Within a span of less than 48 hours, Palestinian terrorists launched over 700 rockets into Israel causing death, injuries and destruction in cities, towns and villages. Israel’s advanced defense systems have mitigated a lot of the potential damage, or the casualty count would be significantly higher. However, Israel’s defensive capability does not diminish the intent behind each one of the terrorists’ rockets, and that intent is to cause maximum death and devastation. As Israeli political leadership is once again grappling with the difficult question of how to respond to the rocket fire from Gaza, it is helpful to consider prior responses that have brought us to today’s ordeal.
The reality is that ever since Gazans have initiated the violent riots at the Israeli border over a year ago, Israel has been unable to establish an appropriate deterrent. Over the past year, Palestinian terror organizations and the civilians who do their bidding have committed countless acts of aggression against Israel including shooting rockets, launching fire kites, sniper fire, and attempting to break through Israel’s border fence.
Israel’s response to the indiscriminate rocket fire into Israeli towns would typically be anemic, as the IDF would bomb empty buildings in Gaza. The IDF would even provide warning upon warning to terrorists to evacuate buildings before they were destroyed. Compare that to the handful of seconds that an Israeli mother has to gather her children to seek cover in a bomb shelter.
We know that Israel’s response was insufficient, as the Gazans never felt compelled to end their aggression. In order to preserve the relative calm, Israel would agree to ceasefires. As punitive measures would never be enforced, the terrorists claimed tactical leverage. The ceasefire would last until the time of the Palestinian terrorists’ choosing or until the choosing of their Iranian masters, at which point the process would repeat itself.
From one rocket-launching campaign by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) to another, Israel would promptly find dozens of “strategic targets” at which to aim the response strikes, prompting a natural question of whether the importance of these targets was known during the prior engagement, and, if so, why these locations were not addressed then? Did the Israeli leadership think that a temporary ceasefire would incentivize Hamas to change its mission?
For all his strategic brilliance, Prime Minister Netanyahu allowed this matter to fester and even introduced a moral hazard when his government agreed to a ceasefire arrangement with Hamas in November of 2018 and allowed Qatar to make a $15 million cash infusion into Gazan (Hamas’) coffers. Naturally, the framing was that the money would not go to Hamas; however, money is fungible, and as the ruling party in Gaza, Hamas bears responsibility for the livelihood of the Gazan citizenry. Such a cash infusion allowed Hamas breathing room on the domestic front without any cost to its belligerent modus operandi. Basically, a cash infusion provided from the outside for civilian needs, creates additional capacity for Hamas to spend funds on its members and R&D to make its rocket arsenal more far-reaching and deadly. Furthermore, the ease with which Israel agreed to the arrangement suggested to Hamas that the same extortionist practice would work in the future.
Refusal to engage Hamas on Israel’s terms, is due to result in Israel having to take the same action under less advantageous conditions, when the terrorists will have grown stronger and at the cost of many more lives. It has been said that Israel correctly prioritizes the danger posed by Hezbollah in the North. However, allowing Hamas its growing operational capability creates a higher likelihood of a second front in the South while Israel engages with Hezbollah. With Israel’s defensive resources dislocated toward the northern border, Hamas would be in the position to cause even greater harm.
Israel’s failure to enforce a price on Hamas and PIJ in order to diminish their motivation and operational capacity to conduct the terror campaign against Israel, allowed the terrorists to grow in strength and effectively left Israeli civilians (particularly in the South) as hostages of the terrorists’ political and financial interests.
Concerned as the Israeli leadership may be about public opinion, inaction to defend its citizens is a dereliction of the primary duty of government. And at some point, the Israeli leadership needs to make a clear statement that no matter how much it wishes to minimize Gaza’s civilian death toll, it cannot allow Hamas and other terror groups to exploit a human shield arbitrage, whereby Gazans are valued higher than Israeli civilians due to terrorists’ callous operational choices or out of fear of a libelous portrayal in the Western media.