The next Gaza operation

If the State of Israel would like to continue to exist, the IDF and the Israeli leadership must carry out military preparations for an operation that is fundamentally different from Protective Edge.

IDF soldiers take part in Operation Protective Edge (photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)
IDF soldiers take part in Operation Protective Edge
This month, Hamas celebrates 28 years since “The Outbreak” – what it calls the day on which it was founded – and 10 years since it came to power in the Gaza Strip in “democratic elections,” which constituted the first step in its takeover of Gaza.
This step was completed after 18 months of violent conflict with Fatah, the Palestinian Authority’s ruling government, during which more than 100 activists were murdered (mostly among Fatah). Hamas members would torture and then hang the bodies of Fatah officers from the upper stories of tall buildings. They stole public funds and exiled numerous Fatah supporters to Judea and Samaria or Arab countries.
Inadvertently, the Hamas takeover was the harbinger of the Arab Spring that broke out six years later with emotional uprisings across the Arab world.
But instead of blossoming almond trees and a sweet smell in the air, there were missiles, bombs, chaos and thousands of tragic deaths.
Most of the Arab nations in which the masses tried to create a democratic state are currently suffering from even greater violence than they did before the uprisings. After living under the Muslim Brotherhood for two years, a new military dictatorship has emerged in Egypt. Libya is experiencing absolute chaos. Yemen and Bahrain are completely torn apart due to tribal struggles. Tunisia is the only country that has managed to form any kind of democracy, and this regime is standing on its last legs.
Following Iraq’s failure to fabricate a democracy, the goings on in Gaza should have been a red flag for the West. The Arab world should be aware of the dangerous repercussions of pushing too hard to achieve a democracy, since what they will eventually end up with is an Islamist dictatorship that is anti-democratic at its core.
Hamas is an acronym that stands for the Islamic Resistance Movement. The word also means enthusiasm. From its inception in 1987, Hamas has been calling for the destruction of the State of Israel and this did not change when it morphed into a political entity. Ironically enough, the Israeli defense establishment originally supported Hamas, since they viewed it as a counterweight to Fatah’s support in rural communities.
Hamas’s current charter states that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a religious struggle between the Muslims and the infidels, and there are to be no concessions of Palestinian land, since it is considered sacred. Hamas turned into a political entity in 2005, when it won 60% of the vote among the 400,000 residents in the Palestinian Authority. In 2006, Hamas once again won the general election when it won 76 of the 132 seats on the Palestinian Legislative Council.
A decade is undoubtedly a long enough period of time in order to analyze an organization’s achievements and failures, regardless of whether it’s a democratic, dictatorial or theocratic regime or any cataclysmic combination of the three. It’s also a great opportunity to examine how Israel has been dealing with the Hamas threat during this same period.
I believe that Israel missed a great opportunity in August 2005 when it unilaterally disengaged from the Gaza Strip. By abandoning the Philadelphia Corridor, it enabled Gazans to begin smuggling in large weapons and ammunition, mostly from Iran, on camels and wagons that hadn’t fit in the smaller tunnels at their disposal.
In addition, the 7,000 beautiful villas and cottages in Gush Katif that were destroyed after the disengagement could have been used to house four thousand Gazan families, who could have been evacuated from a buffer zone where they lived in crowded, asbestos- filled blocks.
This would have given Israel control of the border and prevented smuggling in the Philadelphia Corridor. Instead, less than seven months after the disengagement from Gaza and the Philadelphia Corridor, the first 122 mm Grad rocket fell near Ashkelon, and then thousands of rockets and missiles began falling on Israel. In other words, since the rise of Hamas, we have seen an increase of death, destruction, and hatred, the Palestinian economy is failing and the last shreds of hope for reaching a peace agreement have dissipated.
The damage done in trying to reach these goals will be far less than having to get through another decade of what we’ve recently been experiencing. A few weak voices of protest are beginning to be heard.
During a recent conference in Malaysia, a young Palestinian man read a list of allegations to Khaled Mashaal that he’d received from a friend of his living in Gaza. Will young Palestinians find the courage to publicly question their leaders’ decisions? Probably not, and Mahmoud Abbas will most likely survive until his end just like his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, who did not give up on the Palestinian dream of a state between the river and the sea with Jerusalem as its capital.
In the meantime, at this very moment more tunnels are being dug between Gaza and Israel by “slaves,” some of whom are children, and Hamas is continuing to smuggle weapons into Gaza and produce rockets.
And it’s recently been discovered that Hamas is trying to forge a relationship with Ansar Bait al-Maqdis, a branch of ISIS in Sinai, which might be willing to form a temporary allegiance with Hamas in order to fend off Egyptian security forces in Sinai.
Given this unfortunate reality, if the State of Israel would like to continue to exist, the IDF and the Israeli leadership must carry out military preparations for an operation that is fundamentally different from Protective Edge and Pillar of Defense. The next confrontation with Hamas – which does not necessarily need to involve a military incursion – must be initiated by Israel and not be a reaction to the bombing of an Israeli school or the abduction of a Jewish soldier. The next operation must make a significant change in the dynamics between the Palestinians and Israel, which includes economic cooperation that would bring about improvements in the Palestinian Authority in general and in the Gaza Strip in particular.
The writer, a retired major-general, was OC Southern Command from January 2001 to December 2003.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.