Inside Out: Beyond Gaza rhetoric

Even after the Jabari assassination, the facts, after all, tell a starkly different story.

Car carrying Hamas commander Jabari hit by IDF 390 (photo credit: Reuters)
Car carrying Hamas commander Jabari hit by IDF 390
(photo credit: Reuters)
The Gaza Strip erupted in yet another convulsion of violence this past week. Over the course of three days, Palestinian militiamen fired more than 100 missiles, rockets and mortar shells at Israeli civilian and military targets, sowing terror among the hundreds of thousands of people who live in southern Israel.
Yesterday Israel retaliated by killing Ahmed Jaabri, the commander of Hamas’s armed forces in Gaza. On the face of things, Israel was following through on its warning to deliver a a severe Israeli reprisal. In the course of Tuesday and Wednesday, the prime minister and defense minister used the media to let the public know that they were consulting with security officials and were convening the forum of nine to discuss a possible escalation of Israel’s military retaliation. A highly publicized briefing was also arranged for the ambassadors of key foreign countries, in what the Hebrew press described as an attempt to secure “international legitimacy” for more forceful Israeli strikes in Gaza.
But anyone who looks past this government’s public rhetoric, media spin and even this exceptional strike to examine closely its four year track record closely will have a hard time finding any indication that it genuinely intends to take significant action to change the situation in and around Gaza. On the contrary, it seems plainly evident that Netanyahu and his fellow decision-makers have been content with the status quo, despite the price that has been paid by the residents of southern Israel. Otherwise, their actions make no sense.
In the four years that the current coalition has been in power, it has taken no visible steps either to dislodge Hamas from power or, at the very least, to weaken its grip on Gaza. In fact, quite the contrary is true. The only two decisions with strategic implications for the Hamas regime in Gaza that were made by the Netanyahu government served actually to strengthen that party’s reign over the Gaza Strip. The Jaabri assassination does not change that equation.
The first case in question was Netanyahu’s decision to ease the blockade that was imposed on the Gaza Strip by Ehud Olmert in 2007 after Hamas seized power. Netanyahu made the decision to ease the blockade in July 2010, shortly after the international flotilla starring the Mavi Marmara was intercepted off the Gaza coast. The result of that decision was that Hamas, which had adamantly refused to meet any of the three threshold terms that were set by the international Quartet at Israel’s behest – to recognize Israel, to forswear terrorism and to accept previously- signed agreements – won itself a moral victory.
The second strategically significant decision for Hamas in Gaza made by Netanyahu was to go where no Israeli government had gone before in the negotiations for Gilad Schalit’s release from captivity. The Netanyahu government crossed many of its own “red lines,” including agreeing to release dozens of mass-murderers in a deal that set a new record in Israel for lopsidedness.
Once again, Hamas emerged strengthened from the Netanyahu government’s decisions. Hamas was able to argue in both cases that it had prevailed thanks to its unflinching steadfastness.
Unlike the Olmert government, which prosecuted Operation Cast Lead, the Netanyahu government refrained from undertaking any meaningful military action that might threaten to unseat Hamas. More astonishingly, certainly given the rhetoric used by Netanyahu and other Likud officials over the years, the current government made significant political concessions to Hamas (by easing the blockade without receiving anything in return and in the framework of the Schalit deal), which flew in the face of everything Netanyahu had ever publicly preached.
In summary, anyone who looks past all the public rhetoric and posturing, and judges the Netanyahu government purely on the basis of its track record, will be hard put not to conclude that this government believes that a strong Hamas in power in Gaza is the optimal scenario for Israel.
Such a position has strategic merits.
There are two obvious benefits that Israel derives from a situation in which Hamas is firmly in power in Gaza. The first is that Hamas has much more to lose and, as such, can be more easily deterred than, let’s say, rogue militias that answer to no one but themselves. The second is that when Hamas, a self-declared enemy of Israel, is in power, Israel is not expected to engage with it politically, and it is certainly not expected to make concessions.
Be that as it may, the Netanyahu government’s approach to the Hamas regime in Gaza is problematic in two ways. First and foremost, it is flawed because the unacceptable cost of this strategic policy is being borne in the most immediate sense by the hundreds of thousands of civilians who live within range of Gaza’s rockets. Too many Israelis’ lives have been compromised by this dubious policy.
The second problem is that this policy exposes Netanyahu and his fellow Likudniks as con artists. For the past 20 years they have been selling themselves to the public as the party that is tough on terrorism, contrasting themselves to their “conciliatory” adversaries in the center and on the left. But this government’s policies vis-à-vis Hamas-controlled Gaza prove those claims to be empty rhetoric or, in blunter terms, a pack of lies. Even after the Jabari assassination, the facts, after all, tell a starkly different story.
The author is a veteran Israeli writer and translator.