near-misses and close calls, but if any of the region’s sensitive targets, among them kindergartens, schools, hospitals and industrial facilities, are hit the consequences might be horrendous and the retaliation severe.
In that case, the gun crews which are tolerated or supported by Gaza’s Hamas regime would have chosen the timing and determined the magnitude of Israel’s response, and that is undesirable from a tactical standpoint.
The chief of staff, Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz, has said that a major ground operation would be necessary to bring an end to the missile attacks once and for all. It evidently is on the drawing boards while the military command has confirmed that the units designated for this mission already are being trained for it.
However, objectives are one thing and consequences are another – especially in the long term.
The simplest option would be a swift takeover of the Strip in toto, something Israel did in 1956 and in 1967. But that would generate a mini-war of attrition between the Israeli soldiers and the well-equipped Palestinian gunmen (whose arms were obtained mainly by means of the tunnels from Sinai which were spurred by Israel’s unwise and counter-productive land and sea blockade). The latter belong to extremist groups backed by the Iranian and Syrian regimes.
One inevitable result would be a constant toll in military and civilian casualties while the operation was under way and in its aftermath. Besides this, it might prompt a concurrent missile onslaught against northern Israel by Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia which also is backed by Syria and Iran. And in the possibly worst scenario, it could prompt Iran to intervene by means of its medium-range projectiles.
Even the least dangerous of these military options would undermine the diplomatic effort to preserve the normal (though cool) relations with Egypt that are based on the peace treaty signed in 1979, regardless of the political character of Cairo’s future government.
Egypt, which ruled the Strip from 1949 to 1967, has been treating Gaza ever since as if it were part of the Egyptian sphere of influence.
De facto reoccupation of Gaza would also generate severe criticism throughout the Arab world and in the international community. Annexation would sabotage the highly touted two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, if only because the Strip is part of the area earmarked for Palestinian sovereignty by the so-called Quartet consisting of the US, European Union, Russia and UN.
On the other hand, Israel may have no choice. It could and probably should step up its hitherto phlegmatic recourse to the international news media, to make a convincing case for armed intervention in Gaza. This could be followed by a clear-cut decision to assure foreign correspondents access to the areas retaken by the troops, if only to refute claims by Hamas and its local allies or front organizations that atrocities were committed by the incoming forces.
One of the biggest problems in the current phase of the Gaza situation is that Hamas has mobilized and trained a sizable number of armed contingents consisting of police and pseudo-military personnel who could be transformed into a major source of resistance against the Israeli troops. Hamas also has militant political cadres whose members would pose a constant obstacle to Israeli attempts to give Gaza’s moderate elements, especially those who oppose its totalitarian style of government, a more effective role in the Strip’s political arena.
Israel could also take the political initiative during a total or even partial takeover, by trying to mollify the Strip’s majority of Palestinian Arab refugees. This could be done by a partial resettlement program which would run parallel to Israel’s ongoing support of Jewish settlement projects in the West Bank. That might give the refugees a sense of compensation and symbolize Israeli understanding of their plight.
On the other hand, the last time Israel tried to ameliorate the conditions in which the refugees live, (this occurred immediately after the Six Day War nearly 45 years ago), they refused the offer. New housing that had been built for them in the Rafah area at the southern end of the Gaza Strip was totally boycotted.
A footnote to all this is the long-forgotten declaration made by then-cabinet minister Yisrael Galili, who served as then-prime minister Golda Meir’s political confidant and supreme adviser in the 1970s, that the Gaza Strip “never again will be separated from the State of Israel.”
The fact that a commitment like that could be totally ignored by his successors effectively discounted the importance or relevance of statements made by Israel’s policy-makers. In other words, the conclusion was that their words cannot be taken seriously – not by their Palestinian adversaries and not by other elements on the international scene. And that is not the way it should be.
The writer is a veteran correspondent.