As Israel edges towards yet another election, one issue that is likely on the minds of some Israeli voters is the ongoing terrorist threat from the Gaza Strip. It has been 15 years since Hamas wrested control of the coastal enclave from the Palestinian Authority. Ever since then, Gaza has served as a base of operations for Islamist terrorists determined to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth. Dozens of Israeli citizens have been killed since the Hamas takeover in 2007. Israelis, particularly those living in the south of the country, close to the border with the Gaza Strip, continue to face the threat of rocket fire from the territory. There is also the ongoing threat of infiltration into Israel by terrorists using a network of tunnels that they have built over the last decade and a half. Similar tunnels are also used to smuggle weapons and materials to build bigger and deadlier rockets that can reach most of Israel’s major cities.
Despite all the efforts of the IDF to destroy the means which the terrorists in the Gaza Strip use to harm Israelis, attacks from the coastal enclave continue. Why is this? The simple answer is that in order to stamp out the terrorist threat from Gaza completely, the IDF would have to go into the territory and reoccupy it. So why haven’t Israel’s leaders allowed the IDF to do this? The answer to this question is also a simple one. Because recapturing the coastal enclave would almost certainly lead to a bloodbath reminiscent of Stalingrad during World War II.
When discussing the possibility of a campaign to recapture the Gaza Strip, keep in mind that it is one of the most densely populated places on Earth. The IDF would have to fight street-by-street and building-by-building to recapture Gaza and eliminate the terrorist network in the territory in its entirety. The end result would likely be the death of dozens, if not hundreds, of Israeli soldiers, not to mention thousands of Palestinian civilians who would likely perish in the fighting, even with the IDF doing its utmost to avoid civilian casualties as it always does. Then, of course, there is the physical destruction that the Gaza Strip would sustain. In all likelihood, the damage to Gaza’s infrastructure that would take place during an IDF campaign to recapture the territory would take years to rebuild, leaving many Palestinians homeless and without access to the most basic services. There is also the tidal wave of international condemnation that would accompany an Israeli campaign to retake the Gaza Strip.
To put the possibility of a campaign to recapture Gaza into perspective, recall the battle that took place in the Palestinian city of Jenin in the northern West Bank in 2002, during Operation Defensive Shield. This battle lasted ten days, during which the IDF raided the city in order to root out terrorists that were using it as a base to plan and execute attacks against Israelis during the Second Intifada. IDF soldiers had to fight street-by-street and building-by-building. The terrorists were well-prepared, laying booby-traps in the city’s buildings so that they would collapse on Israeli soldiers. The end result? Israel lost 23 soldiers. In addition, the Jewish state was the victim of unwarranted worldwide condemnation. Israel was accused of committing a massacre in Jenin. This false accusation was sometimes known as the Myth of Jeningrad, which coincidentally is a wordplay on Stalingrad.
Bear in mind, however, that Jenin is just one city. The Gaza Strip is many times larger than Jenin and contains a much bigger population. So just imagine, if 23 Israelis died fighting terrorists in Jenin, in a campaign lasting ten days, how many do you think would fall in a battle to recapture the Gaza Strip, and how long would such a campaign last? Honestly, I don’t even want to imagine. Nevertheless, if Israel is to end the terrorist threat from the coastal enclave once and for all, it has no choice but to let the IDF do what it must to retake the territory.
The IDF would then have to hold the territory, which may lead to further casualties as the remaining terrorists go underground and begin conducting guerrilla-style warfare. In addition, it would be extremely costly for Israel to police and rebuild the Gaza Strip. Thus, a long-term reoccupation of Gaza by the IDF would likely be undesirable and unsustainable. So what could Israel do with the territory after recapturing it? One option would be to turn it over to the Palestinian Authority. But as we all know, it was the PA that lost control of the Gaza Strip to terrorists in the first place. And if its current inability to control territory in the West Bank for which it is responsible is any indication, then turning Gaza back over to the PA would be an epic disaster for Israel. An alternative might be to allow some sort of peacekeeping force to police the territory. This force would be charged with restoring law and order in the enclave, and preventing the resurgence of terrorism.
But how would such a peacekeeping force be assembled? Who would fill its ranks? The answer may be personnel from Arab and Muslim countries that recognize Israel. Hence, the peacekeeping force could be composed of soldiers from countries like Egypt, Jordan, the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco. The governments of these countries may be willing to be contribute to such a peacekeeping force because Islamist terrorists are the common enemy of both Israel and moderate Arab and Muslim states. Moreover, if the approach of employing an Arab/Muslim peacekeeping force in the Gaza Strip proved successful, it could serve as a model for allowing the creation of a Palestinian state in the future without the threat of it falling into the hands of terrorists.