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October 30, 2018 2:05 pm

Israel Must Restore Deterrence in Gaza

avatar by Isi Leibler

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A Palestinian rioter on the Israel-Gaza Strip border, Oct. 26, 2018. Photo: Reuters / Mohammed Salem.

All of us abhor military confrontation or war, which inevitably leads to casualties.

Israel today faces a major threat from Hamas in the south where Iran and Hezbollah could become involved if we go for the military option.

I am not privy to military strategy or intelligence and neither am I aware of what other diplomatic elements are in play which may inhibit us from acting.

The Jewish state was created as a haven for the Jewish people who were powerless in the face of persecution in their countries of birth. Israel has developed into a serious military power and has the obligation to provide security to all its citizens. Yet it has failed to do so for months and effectively neglected those residents in the south who feel like helpless refugees in their own country. Such inaction would not have been tolerated if the target was Tel Aviv rather than Sderot.

The time has come to say to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman: “Enough is enough.”

Israel has always taken pride in the ability to deter adversaries. Yet the Hamas presence in Gaza — not an existential threat — not only undermines our deterrence but causes us to lose credibility on the international scene.

Let us summarize the situation:

  • Hamas shamelessly prides itself on the fact that its unyielding objective is the destruction of the Jewish state and murder of Jews. Its spokesmen barbarically recite their genocidal objectives like a mantra at every possible opportunity.
  • The bulk of foreign aid to the Gaza Strip has been diverted by Hamas to military purposes, even though most residents there are unemployed and impoverished.
  • Hamas receives financial and military support from Iran and has created a military infrastructure throughout the country utilizing mosques, hospitals, and schools as weapon-storage bases and missile-launching sites from which they regularly fire rockets into Israel.
  • Hamas dispatches terrorists into Israel to murder Jews and those who succeed are hailed as heroes and financially rewarded.
  • Hamas has built many tunnels leading into Israel with the objective of infiltrating terrorists behind Israeli lines in the event of a conflict. The IDF now possesses sophisticated equipment that has succeeded in identifying and destroying the majority of the tunnels.
  • Since March 30, additional red lines have been crossed. Hamas has orchestrated riots that regularly brought thousands to the Israeli border, intentionally misleading the international community by defining them as peaceful demonstrations.

However, Hamas spokesmen repeatedly stated that the objective was to break through the border and kill Israelis, thus obliging the IDF to position many troops to defend the border. The “peaceful demonstrations” included hurling firebombs, firing weapons, throwing rocks, and trying to infiltrate Israel. The IDF sought to avoid lethal responses by mostly using rubber bullets, but when endangered, they took firm action and over 200 Palestinians — many of them identified as Hamas operatives — have been killed.

In addition, the Palestinians have been sending incendiary balloons into Israel carrying flammable material and bombs. To date they have destroyed thousands of acres of prime agricultural land, impoverishing many farmers in the area.

The mutual hostility has led the Palestinian Authority under President Mahmoud Abbas to cut off electricity to Hamas in Gaza and threatened to cease paying their civil servants.

Under such circumstances Hamas became desperate and intimidated and announced it was willing to enter a temporary truce with Israel if the blockade of goods and services was lifted.

Negotiations, with the Egyptians as intermediaries, have led to little progress to date, although in recent weeks statements have been repeated that a truce was about to be implemented. As a condition, Hamas has the ultimate chutzpa to demand $15 million per month to maintain the calm in the area.

In the meantime, the world has become accustomed to the border protests and destructive incendiary balloons. In fact, many — including some misguided Jews — are accusing us of being too tough and needlessly killing “peaceful demonstrators.”

Hamas has repeatedly pledged that it will not halt the border protests or cease the launch of balloons.

Can one visualize any other country in the world tolerating this situation and merely responding to it with tit-for-tat bombing sorties that cause minimal disruption, only destroying buildings used by Hamas after warning the inhabitants to evacuate?

This situation evokes a strong feeling of déjà vu. For months we have heard hollow statements from the prime minister and defense minister threatening Hamas with dire consequences. One day, the defense minister demands drastic action and the next day he backtracks by suggesting that an outright military conflict must be avoided. It is not surprising that Hamas spokesmen now mock these empty Israeli threats.

The horrible reality is that, despite being perceived as a tough high-tech superpower, we are in fact negotiating with a terrorist entity while our own military acts as though Hamas represents an equal, mutual deterrent. The government even stooped to the depths of providing safe passage through Israel to Gaza for Saleh al-Arouri, a Hamas deputy leader who is responsible for a series of bestial terrorist acts and has even boasted of involvement in the notorious kidnap and murder of three youths in 2014 (a claim doubted by Israel).

If Israel is to restore any vestige of deterrence, it should announce that unless the border provocations and incendiary balloons cease, its military will take drastic action.

The nature of the action can only be determined by the IDF. It does not require the conquest of Gaza. This would lead to many casualties and we have no desire to reoccupy the area and take responsibility for its inhabitants. But it requires a significantly tougher response than what we have seen until now. We should consider destroying the homes of the leaders and, if matters deteriorate, even targeted assassinations, which achieved a dramatic impact some years ago.

Israel is a military superpower. It is time for the IDF to impose a solution in which Hamas is punished to the point of deterrence. If not, its leaders should sit in a conclave until they devise a solution.

A “semi-truce” is the worst of all options. Acting with restraint does not inhibit the terrorists and is perceived by Hamas leaders as cowardice. It allows the barbarians to continue to engage in terror and gives them the opportunity to strengthen themselves and determine when they find it most advantageous to strike. They admit that any truce is temporary, and they remain committed to our annihilation.

Last week, Lieberman predicted a quite weekend and another truce was proclaimed. But just one day later, on Friday, Hamas launched 37 rockets into Israel, allegedly orchestrated by Iran, injuring two Israelis. Sixteen thousand people rioted along the Gaza border and bombs, grenades, and rocks continued to be hurled at the IDF in further unsuccessful efforts to penetrate the border. Five Palestinians were killed in the riots and a sixth was killed from the premature explosion of a bomb he was preparing to throw at IDF soldiers.

The IDF claimed it struck 95 targets in Gaza in response — merely destroying more buildings and weapons manufacturing locations.

Prime Minister Netanyahu, the people, including your supporters, demand action. You should warn our adversaries and allies that if this terrorism continues, Israel will act like any other nation and employ the full might at its disposal to protect its citizens. Failure to act now guarantees a full-scale conflict at a later stage with a strengthened Hamas having accumulated more effective and lethal weapons to use against us.

Otherwise, you must address the nation and convince it that the government has some strategy and intends to restore deterrence.

Isi Leibler is an Israeli writer and commentator. His website can be viewed at www.wordfromjerusalem.com. He can be contacted at ileibler@leibler.com.

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