Get Tough with Hamas Now
These are indeed difficult times requiring painful decisions over issues such as how to placate the Obama administration in order to forestall a breakdown in US-Israel relations and avoid international efforts to force us to revert to the 1949 armistice lines.
But when it comes to matters of defense, there are clear lessons to be learned from the past.
Yet, in addition to Wednesday’s monstrous attack opposite the Jerusalem Central Bus Station, there is a horrible sense of déjÃ vu as we observe the rapid escalation of Hamas missile launches which had been reduced as a byproduct of Operation Cast Lead.
One is even tempted to compare the current situation with what happened 10 years ago when the crude and limited-range Kassam rockets were first launched against us and contemptuously dismissed by leaders as primitive missiles with little capacity to incur serious damage or casualties.
In a Jerusalem Post column at the time, I predicted that if we avoided tough measures to curtail these “primitive” rocket attacks, the international community would become accustomed to regarding Palestinian missile launches against our civilians as the norm.
When the government would ultimately be obliged to act, a world accustomed to Israeli passivity against such attacks, would accuse us of over-reacting.
Unfortunately, that is precisely what happened. Each time we responded, we were accused of disproportionality.
Moreover, the situation deteriorated to such an extent that we were left with no alternative but to mount a full scale war against Hamas in Gaza for which the international community condemned us.
IT IS thus alarming to observe the government again prevaricating, issuing empty threats and bombing primarily empty buildings in Gaza in response to increasing attacks.
This has climaxed in recent weeks, with 50 missiles raining down over the Negev over the weekend and the deployment of lethal Iranian grad rockets. Israelis living in the southern region were destabilized and a few were even injured.
Moreover, this is the first time that instead of trying to blame “unauthorized groups,” Hamas felt sufficiently confident to brazenly accept direct responsibility for the missile launches.
Yet, according to media reports, the security establishment relates to these outrageous breaches of international law and attacks on Israeli civilians as “low level confrontation” and reassures us that Hamas was not seeking a “major” conflict. And when civilians located adjacent to rocket-launching areas became casualties we once again apologize rather than condemning those responsible.
Obviously, the deterrent established in the wake of Operation Cast Lead “is eroding rapidly and we are again reconciling ourselves to large areas of Israel being subjected to “low level” missile attacks without reacting with tough military responses.
We should be under no illusions. Limiting our responses in order to meet Western expectations of “proportionality” serves no purpose. The lesson learned from Cast Lead was that any action we undertake to defend ourselves will at best be condemned as disproportionate but more likely as war crimes. One need only compare the absence of international criticism to the innocent casualties from Western bombardments in Libya in contrast to the cynical and hypocritical condemnations of Israel during Cast Lead, despite the far greater efforts of the IDF to minimize civilian casualties.
A MAJOR motivation for the attacks by the Iranian proxy Hamas is undoubtedly to divert attention from Iran’s internal problems and its ongoing nuclear project. There is also the desire by Hamas leaders to deflect domestic public opposition to their rule. But above all, Hamas is testing our resolve and seeking to identify to what extent we will remain restrained because of our concern not to antagonize or embarrass the Americans who are pressuring us not to be “spoilers” during this period of turmoil sweeping the Arab world.
This is surely one time when we must demand that our prime minister display decisive leadership, gather his cabinet and insist this will be one of the rare occasions when all ministers must display unity and speak with one voice, proclaiming to the world that failing to employ deterrence is a prescription for disaster.
The opposition should be co-opted to create a united front and there is little doubt that Kadima supporters will demand that the party support such a policy.
Our embassies must be instructed to inform all nations that we will remain neither passive nor act with restraint. If Hamas continues launching lethal missiles against our civilians, we will severely punish them. We should emphasize that we seek quiet and stability on our borders. But if our citizens are targeted once again, not by terrorist splinter groups but by Hamas, which has exclusive jurisdiction over Gaza, it will be made to pay a bitter price. We will resume targeted assassinations and, while endeavoring to minimize civilian casualties, will be obliged to inflict massive reprisals on its infrastructure.
WE MUST make it clear in advance that Israel will no longer adhere to the tit-for-tat formula and that we will respond with overwhelming force, not because we seek revenge but in order to deter future attacks. This is not behaving disproportionately but is rather striving to employ deterrence to protect our civilians and avoid a new full-scale conflict. Such behavior is fully consistent with international law and our obligation to defend our citizens from outright aggression.
The time to bite the bullet is now. If we fail to reinforce deterrence immediately, the long-term price may be far more severe than any worldwide condemnations that will result.
We will be adopting a moral position which will undoubtedly be condemned by those with no love for Israel. But any country seeking to deny our government the right to protect its civilians will stand exposed as malicious hypocrites.
Ideally, this strategy may serve to stabilize the borders and avoid another war. On the other hand, if Hamas has a desire for martyrdom, we will be obliged to once again confront them full on. I am no military strategist, but it would surely be preferable for us to face this situation now, before Hamas manages to acquire more deadly weaponry that will undoubtedly reach Gaza under a future Egyptian regime.
We would also be in a better position to confront the terrorists today, prior to the stabilization of the new Arab governments – which are likely to be even more hostile to us than their predecessors.
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post