As I write this, hundreds of rockets are being launched from the Gaza Strip into communities across Southern Israel. Many are being intercepted, but not all, in the tragic case of a 60 year old man found dead underneath a four story building in Ashkelon. A woman is in a coma, school is cancelled across the South, and there are clear options being discussed about mobilizing Israel’s army reservists.
Until 2005, Gaza was our problem. Then with little fanfare, we uprooted 8000 of our own and withdrew the Israeli army. I remember being interviewed as an Israel activist back then on Canadian national radio (CBC). The other Jewish activist saw Gaza as a future Singapour (a prosperous city state in Asia), flourishing next to the Mediterranean. In contrast, I warned that all the “disengagement” will accomplish would be a vacuum and proved to be right. Two years later, Hamas staged a coup d’etat against the Palestinian Authority in Gaza and became the sole authority there. The vacuum that Israel created in the Gaza Strip was filled with Hamas.
Since then, with the exception of several short wars, there has always been some kind of a low running warfare with the enclave. At the same time, the territory, one of the poorest in the world that subsists on foreign aid while Hamas coffers are used to weaponize and fight us, shouts out that Israel is responsible. Yes Israel has blockaded Gaza since Hamas, a group sworn to its destruction, took the reigns of power in 2007. Nevertheless, Israel has no effective control whatsoever over what happens there, and therefore Gaza is a separate territory.
Examples of lack of effective control are best shown through the Gilad Shalit kidnapping and Egypt’s own political dealings with the Rafiah border crossing. Gilad Shalit, a soldier kidnapped in a cross border raid by Hamas in 2006, remained in Hamas captivity for years as Israel failed to rescue him militarily. Eventually, 1027 terrorists were released for him to come home. Israel had to release terrorists, including the now current leader of Gaza, Yahye Sinwar, after other attempts to retrieve him failed. In addition, Israel has no effective control over the Rafiah border crossing and the blockade there is due to separate politics between Hamas and Egypt. Gaza is a completely separate territory where Israel has no control over its internal happenings.
According to the Montevideo Convention that defines the composition of states, a state is composed of land, a government, a population, and an ability to embark on diplomatic relations. For the most part, Gaza fulfills this criteria. As such, the time has come for Israel to treat Gaza as a neighboring state rather than as a terrorist run enclave that some foreign activists claim is still controlled by Israel.
In a way the incident began several days ago when a botched IDF operation in Gaza cost the lives of an IDF officer and seven Hamas fighters. However, this was a localized incident and the idea of proportionality is important. If any state launched 500 rockets at a neighboring state a war would result. There would be minimal calls for restraint. Under International Law every state has the right of self-defense. Yes one should try to minimize collateral damage; however, in a situation like Gaza which is densely populated and with Hamas actively using the population as human shields, the ability to avoid complete collateral damage is nearly impossible. If Israel does not respond, then the power will lie with Hamas. What a major propaganda victory will it be that the rulers of Gaza launched hundreds of rockets into Israel, killed several Israelis, and Israel failed to adequately respond. Hezbollah in Lebanon is likely to be watching what Israel will do next.
The situation that one state launches hundreds of rockets into another state is unacceptable. What Israel does next will be very important to determine how deterrence will be achieved. What I do know, is if PM Netanyahu decides to avoid an “unnecessary war” by avoiding a sharp escalation the next round will certainly be a “necessary war”. Let’s hope we can all afford to pay the price.