As the Israel Defence Force (IDF) continues its latest military operation in Gaza, there is a necessity to consider why it is there. Such an evaluation and appraisal will determine when and how it can depart from Gaza. An effective evaluation and appraisal followed by the necessary action will ensure that the IDF will not need to return to Gaza again. Here are some clear and present facts.
- The blockade of Gaza has not been effectual. Hamas and other groups have been able to introduce into Gaza airborne weapons such as rockets capable of striking the large population areas of Israel.
- Such an offensive airborne capability has been supplemented by the construction of tunnels enabling Hamas and other groups to gain a ground / land offensive capability.
- Both the airborne and ground offensive capability of Hamas and other groups reached a level that threatens Israel’s national security and its population. This necessitated a military response by Israel, not once but twice. The first in November 2012 was Operation Pillar of Defense and the Second commencing in July 2014 is Operation Protective Edge.
- Although substantial weaponry and infra-structure were destroyed by airpower alone in November 2012 in Operation Pillar of Defense this was not enough. Hamas and other groups retained sufficient capability and increased this to once again threaten Israel. The short time between the two Operations, less that 20 months highlighs the fact that air power, the Israeli Air Force and pilotless drones, are not sufficient to counter, destroy or deter Hamas and other groups in Gaza.
- The use of Israel’s land forces, both regular and reserves, to destroy tunnels, other infra-structure and weaponry in Gaza, comes at a high human price. Using old equipment and techniques such as personal carriers dating back to the 1970’s is inadequate for the forces operating in the combat zone.
- Hamas has been able to develop a reliable method of communication, command and control of its irregular ground forces. This is exampled when Israel was searching for a missing solider believed kidnapped, Hadar Goldin, whereas Hamas was accurately informing that he had been killed.
- A number of civilian targets and United Nations infra-structure have been destroyed in Gaza together with a relatively large number of civilian deaths and even more wounded. Whereas on the Israeli home front, due to the Iron Dome and other measures, there have been virtually no civilian casualties. Consequently these Gazan civilian casualties have turned the world media against Israel’s defensive military action. Israel needs a concerted and intensive diplomacy and public diplomacy effort.
- Western governments individually and through international organisations are now allocating substantial humanitarian aid and funding to assist Gazan residents. Israel is being portrayed as an aggressor yet the situation is not of Israel’s making.
- Despite losing substantial military capability, there is no indication that Hamas will be toppled from control of Gaza. Any peace process with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank will need to take into consideration that Gaza will remain excluded from the main agenda.
- The Israeli population and world Jewry have supported the Israel Defence Force and Israeli politicians without question. However as Operation Protective Edge continues these are asking “How many more times will we return to sort out the threat from Gaza.” Such a question is also being asked by Israel’s international allies who are also supporting Israel unquestionably. Sustaining such support is not a foregone conclusion. Public and allied opinion is a necessity for success yet sustaining it requires evidence of long term stability.
There is no doubt that many more points could be added to a Gaza Pre-Departure List. All come down to the same bottom line. That is: Prior to leaving Gaza, the Israel Defence Forces need to identify, remove and / or destroy any and all military threats against Israel. Thereafter measures are required to ensure that this threat doesn’t return. That includes bringing Gaza into the framework of a peace process. No Israeli politician can remain in office if he asks his army and his population to constantly face threats from the same source, to frequently go to war to counter these threats but for only a short time, and to suffer losses in doing so. No Israeli General can honestly say he is defending Israel and stay in uniform if he withdraws from Gaza while any capability remains there to threaten Israel and its population.