Israel faces a difficult challenge in the coming days. In my opinion, Israel has only two choices. It can launch a major ground offensive and recapture the Gaza Strip. Alternatively, Israel can double down on defense and reach the point where we can ignore the continual attacks. Any less definitive action plan will not work.
Our current policy of attacking Gaza from the air will be no more successful this time than it has been previously. There is no way to take action against Hamas that will be strong enough to create the level of deterrence we need against that organization. More specifically, Hamas is counting on Israeli air strikes. They are hoping that despite our care in planning and implementing surgical strikes we will accidentally kill a large number of civilians, and thus, impact world public opinion in their favor. Hamas hopes to regain the support they lost in the past weeks and months on the heels of a tragic Israeli error. Hamas has made the calculated decision to create a crisis. They want us to bomb them just enough to gain them sympathy. Anything less than that will not create any level of deterrence. It is very easy to fall into their trap.
If we cannot just bomb them, what can we do? One solution is to initiate a ground assault on the Gaza Strip. Such an assault would be similar to the mission implemented in the West Bank after the Pesach bombing in Netanya. It would require a full-fledged assault by all of our active enlisted infantry troops to reconquer the Strip. This would no doubt result in casualties among our men, as well as to civilians caught in the crossfire. The advantages would be great. We could capture and kill most of the leadership of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. We could free the Strip from Hamas rule and we could certainly end the rocket fire.
However, then the question remains – What next? I can tell you from personal experience that occupying Gaza 30 + years ago was not easy. I can’t imagine it would be any less difficult now. Certainly occupying another million Palestinians would not make our lives any easier, on any front.
There is another scenario that might work – That is, if together with recapturing Gaza we reach a comprehensive peace agreement with the Palestinian Authority, that would include them taking over the Strip. I doubt, however, that the members of our current government would be willing to make the concessions that this scenario would entail.
Conversely, we could take a completely opposite approach. In the first OpEd piece I wrote for the Times of Israel in March 2012- Time for the IDF to Step Up Up Its Defensive Game I called on Israel to increase its investment in defensive systems. Clearly that has been done to an extent. However, our natural inclination – honed by years of operational strategy – is for the IDF to act primarily as an offensive force. The Air Force hates spending money on defensive systems. The IAF much prefers purchasing overpriced F-35 planes.
Our generals have been trained to attack. Yet, what if we were to double down on defense? We could begin deploying the Israeli developed laser anti-rocket system and increase our Iron Dome capabilities even further. We can reach the point where all of the of missile attacks from Gaza will be intercepted. Then we could be in a position to stop announcing Tzeva Adom (“red alert”).
In addition, if they do fire on us, whenever we have the opportunity to respond without collateral damage we can kill their leaders. If Hamas attacks and never does any damage- who cares? There are those who say this is asymmetric – their missiles are cheap and ours are expensive. Though given that our GDP is more than 40 times larger than theirs, we can afford it. To look at the cost-effectiveness of this option in perspective, would anybody like to hazard a guess what an all out assault on Gaza would cost?
We need to start viewing at the attacks from Gaza as a lion looks at a swarm of flies – they are extremely bothersome, but not dangerous. If we put the proper technology in place to make their attacks totally ineffective, (much of which we have begun to do), then we can begin to ignore Hamas instead of repeatedly attacking them. Nothing would undermine them more!