Operation Protective Edge, revealed to Israel the full extent of the terrorist challenge. The implications of this challenge are liable to be far-reaching, perhaps even game-changing. The essence of the challenge is strategic because of its possible dramatic consequences, whether the scope of the damage the challenge could entail, the sense of fear it could spread (mainly the tunnels) thereby disrupting the routine of life and the resilience of Israeli society, or even the force of Israel’s response. From this point onward, it is clear that Israel cannot accept this threat; it cannot allow Hamas or the other terrorist organizations to exercise it whenever they feel like it.
As a result of the recent campaign, Israel’s previous strategic interest in the Gaza Strip has lost some of its validity. Israel should no longer view the preservation of the Hamas government as the party responsible for the civilian population and for preventing terrorism against Israel. Hamas’ infrastructure and military capabilities, its resolve to act in an unrestrained, uncontrolled manner, and its cynical, cruel use of the civilian population while exploiting the sensitivity of the international community and media in harming their own civilians just to damage Israel’s international standing, require Israel to rethink the fabric of its strategic interests in the Gaza Strip.
At this point, it would be unwise of Israel to define a long-term strategic vision. The uncertainty and instability of the system and the multiplicity of players with separate agendas make any real control of the system or its shaping impossible at this time. In order to gain renewed control of the system and ensure our ability to shape it, it is first and foremost necessary to neutralize military and terrorist capabilities and infrastructures in the Gaza Strip or at least weaken them to a great degree.
The more demilitarized the Gaza Strip becomes, the greater the chances that the Hamas’ government will fall, and the greater the chances are for restoring the Palestinian Authority to political and security control of it. The more real the demilitarization is, the greater the chances are that the economy and infrastructures will be rebuilt and the Gaza Strip be developed. As the quality of life of Gazans improves and as the Gaza Strip is reconstructed and developed, the reins on escalation will be strengthened. In strategic language, one can say that the extent to which assets found in the hands of the control-wielding factor in the Gaza Strip are more numerous and significant, so the ability deter it from engaging in violent steps and escalation will improve.
Therefore, it seems that all would agree on the strategic value and the human value to the residents of the Gaza Strip that can be generated from demilitarization. One may say that the deeper the demilitarization the greater the value. But at this point we must answer three questions:
- What is demilitarization? Are we talking about a binary reality in which there is or is not demilitarization, or are we talking about a continuum that represents different values or degrees of demilitarization?
- Can demilitarization (either full or partial) of the Gaza Strip be attained? If so, how?
- Would a partial demilitarization of the Gaza Strip become a vehicle for reshaping the Gazan system?
The demilitarization of the Gaza Strip is necessary for reshaping the system there. Reshaping the system of the Gaza Strip by means of weakening Hamas and guaranteeing the conditions necessary for the success of the PA in reasserting its control there and the reconstruction of the Strip are the foundation for creating a new base of reins on further escalation or, in strategic terms, creating deterrence and maintaining it. The reshaping of the Gazan system requires several conditions, but success in its reshaping by means of reconstruction and development can also help renew the political process with the PA under the leadership of Abu Mazen.
Israel must make the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip a precondition for any ceasefire or settlement and guarantee the existence of apparatus ensuring that demilitarization actually happens as well as guarantee international legitimacy for an Israeli response against any attempt to violate the demilitarization. Obviously, the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip is a process requiring time, perseverance, determination and a host of joint efforts from many players. A sober strategic look requires the understanding that there are levels or degrees of demilitarization. A relevant strategy could lead Israel toward greater values of demilitarization on the way to full demilitarization. Even if full demilitarization is currently no more than wishful thinking, the very fact of progress along the axis can improve Israel’s strategic position.
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