The Region: What to do about Gaza: The realistic scenario

Neither the hawks nor the doves are right, but Israel still has options.

barry rubin new 88 (photo credit: )
barry rubin new 88
(photo credit: )
Not only is there no good solution to the Gaza problem, there's no "solution" at all. But in the Middle East, solutions are rare; what's needed is the best imperfect option among alternatives. The first option is to continue current policy. Israel absorbs damage and casualties in Sderot and some other places. Few are affected; almost all the country functions normally. International pressure and casualties are limited. Israel hits rocket launchers, terrorist bases, and leading terrorists periodically. Eventually, there will be an anti-rocket defense. But aside from government's duty to its citizens, things will change. Hamas will produce larger and longer-range missiles against Ashkelon and eventually Ashdod. Another problem with this strategy is that Western criticism defines even minimal self-defense methods as disproportionate. If you get slammed for taking punches, you might as well fight back. Moreover, the West basically protects Hamas's rule in Gaza, despite sanctions and diplomatic isolation, neither of which might last. As Hamas grows more aggressive, Western policies might become more appeasing. Meanwhile, being "soft" on Hamas doesn't make peace talks work, but does make Hamas look more effective than the less violent PA and Fatah. At the same time, Israeli public opinion will continue to press the government to change policy. THERE ARE three proposals playing off a thirst for neat solutions. A cease-fire is an ideal dovish solution; overthrowing Hamas is a solution which appeals to hawks; and giving the mess over to an international force makes both philosophies happy. Unfortunately none of these ideas would work. A cease-fire is riddled with problems, paradoxically bringing even more violence. Hamas wouldn't observe it, letting both its own members and others attack Israel while inciting murder through every institution. The cease-fire would not last long; Hamas would use it to strengthen its rule and army while demanding a reward for its "moderation": an end to sanctions and diplomatic isolation, even Western aid. THE NEXT alternative - reoccupying Gaza and destroying Hamas - might sound good. But how? Israel isn't being hit hard enough to make such a huge undertaking worthwhile. Once again, Israel would be involved in the daily rule of more than one million hostile people. Troops would face constant attack from all directions. Too many would be tied up to permit proper security in the West Bank and Lebanon border. Such a move would be high-cost in casualties, money and international friction. And, in the end, Hamas would not be "destroyed." To defeat Hamas is not to eliminate it, but to keep it as weak as possible (through military strikes, isolation, etc.) and limit its ability to hit Israel. Then there is the fallacy that Gaza can be turned over to a "moderate" Fatah and PA. Well, there is no chance of their accepting this gift. In fact, Fatah would rather make a deal with Hamas than fight it. And why believe they would do a better job than last time? ANOTHER idea is essentially a gimmick: turning Gaza over to an international force. This is a fantasy. Countries are not going to send forces into a war there, to be attacked every day; nor will they brave criticism from Arab and Muslim states as well as terrorist attacks for no benefit. Besides, what would the force do? Certainly not arrest thousands of Gazans, kill those trying to attack Israel, hold mass trials of terrorists and sentence them to long prison terms. It would definitely not disarm Hamas or stop arms smuggling from Egypt. And when rockets keep falling, the international force would block Israeli military action in Gaza. The option would also be a political disaster, with the sponsoring countries rushing to establish a Palestinian state and negotiate with Hamas. Finally, as noted above, the PA and Fatah wouldn't take Gaza from an international force. WHAT IS needed, instead, is an option based on reality, not wishful thinking: to push Hamas back. Israel's interest is to minimize attacks on its soil and citizens while limiting the cost of the response needed to achieve that goal. This can best be done by combining a more active version of current policy and the creation of a security zone in the northern Gaza Strip to push Hamas and its allies out of range. Such a zone could be made relatively secure because it would be on a narrow front, with flanks protected by the sea on the north and Israel proper on the south and east, with Israel controlling the airspace. This would be an interim policy until anti-rocket defenses could be implemented, in perhaps three years. Of course, there is risk. Israeli forces would be attacked, yet they would be in a strong, fortified position and know they were protecting the civilians behind them. Some rockets would fall on Israel, but the numbers would be far reduced and the area affected limited. Israel would continue to operate within Hamas-held Gaza as needed. Would the world, which already claims Israel is occupying Gaza, do much if Israel temporarily took back 10 percent? THIS ISSUE will not be solved by negotiations, concessions, appeasement, force, or anything else. Defense Minister Ehud Barak is right: "It's not the end, the beginning of the end, or the end of the beginning." The same logic applies to Gaza, the West Bank and the Lebanon border. The main goal is for the army to minimize danger and damage, so people can go about their normal lives and build up the country, protected by their soldiers. The writer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center at IDC Herzliya and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal.