Remembering Cast Lead

Since Cast Lead, Hamas has had a vested interest in limiting conflict with Israel, in maintaining stability and consolidating its rule.

IDF soldiers walking to Gaza during Operation Cast Lead 311R (photo credit: Ho New / Reuters)
IDF soldiers walking to Gaza during Operation Cast Lead 311R
(photo credit: Ho New / Reuters)
Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz warned this week that another military incursion in Gaza would happen “sooner or later.”
Cracks had emerged in Israel’s deterrence, Gantz said, and a second round of fighting appeared to be unavoidable.
Meanwhile, Col. Tal Hermoni, commander of the Gaza Division’s Southern Brigade, warned that Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other terrorist groups in Gaza, emboldened by the Gilad Schalit prisoner swap, were digging tunnels into Israel with the goal of kidnapping another IDF soldier.
These were sobering, though not altogether surprising, messages from our military brass on the third anniversary of Operation Cast Lead – the army’s 22-day-long offensive that place in Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009.
No less sobering was the fact that if and when another such operation is launched, Hamas will be even better armed. The change in leadership in Cairo, which facilitated the opening of Gaza’s border with Egypt, has enabled Hamas to smuggle into Gaza a wide variety of weapons, from sophisticated, Russian-made anti-tank missiles such as the laser-guided Kornet, to shoulder-to-air missiles and other arms spirited out of Libyan during the anarchy that led to the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi.
The IDF reckons that during 2011 there was a 15 percent to 20% increase in the amount of weaponry that found its way into Gaza, as reported Thursday by The Jerusalem Post's military correspondent Yaakov Katz.
Still, while a repeat of Operation Cast Lead is looking increasingly inevitable, it does not appear to be imminent.
Since Cast Lead, Hamas has had a vested interest in limiting conflict with Israel. Maintaining stability and consolidating its rule in Gaza are particularly important as Hamas’s leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, embarks on his first fund-raising tour in the region since 2007.
Haniyeh would like to present himself as the uncontested ruler of the Palestinian people – at least in Gaza.
He would like to show Hamas’s ability to maintain order. Also, mortar and rocket fire on Israel reliably elicit Israeli retaliation, invariably leading many among the 1.8 million Palestinians living under Hamas rule to rightly blame the terrorist groups for their suffering. It was for this reason that Hamas’s popularity fell to all-time lows after Operation Cast Lead.
Palestinians realized that it was Hamas’s aggression against Israeli civilians that dragged them into a violent clash with Israel. Many Palestinians rightly questioned Hamas’s irresponsible leadership.
Unfortunately, despite the heartbreaking poverty in which so many Palestinians live under Hamas’s rule; despite Hamas’s focus on preparing itself for another military conflict with Israel – at the expense of more pressing social needs; despite the religious fanaticism enforced under Hamas rule, the terrorist organization has managed to rehabilitate its standing.
If Palestinian elections were held now it is not at all clear that Fatah would defeat Hamas. The Schalit prisoner swap, which seemed to foster in Palestinians not so much an appreciation of Israelis’ high regard for life but a conviction that terrorism pays, has strengthened Hamas. So has the Arab Spring, which brought to power a political leadership in Egypt that openly supports Hamas and which has strengthened movements elsewhere with goals similar to Hamas’s. Gantz’s warning of the inevitability of another military incursion in Gaza coupled with Hermoni’s estimation that Hamas is preparing for another kidnapping, underline the inherent dangers of ceding territories under Israeli control to Palestinians without first putting in place iron-clad security arrangements.
Palestinian could have taken advantage of their new-found autonomy in Gaza to begin the hard work of creating a Palestinian state. Instead, in a bloody coup in June 2007, Hamas ousted the corrupt, unpopular Fatah and set about creating an Islamist terrorist state that served as a launching pad for thousands of rockets and mortar shells fired at Israeli civilians in the South. Eventually, Israel was forced to embark on Operation Cast Lead to stop the violence. If and when we are asked to seriously consider territorial concessions again, we must not forget the lessons learned from the Gaza pullout in 2005 and from Operation Cast Lead.