Israel deterrence

Once Israel chose to open the possibility of a conflict in the wake of killing al-Ata, its leadership needed to plan for what comes next.

Jpost editorial logo  (photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
Jpost editorial logo
(photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
Palestinian Islamic Jihad fired more than 220 rockets in the wake of Israel’s killing of Bahaa Abu al-Ata, senior commander of the Iranian-backed terrorist group. Al-Ata was a dangerous master terrorist who was intimately involved with the group’s attacks over the past year. Israel knew that there would be a response, and the government acted appropriately to prepare the public.
A day after the rocket fire began, however, there is still no clear end in sight. That is because Islamic Jihad has received orders from its Secretary General Ziyad al-Nakhalah to expand the attacks on Israel, and it wants to show that it is relevant.
PIJ is often the junior partner of Hamas in Gaza, and the less well-known terror group. But it has built up a large arsenal of dangerous missiles over the last seven years. It has received support from Iran, which makes its threats to Israel more complex in the regional context. This means that when Islamic Jihad fires rockets it is not doing so in a vacuum. It has acted on Iran’s goals in the past, especially in 2018 when it fired numerous complex barrages at Israel.
Islamic Jihad is a dangerous organization, put on steroids by the Iranian regime, and made to become more dangerous over time. Now it may appeal to the anger in Gaza amid perceptions that Hamas is restraining itself.
Islamic Jihad now plays the role Hamas once played, the upstart terrorist group that can pose as fighting Israel while challenging the ruling Palestinian party. Hamas must play the role of the terrorist controller, running Gaza. This has made Hamas less nimble and more bureaucratic. It has given Islamic Jihad a space to carve out its infrastructure of killing machines.
Now is the time for Israel to exact the price from PIJ that must be done to achieve deterrence. Once Israel chose to open the possibility of a conflict in the wake of killing al-Ata, its leadership needed to plan for what comes next. While the government did the right thing in eliminating a terror commander and preparing the home front, it does not seem to have a long-term vision for what to do about the Gaza-based threats. Iran is clearly the more important and strategic threat.
But the Gaza rocket fire closes schools that affects millions of people. Each school closure not only affects the child, but the family and the business where the family works. It has a domino effect across the country. Throughout areas south of Tel Aviv on Tuesday, shopping centers were like ghost towns, as businesses closed early. People didn’t drive on roads.
What is the government’s plan? It does not seem to want to destroy Islamic Jihad, otherwise we would see widespread and constant airstrikes. The enemy seems to know this and is acting accordingly. It fires more missiles and Israel conducts tit-for-tat airstrikes.
This is not deterrence. Former defense minister Avigdor Liberman resigned in the wake of similar caution by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last year. At the time, Naftali Bennett sought to replace Liberman. He consented to wait due to an urgent security matter last year, which ended up being the operation against Hezbollah tunnels. Now Bennett is in the seat he wanted. Bennett may balance Netanyahu’s caution, but IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi has said Israel does not want a larger conflict.
Given the complexity and the need to deter Islamic Jihad, Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran as well as terror proxies in Iraq and Yemen, it is time for a unity government.
Likud and Blue and White must finally understand that running a country is not just another job. There are matters of life and death – like the rockets from Gaza – that need to be dealt with by responsible and mature politicians.
Israel needs a government with strategic vision and political confidence to see the need for unity and strength in numbers. What is happening down South and the need for a plan to solve it is just one of the reasons why. There are more. Benny Gantz has less than a week left to form a government. Even though the cannons are firing – or precisely because of it – the time is now to sit and iron out a deal between Blue and White and Likud. Israel cannot wait any longer.