INTO THE FRAY: Gaza-Déjà vu…Again?

The problem of Gaza was created by the belief that land could be transferred to the Palestinian Arabs to provide them a viable opportunity for self-governance.

We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created themA maxim attributed to Albert Einstein.

 Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different resultsA maxim attributed to Albert Einstein.

 Fanaticism consists of redoubling your efforts when you have forgotten your aimA citation from George Santayana, The Life of Reason Vol. I, Reason in Common Sense.

Friday’s ceasefire, which brought a regrettably premature end to yet another round of indecisive fighting between Israel and the terrorist enclave of Gaza, underscores an unpalatable truth—a truth both unfortunately unacknowledged, yet persistently enduring.

Monotonously repetitive violence

Indeed, it precisely because it is unpalatable and disagreeable that it is unacknowledged—and because it is unacknowledged, it remains unaddressed and therefore, enduring.

It is this: The conflict in Gaza is no longer one that can be managed. It is one that must be resolved.

Of course, this does not mean that continued and increasingly futile efforts will not be invested in evermore vain attempts to attain the seductive, yet elusive, goal of managing it (i.e. somehow containing it), rather than resolving it (i.e. ending it permanently).

Of course, these will all be of no avail.

After all, repetitively applying the same methods to the same problem can only produce the same outcomes as in the past.

The pattern of violence in Gaza is almost monotonously cyclic. Short periods of a few years of relative calm (themselves often interspersed with brief skirmishes) were succeeded—and preceded—by major military campaigns—in 2008/9, 2012, 2014, 2019, and now 2021.

Significantly, after each round of fighting, despite the damage inflicted by the IDF, the Gazan-based terror groups have typically emerged with their military capabilities vastly enhanced and their political standing, largely untarnished.

Unfortunately, for over a decade, Israel’s longstanding policy has been to cease fire whenever the other side consented to cease fire (however sporadically). It has allowed Hamas, and its terror affiliates, to launch repeated rounds of aggression, determining not only when they are launched and when they end, but also largely controlling the cost incurred for such aggression, ensuring that it remains—by their criteria—within the range of the “acceptable” cost of “doing business”.

 Israel has, in effect, allowed Hamas not only to determine the scale and scope of the hostilities; as well as when (and to some degree, where) they take place—usually when it feels strong enough to initiate fighting,…or too weak not to

 Perpetuating a perverse pattern

Lamentably, time and again, the Gazan terrorists developed (indeed, often have been allowed to develop) some offensive measure with which to assault Israel.

Palestinians Unleash Largest-Ever Barrage Of Incendiary Balloons From Gaza Strip On Southern Israel Sparking Dozens Of Fires Throughout The Area • Now The End Begins
Palestinians Unleash Largest-Ever Barrage Of Incendiary Balloons. credit: Now the end begins

In response, Israel has devised some (usually ingenuous but expensive) countermeasure to contend with it. However, all of these were designed to thwart—or mitigate—the attacks, rather than prevent them from being launched in the first place.

Thus, suicide attacks resulted in a security fence and secured crossings; which led to the development of enhanced rocket and missile capabilities; which lead to the development of the billion dollar Iron Dome; which led to the burrowing of an array of underground attack tunnels; which lead to the construction of a billion dollar subterranean barrier; which led to the use of incendiary kites and balloons that, over the summers, reduce much of the rural South, adjacent to the Gaza border, to blackened charcoal.

This Israeli policy of restraint, designed to manage rather than resolve the conflict, is not a prudent one, reflecting judicious cool-headedness. Quite the opposite, it is a policy of evasion, that refuses to recognize reality. It entails shying away from confrontations, which it is able to win (admittedly at a significant cost)—while risking later confrontations, which may not be able to win (at any cost).

The perils of restraint are, indeed, myriad—regarding its impact on both military and civilian affairs.

Attack drones, cruise missiles, multiple warheads…?

On the military level, they provide Hamas, and its more radical spin-offs, the opportunity to vastly improve the performance of its weaponry by orders of magnitude.

It is an opportunity that they have eagerly seized.

Indeed, the Gazan–based terror groups have shown impressive ingenuity in devising, enhancing, and honing their aggressive capabilities to assault the Jewish state. Today, they have achieved abilities that would have appeared inconceivable in 2005, when Israel unilaterally abandoned the area—and had anyone then predicted Israel would be facing the ominous reality that it faces today, they would undoubtedly have been dismissed as unrealistic scaremongers.

Yet today, it takes little imagination to envisage the deployment of future modes of Judaeocidal assault on the Jewish state and its citizens—as well as those to circumvent the current defense systems protecting Israeli lives against the full lethal potential of the enemy attacks on it.

For example, Palestinian terror groups are known to be working on drone development and production, which, in large measure, would neutralize both the underground anti-tunnel barrier and the anti-ballistic Iron-Dome system. Accordingly, the grim specter of a possible drone swarm, carrying explosive—perhaps even some non-conventional—charges, being detonated on, or over, some luckless Jewish community, is no longer beyond the realms of plausibility.

Moreover, it is no longer possible to dismiss the prospect of Israel having to face—in the not too distant future—the specter of incoming missiles with multiple warheads, which disperse just before being intercepted, greatly challenging its current missile defense capabilities. Or the development of some kind of anti-aircraft capabilities that could restrict — or at least hamper — Israel’s present unlimited freedom of action over the skies of Gaza. Or the development— perhaps with Iranian collaboration—of some low-flying Cruise-type missile, which Israel’s missile-defense systems are not designed to intercept…

Jews in the Negev or Arabs in Gaza?

On the civilian level as well, there are inclement socio-economic ramifications of strategic proportions.

Indeed, the prospect of an unending recurrence of terror attacks on towns and villages, which the government only “manages” but does not eliminate, could result in the depopulation of the more vulnerable areas, initially in the South.

