Palestinian militant groups are clearly trying to drag Israel into an all-out war. An Israeli ground response “would be the best thing that could happen to Hamas,” the former head of Israel’s Shin Bet security service, Ami Ayalon, told Israel’s Channel 10 news Thursday night. “Hamas’s strategy is to draw the Israeli army into civilian areas, kill lots of Israeli soldiers, and declare victory.”
So that’s Hamas’s strategy. But what is Israel’s?
“We will put an end to this,” Moshe Yaalon, Israel’s deputy prime minister and minister of strategic affairs, declared Thursday. “We will not maintain restraint. If the terror organizations do not cease their fire, we will be prepared to toughen our response as much as necessary, until they say, ‘Enough!’ ”
If that is indeed what Netanyahu and his government have planned—and all indications suggest mounting military strikes on Gaza are imminent—then Israel’s response couldn’t be any less strategic. To be sure, Israel will once again achieve many of its short-term tactical goals, assassinating a handful of Hamas leaders, leveling militant safe houses, and eliminating scores of Hamas military installations or weapon depots. And, in the end, Israel will be no safer, although it will surely be more alone in the world and living in a neighborhood that is less tolerant of its aggressive countermeasures.
It’s time to declare Israel’s policy toward Gaza and Hamas a failure. This is not an anti-Israel statement. Rather, it is an honest acknowledgment of the facts, which are simply too numerous to avoid.
It may please some Israelis to hear tough talk from Yaalon and other senior officials, but there is no disputing that Israel’s military approach has failed to bring better results. It will not—as history has demonstrated—bring the security that Israelis crave.
Israel needs a far more sophisticated, diplomatic, long-term strategic policy for dealing with Gaza and all the threats around it—from Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and perhaps Egypt. A new Israeli approach may have to include a willingness to at least try talking to Hamas, which is fighting its own internal battle against even more radical, anti-Israel groups in the Gaza Strip. It may mean putting more pressure on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, languishing in irrelevance in Ramallah, to make peace with Hamas so there can be negotiations with Israel and a permanent end to this rocket-war madness.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta put it plainly during a visit to the region last year. “The question you have to ask: Is it enough to maintain a military edge if you’re isolating yourself in the diplomatic arena? Real security can only be achieved by both a strong diplomatic effort as well as a strong effort to protect your military strength.’’
In the spring of 2010, I asked one of Netanyahu’s top security advisers what Israel’s policy was toward Gaza. “What is it you don’t understand?” he replied, irritated. He didn’t care for my question because the answer seems self-evident to top Israeli officials: more of the same. If that remains the case, Israel’s newest military gambit was doomed before it even began.
Correction, Nov. 16, 2012: Due to a copy-editing error, this article originally stated that 14,000 rockets have been fired at Israeli towns since January 2009. About 1,400 rockets have been fired at Israeli towns.