The next Israeli war

While our leaders sit and discuss political plans, the enemy is busy preparing for the next war.

Young girl in Gaza City during celebrations for Hamas' 30th anniversary   (photo credit: Courtesy)
Young girl in Gaza City during celebrations for Hamas' 30th anniversary
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Last week, Hamas raised the level of incitement on the Gaza Strip border with Israel and began making moves to boost violent activity in the area. This time, it was a procession that involved intense terrorist activity that culminated in a number of deaths on the Palestinian side.
Hamas has been bolstering its efforts slowly over the last few months.
It has fired rockets into Israel in the area near Gaza every few weeks, sent Gazans stealing across the border into Israel, and exploded bombs at the foot of the fence.
All of these incidents have been defined by the Israeli security establishment as “tolerable” and herein lays the root of the problem. The way Israel reacts to Hamas’s acts of terrorism has a tremendous impact on the decisions Hamas makes regarding its future actions.
To date, we’ve survived eight military operations against Hamas in the Gaza Strip: Rainbow and Days of Penitence in 2004; First Rain in 2005; Summer Rains in 2006; Hot Winter in 2008; Cast Lead in 2009; Pillar of Defense in 2012; and Protective Edge in 2014. During this period, Hamas has undergone structural and organizational changes and the area has been divided into operational sectors and brigades. Experienced commanders were appointed to oversee fighting and deployment in each sector.
As a result of this compartmentalization, IDF intelligence units have been faced much more difficulty in information gathering.
Sometimes it feels like the State of Israel has not really internalized the magnitude of the problem we’re facing.
Reacting to an attack here and there is not a problem. Nor is dealing with one senior operative or suffering the aftermath of a few rockets hitting now and then in the area of the “Gaza envelope.”
It is Hamas as an organization that is the source of our problem. Its ideology is behind all of these incidents.
Leaders and fighters rise and fall, but ideology – especially religious ideology – endures over time. And when such ideology is accompanied by extreme military activity that is not dealt with by using a firm hand, it develops and spreads like a cancer in our body. That is the gist of our problem.
Operation Protective Edge was the most powerful and expensive Gaza operation – in terms of money (including from the total stagnation of the economy) as well as in human life. Our leaders, as well as a number of military sources, have claimed that Israel was the winner in this struggle and that Hamas was severely beaten and its capabilities critically damaged.
IN REALITY, however, the situation is quite different. As in each operation before it, Operation Protective Edge was initiated by Hamas, with a barrage of rockets, kidnappings, and shootings – first at the fence and then continuing within Israeli territory.
In this operation, as happened in the preceding ones, Israel was dragged into war belatedly, and responded with half-hearted, indecisive actions.
We failed to retaliate with a strong, determined response and as a result, failed to achieve any significant military or political progress.
The only change by the end of that summer was a deterioration of Israel’s military deterrence vis-à-vis Hamas and we could begin counting the days before the next war would be break out on our border with Gaza.
In fact, the next operation began as early as December 2014, when Hamas installed observation posts near the border and reassigned all reconnaissance positions. Rocket production resumed at a dizzying rate and once again they were launched into Israeli territory. Of course, these rockets hit only within the Gaza envelope, since Hamas well knows that shooting any farther than that would cross a redline created by the Israeli government of what is “tolerable.”
Hamas knows well that the military responses to such incidents will all be proportional, and nothing more.
An Israeli F16 will swoop down and blow up an abandoned building in an unpopulated area it knows will not cause any casualties.
Hamas sniper attacks across the border have also begun, and the digging of tunnels into Israeli territory has resumed in full force.
Cement and building materials flow like water into Gaza.
Hamas commando operatives have been continuing their training in the northern Gaza Strip, where they practice overtaking Israeli communities in the area of the Gaza envelope.
And yet nothing here in Israel seems to have changed.
We have a new defense minister, a new chief of staff and a new central command, but our strategy seems to remain intact. The IDF carries out limited responses. We continue reinforcing the border fence and reacting to each small incident with proportional force instead of engaging with enough force to overcome the enemy once and for all. On the other side of the fence, Hamas is busy reinforcing its cells. On our northern border, Hezbollah also continues digging in and waiting patiently, knowing well that Israel has no strategy to counter their forces.
While our leaders sit and discuss political plans, the enemy is busy preparing for the next war. In the absence of a clear and determined plan of action, there is no chance of either side achieving victory in the next confrontation. There will be additional casualties, more economic damage, and harm to civilians on both sides. Our deterrence will once again plummet, while each side announces that they’ve come out victorious.
The writer is a former brigadier-general who served as a division head in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).
Translated by Hannah Hochner.