A View from Israel: Israeli deja vu

It’s election season and there’s talk of a ground operation in Gaza. Haven’t we been here before?

Hamas video of rocket fire 390 (photo credit: YouTube Screenshot)
Hamas video of rocket fire 390
(photo credit: YouTube Screenshot)
It’s 2008 all over again. It’s election season and incessant rocket fire from Gaza has prompted calls for a military operation beyond the usual tit-for-tat exchanges that have been taking place. The differences are that Gilad Schalit is now home and there is a different government in charge.
It was an Olmert-led government that couldn’t make peace with the Palestinians, and the same government launched a major ground operation in Gaza. The world condemned Israel’s actions then and the result was a nowdebunked and disproven Goldstone Report – by Richard Goldstone himself.
The million dollar question, of course, is what can Israel do to completely eradicate missile fire stemming from Gaza? The answer: not much. That is, as long as international law does not recognize the need for nations to fight modern warfare – war that is wholly different than the type fought in the era in which those chapters of international law were created.
The only options that exist at this point are to maintain the tit-for-tat exchanges or resort to a full-scale invasion of Gaza – both of which, based on past experience, have proven useless.
Clearly, both tactics have failed to deter terrorists and rockets have continued to rain down, ultimately achieving, in part, perhaps, their desired effect of terrorizing the civilian population.
So, what now? Should the army kill off a few top Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders? This won’t result in anything concrete. The IDF assassinated Hamas leaders Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Abd al-Aziz Rantisi within a month of each other in 2004 and still failed to achieve the desired result.
Should the army retake control of the Philadelphi Corridor, the narrow strip of land between Gaza and Egypt? It was then-secretary of state Condoleeza Rice who pushed Israel to leave the Philadelphi Corridor in 2005. Since then, Hamas has managed to bring in thousands of rockets through tunnels connecting to Egypt. An Israeli presence might help stem the tide of rockets, but would also place the lives of many soldiers in danger.
A boots-on-the-ground approach won’t offer any gains, as there never appears to be any true objective. Create deterrence? Not happening at this point. The chance of achieving this grows slimmer by the day. Short of obliterating Hamas, which would no doubt be coupled with a high civilian casualty rate, there seems to be no concrete solution in sight.
If the government does decide to enter Gaza, there needs to be a solid and clear objective.
What would be the goal and how would it be defined? Israel has a list of hundreds of targets and it seems logical that if and when a ground operation takes place, the IDF will locate and destroy those targets.
We often hear of air force strikes on weapons factories. Well, if we already know they exist, and we’re trying to eliminate their ability to produce rockets, then why aren’t we hitting these factories a lot sooner and more frequently? Some people have suggested the idea of collective punishment by cutting off food, supplies, fuel, water and electricity. While this may put pressure on Hamas and perhaps even lead to a concrete cease-fire and restored deterrence, Israel does not wish to cause the suffering of so many innocent civilians in the process.
AS PART of the planning for a ground or air offensive, the IDF, the Defense Ministry and the Foreign Ministry should put together a solid, well-planned and highly coordinated public relations campaign, packaged and ready to hit the airwaves at any moment.
Units should be equipped with video cameras to record what takes place in the battle zone and to help refute future and inevitable allegations of war crimes committed by Israeli soldiers.
On the legal front, each unit should have an embedded international law expert to determine, in real time, whether a certain course of action is or isn’t permissible.
The IDF Spokesman’s unit should line up legal experts for interviews to defend Israel’s actions if necessary.
Realistically speaking, there is no end in sight to Hamas’s reign of terror. Israel’s immediate concern should be how to protect the one million citizens who are vulnerable and how to ensure that those who are suffering from shock receive the proper treatment.
The situation in the South is unacceptable, but unless Israel wants to make millions of Gazans suffer through collective punishment, there are few, if any, alternative courses of action worth pursuing.
It’s time for Israel’s strategists to gather and come up with a feasible plan to restore deterrence and stop rocket rocket fire once and for all.
But that’s the million dollar question.