Although the area appears to have flourished in the interbellum period between Operations “Protective Edge” (2014) and the “Guardian of the Walls” (2021), there is little guarantee that this will—indeed, can—continue if the terror attacks persist. After all, there is likely to be little appeal in continuing to live in an area, where the residents regularly have to endure their economy—particularly tourism and agriculture—being devastated; their livelihoods being drastically diminished; with the constant disruption of daily life and the ongoing danger to their lives…and those of families.

Accordingly, Israel must face up to—and internalize–the unpalatable dilemma that, in the long run, there will either be Arabs in Gaza or Jews in the Negev. Eventually, however, there will not be both.

 Furthermore, with the increased range of the enemy rockets, other areas, also afflicted by repeated bombardments, may find their populations denuded—as residents move to less hazardous parts of the country…or less hazardous counties.

Moreover, now that restraint has managed to bring central Israel (including the capital Jerusalem, the commercial hub, Greater Tel Aviv, and Ben Gurion airport) into the rocket range of Gazan-based terrorists, the threat of frequent large-scale disruptions of the socioeconomic routine is likely to have enormous ramifications. The intermittent periods of calm that might have been bearable in the South will not be tolerated in the Center.

Thus, unless a radical and permanent – or at least long-term – solution can be devised, large-scale flight of businesses and population is not an implausible prospect, which advocates of Israeli restraint must seriously ponder – and address.

Decisive victory, not deterrence

 Clearly then, the Israeli approach has been grossly misguided. Worse, it is a tried and tested recipe for unending and escalating violence — and must be abandoned before it culminates in inevitable tragedy, larger even than that which it has already precipitated.

When discussing Israeli objectives in the military conflict over Gaza in the public discourse, the emphasis is placed almost exclusively on the IDF attaining “deterrence” vis-à-vis Hamas and other terror entities in the Strip—to dissuade them from initiating violence against the Jewish state.

While prima facie, this may appear reasonable, with regards to Israel and its terrorist foes, it is an approach that is misplaced and needs to be drastically rethought.

After all, despite the heavy damage inflicted on Hamas in previous operations, (and on Hezbollah in the 2006-Second Lebanon War), they have not really been deterred in so much as their will to engage Israel has not been broken—as did defeat in WWII to Germany and Japan.

At best, it has forced Hamas to regroup, rearm and redeploy, typically with greatly enhanced capabilities. Indeed, the current campaign has shown that despite the severe devastation wrought on it, Hamas is still spoiling for a fight.

Decisive victory, not deterrence (cont.)

Accordingly, the damage inflicted by the air force and other “standoff” weapon systems, despite its severity, is damage that Hamas is prepared to absorb, rather than forgo its hostile intentions toward Israel.

But, if the enemy’s will to fight cannot be diminished, its ability to do so must be eliminated. With the possible exception of Serbia, which was subjected to almost 80 days of bombing by the combined air forces of NATO, history has shown that this cannot be done by standoff weaponry alone. This requires boots on the ground, physical control of the enemy territory, as well as of infrastructure, and installations.

Abandoning restraint, adopting a policy of imposing surrender and inflicting acknowledged defeat on Hamas will be far from cost-free. On the contrary, it will require a heavy toll in terms of both blood and treasure. But the blame for that must be laid squarely on those who urged Israel and the IDF to abandon Gaza, ensuring that, sooner or later, it will fall to the control of the radicals.

Moreover, the costs involved in persisting with a policy of restraint will almost certainly outstrip those of the more assertive alternative. (In this regard, readers will recall that one of the arguments the proponents of the Disengagement used was that it would spare the high cost of maintaining the Jewish settlements. Of course, that was before the Disengagement precipitated at least four major military campaign, the need for a billion dollar anti-tunnel barrier, massive reinforcements of residential homes and construction of domestic shelters…and so on and so forth.)

Gaza: Deconstruction not reconstruction

It was Albert Einstein who famously said that one could not solve a problem with the level of thinking that created it.

Clearly, the problem of Gaza was created by the belief that land could be transferred to the Palestinian Arabs to provide them a viable opportunity for self-governance. Equally clearly, then, the problem of Gaza cannot be solved by persisting with ideas that created it – i.e. persisting with a plan for Israel to provide the Palestinian Arabs with land for self-governance.

The problem can only be solved by entirely abandoning the concept that Gaza should be governed by Palestinian Arabs. Any effective solution must follow this new line of reasoning.

Adhering to failed formulae will merely prolong the problem.

Thus, if Hamas comes out stronger from this round of fighting, it will be only a matter of time before the next, probably more deadly, round breaks out.

If Hamas comes out weaker from this round of fighting, it is only a matter of time before it will be replaced by an even more violent extremist-successor – and thus, once more, only a matter of time until the next, probably more deadly, round breaks out.

The only durable solution requires dismantling Gaza, humanitarian relocation of the non-belligerent Arab population, and extension of Israeli sovereignty over the region.

The only humanitarian solution

That is the only approach that can solve the problem of Gaza.

That is the only approach that will eliminate the threat to Israel continually issuing from Gaza.

That is the only approach that will extricate the non-belligerent Palestinians from the clutches of the cruel, corrupt cliques who led them astray for decades.

That is the only approach that will preclude a need for Israel to “rule over another people.

Former US President Herbert Hoover, dubbed the “Great Humanitarian” for his efforts to relieve famine in Europe after WWI, wrote in The Problems of Lasting Peace: “Consideration should be given even to the heroic remedy of transfer of populations…the hardship of moving is great, but it is [still] less than the constant suffering of minorities and the constant recurrence of war.”

How could anyone, with any degree of compassion and humanity, disagree?
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Martin Sherman is the founder & executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies

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