Israel's Gaza war is like no other military operation in history - opinion

In the 16 years since Israel withdrew from the entire Strip, the region has changed dramatically. But Gaza remains stuck in place.

Iron Dome missile interceptors (left) launch at Hamas rockets (right) on their way from the Gaza Strip into Israel last week. (photo credit: ANAS BABA/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES)
Iron Dome missile interceptors (left) launch at Hamas rockets (right) on their way from the Gaza Strip into Israel last week.
 Summer Rains, Cast Lead, Pillar of Defense, Protective Edge, Black Belt, and now, Guardian of the Walls.
Each one was an IDF operation in the Gaza Strip. Summer Rains (2006) went on for four months; Cast Lead (2009) three weeks; Pillar of Defense (2012) a week; Protective Edge (2014) 50 days; Black Belt (2019) less than 72 hours; and now, Guardian of the Walls, 11 days.
In the 16 years since Israel withdrew unilaterally from the Gaza Strip, we’ve had six large-scale operations, an average of one every two and a half years.
Each one had its trigger, each its objective. But fundamentally, none were different from the one that preceded it or came after it. Change the names of the IDF chief of staff, the defense minister and the top Hamas commanders, and the stories pretty much write themselves.
Yes, some details might change, but not the overall picture. Summer Rains was sparked by the abduction of Gilad Schalit; Cast Lead came after thousands of rockets; Black Belt started with the targeted killing of a top Islamic Jihad commander; and Guardian of the Walls kicked off with a Hamas rocket barrage on Jerusalem.
In earlier wars the rockets flew as far as Ashdod; now they get as far as Tel Aviv. Ashkelon and Beersheba don’t even count. And while the missile range might vary as well as the nature of the threat, the overall challenge remains the same: Israel and Hamas are launching missiles at one another again.
In the years in between the six named military operations, Hamas improved its capabilities. It now has more rockets with longer ranges and larger warheads, more tunnels, more fighters, and more sophisticated electronic warfare. All true. But for the most part, Gaza is a place stuck in time.
In the 16 years since Israel withdrew from the entire Strip, the region has changed dramatically. Wars have been fought, superpowers have come and gone, and borders have shifted like the proverbial sand of the Middle East. 
But Gaza remains stuck in place.
Hamas improved its military capabilities and its prized and well-fortified “metro,” the underground tunnel network diligently built in the seven years since the last Gaza War. But for the citizens of Gaza, the story remains the same: they are living under the control of a terrorist group, bent on Israel’s destruction, determined to sacrifice its own people, in an unwinnable war, against the IDF.
Like the five before it, the latest operation has had its unique traits and surprises. Hamas, for example, surprised the IDF with its ability to fire non-stop barrages. In one day it managed to launch 170 rockets into Ashkelon within a matter of hours. That was impressive. The terror group’s ability to fire rockets whenever it wanted, wherever it wanted, and how many it wanted also showed that it has sophisticated command-and-control systems that remain undamaged despite the heavy IDF bombardment of Gaza.
If this is what Hamas has now, the understanding is that in any future war in Lebanon with Hezbollah – which has been watching this war carefully – the ability to stop rocket fire will be even harder.
Israel did exceptionally well during this operation. There was, for example, the intelligence coup of discovering the route of the Metro, and its destruction that will set back Hamas for some time.
Most impressive however, was Israel’s aerial assault. 
While the world tends to look at this conflict through dry and simple numbers like a scorecard – how many are dead in Gaza (more) compared with how many are dead in Israel (less) – this is a distorted perspective.
It should instead evaluate what exactly has happened during Guardian of the Walls (yes, it is a terrible name for an operation), which is shaping up to be the most accurate and precise military operation in modern military history.
Here are the numbers: the IDF bombed over 1,000 targets in Gaza, many of them homes, buildings, tunnels and Hamas positions. The number of dead according to Hamas’s official numbers – which sadly includes civilians – is about 230. 
The IDF says that at least 160 of those are targeted terrorists, and they have most of the names to prove it. That means approximately 60 of the dead are civilians. Some of them were likely killed by Hamas’s own rockets, as a third of the missiles shot landed inside the Gaza Strip.
Every life lost is a tragedy. We know that. But think about this: over 1,000 bombs were dropped in Gaza, on over 1,000 targets – and 60 civilians were killed. Never been done.
But to listen to John Oliver or any similar critic who says that the IDF is disproportionate shows a complete ignorance of asymmetric conflict, especially a war against a cynical enemy that embeds itself within a civilian population and hides behind human shields. 
This does not mean the IDF did not make mistakes. Just as all wars include collateral damage, all wars include mistakes. But if you’re looking at the dry numbers as the international community likes to do, then what the IDF has done is astounding, an accomplishment never achieved by any other military in world history. 
While Oliver and others will continue to attack Israel, I have little doubt that this operation will be studied at West Point and the National War College. Just extraordinary.
WHAT COMES next? Will this latest round of war prevent the next one? Israel’s hope for after this operation ends is to achieve quiet for at least five years. That is what senior IDF generals are openly saying.
Five years would be nice. But maybe Israel needs to change the way it thinks about Gaza.
Instead of looking at the strip of land as enemy territory, maybe Israel needs a shift in the paradigm: does Israel simply accept the reality that there is another round of violence every few years, or is there a possible alternative? 
No one knows. But after 16 years (since the disengagement in 2005) of managing Gaza one way, maybe it is worth trying something else. In most likelihood, the answer will be: nothing else will work, because as long as Hamas rules Gaza, it will seek Israel’s destruction. It is possible that this reality is something we Israelis simply have to accept. 
But maybe there is something else. One of the explanations why Hezbollah is currently deterred from a conflict with Israel is because it understands that if there is war, it will be blamed for the inevitable destruction of Lebanon, and specifically and more importantly, the Lebanese national infrastructure. Hezbollah runs Lebanon, and Israel has already stated that in any future war, it would attack Beirut’s national infrastructure as part of its target bank. 
In Gaza, however, there is no infrastructure, beside what Hamas has built for itself. In an effort to put pressure on Hamas, Israel tried to send a message this past week to Gaza’s elite through its attacks on the upscale neighborhood of Rimal, but that is nothing like the threat of losing industrial zones, power plants, ports, permits to work in Israel, and more.
The thing is that none of these assets exist when it comes to Gaza, and despite numerous ideas over the years – from docking a ship off Gaza’s coast with a generator to provide electricity, to establishing industrial zones or ports for Gaza in Cyprus or on an artificial island – nothing has moved ahead.
It is important to remember that Israel is not responsible for the situation in Gaza. What happens there is because of Hamas. One of the criticisms of Israel this week was that while Israelis have the Iron Dome and bomb shelters to protect them, Gazans have nothing. 
This is false. Gazans have the simplest, cheapest and most effective Iron Dome in the world – it is called Stop Shooting. If Hamas stopped attacking, Israel would not have to fire a single missile into Gaza. 
But that does not mean that we should accept this cycle of war. After 16 years of doing it one way, is it not time to try something else?