It started like this—a Facebook post from a friend in England, responding to Hamas firing hundreds of rockets at Israel in a single day, sending hundreds of thousands of Israelis into bomb shelters for many long hours, killing an Israeli wounding others:
“I would be much happier if Israel defeated Hamas militarily and damn the consequences. This can't go on.”
(Here is the place to note that I wrote this in 2018. Besides changing "Hamas" to "Islamic Jihad," it applies to today's aftermath of the latest Gaza flare-up. That reinforces the basic messages--ml)
Here in Israel, some people share the sentiment. It’s hard not to sympathize. Israel has the strongest military in the region, and Hamas, with all its rockets, is a ragtag terrorist group. Of course Israel could wipe out Hamas if it wanted to.
Or could it?
We’re still learning to deal with what they call asymmetrical warfare. That’s where one side has sophisticated weapons like fighter aircraft, and the other has primitive stuff like unguided rockets and bombs.
If the strong side uses all its might to wipe out the weak side—what does that mean, and how can it be done?
Let’s say Israel decides to take out the Hamas leadership, one by one. Well, we’ve done that before—killed wheelchair-bound Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in 2004, killed his successor Abdel Aziz Rantisi, and killed many commanders, big and small since then. Yet Hamas persists. It’s what NFL teams dealing with inevitable injuries call “next man up.” Hamas has enough commanders to take the place of the ones we kill, and let’s face it, commanding the Hamas military wing is not all that complicated. It’s pretty much “get money, dig tunnels, buy some weapons, build some rockets, and let fly.” Over on this side, commanding the sophisticated array of weaponry in the Israeli military is a doctorate-level mission.
So how about sending the Israeli military on a sweep through Gaza, singling out all the Hamas terrorists and killing them all? That would mean killing thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of civilians, while taking high numbers of Israeli casualties, probably triggering a war with Hezbollah in Lebanon—and Hezbollah has more and better rockets than Hamas does. In other words, that won’t work, either.
That’s the background to my response to my understandably troubled friend in England, who recommended sending Israel’s army on a mission to wipe out Hamas once and for all:
“It's too easy to make such recommendations from so far away. Many Israelis agree with you, but cooler heads here admit it can't be done. For now there's no solution...we have to live with this, and we can.
“I don't want to get over-philosophical here, but there are problems that have no solutions. This is one. We cannot "punish" Gaza or "teach them a lesson." Palestinians have been educated for generations to relish in their victimhood, with the full support of the world and especially the UN.
“Short of killing hundreds of thousands of civilians, which we are not going to do, nor should we, there is no military solution. Residents near Gaza are understandably upset that the IDF and government didn't provide a permanent solution to this, but most of them realize, when tempers cool, that there isn't one.
“It also bears repeating that when Israel did control Gaza (before the 2005 pullout), terrorism was rampant, and suicide bombers from Gaza blew themselves up in Israel--so retaking Gaza is not a solution, either.”
The solution will come one day in the framework of the realignment of the Middle East that’s in its beginning stages now. It started with Arab Spring, and it’s moving toward replacing the outdated 1920’s Sykes-Picot borders with Sunni, Shiite, Kurdish spheres of influence. And one Jewish state.
The borders of the one Jewish state must be fixed in accordance with the realignment of the rest of the region, and that also means the borders of the Palestinian state or entity or whatever emerges. It won’t be peace, but it will be an arrangement that has the support of the Arab world.
Will it result in a Palestinian state, a Hamas-led rogue state bent on attacking Israel at every opportunity? Perhaps. But that state would be at odds not only with Israel, but also with the powerful Arab sponsors of the new order. And make no mistake—besides being a convenient tool to distract downtrodden Arab populations from their own troubles, the Palestinians have never been the darlings of the Arab world. After borders are set and agreed, if Israel has to take drastic steps to defend itself, there will be little objection from anyone other than the professional Israel-bashers, mostly in the West.
After turning down two Israeli offers of an independent state, in 2000 and 2008, the Palestinians are likely to end up with much less—and for the meantime, and that’s going to be a long meantime, nothing at all except corrupt leaders, terrorism, deprivation, and professional victimhood.
And what does it leave Israel? A Gaza that defies solutions means a Gaza that periodically fires rockets at Israel. It is a harsh reality, but one that Israel is tough enough and resilient enough to withstand, especially if it has the kind of leadership that listens to its people and takes their needs into account, as opposed to the kind of leadership that blusters and threatens and warns, with the object of sounding “tough” and getting votes. Here’s my answer to that, by way of my second book.
There are government incentives for Israelis who move to and live in the West Bank. It should be obvious that the Israelis in constant rocket range in Israel’s south should get much larger benefits than the settlers. The people of Sderot and the other communities close to the Gaza fence are literally on Israel’s front line. Their lives are hell, not because their government has failed to impose a solution, though politicians from right and left are crowing and wailing in that vein, now that the latest round of violence appears to be over.
Their lives are hell because there is no solution.
We in Israel need to embrace the residents of the Gaza target area not just when the rockets are falling, but especially when they are not. If we do, and only if we do, can we say sincerely that the periodic flare-ups with Hamas in Gaza are unpleasant and painful, but they do not threaten our existence, and they are part of the price we are prepared to pay for the privilege of living in Israel.
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Correspondent MARK LAVIE has been covering the Mideast since 1972.