Get ready for ‘Operation Here We Go Again’ in 2016?

I made aliyah (immigrated to Israel) on December 29, 2008, just two days after Israel’s ‘Operation Cast Lead’ against Hamas in Gaza had begun and with rockets falling on southern Israel.  There were nearly fifty new immigrants traveling together as a group, and Israel’s Channel 2 sent a news crew to London’s Heathrow Airport to interview us.  When they asked my friend how it felt to make aliyah in the middle of a war, she replied: “If I waited until there was peace in Israel to move there, I might never make it.”  It was funny, but also sadly true.

‘Operation Protective Edge,’ which followed ‘Operation Pillar of Defense’ in 2012, marks the third round of fighting with Hamas in the past 5 1/2 years.  At the time of writing, a temporary 72-hour ceasefire between Israel and Hamas is holding, but it is due to expire at 8:00am on Friday August 8th and Hamas is threatening to resume hostilities if its demands in the Cairo negotiations are not met.

So who ‘won’ the war?  Hamas remains in control of Gaza and on Tuesday evening August 5th, Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas Prime Minister in Gaza, proclaimed “the military victory of the resistance.”  Incredibly, he cited the damage sustained from the Israeli operation as confirmation, stating: “The pictures of the destruction are great proof of the defeat of the IDF and its failure to contend with the brave resistance.” (Source: Times of Israel’s Liveblog at 22:29)

In Israel, some were frustrated that Hamas was not removed from power.  Amos Yadlin, former head of IDF military intelligence and now the director of Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), had been advocating for a tougher Israeli response, penning an Op-Ed in the New York Times entitled, To Save Gaza, Destroy Hamas.

According to Israeli media sources, the security cabinet did debate whether to reoccupy Gaza, but after examining an IDF report that said clearing Gaza of terror would take five years, cost hundreds of soldiers’ lives and thousands of Palestinian lives, endanger peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, and lead to unrest in the West Bank and among Arab citizens of Israel, no minister voted in favor of reoccupation.

So what happens now, as Egyptian, Palestinian and Israeli representatives sit in Cairo attempting to hammer out a longer-term ceasefire agreement?

Earlier in the summer, former IDF chief of staff and defense minister Shaul Mofaz floated a plan that called for the demilitarization of Gaza in return for a massive $50 billion investment in rebuilding the strip, with the participation of regional and international actors.  His template was the UN Security Council’s agreement that forced Syria to give up its chemical weapons, and he believed that Hamas could be similarly squeezed to comply in return for the package of aid money.

Mofaz’s ideas on demilitarization were joined recently by the INSS’s Udi Dekel and Shlomo Brom, where in a paper entitled “Reconstruction for Demilitarization”: Lifting the Economic Siege and Tightening the Security Siege around the Gaza Strip, they argued that their plan would restore Palestinian Authority control in Gaza, weaken Hamas in Gaza, and strengthen Mahmoud Abbas as a partner to the political process.

Other analysts are skeptical of such ideas, stating that Hamas will simply reiterate that they are the ruling power in Gaza and will refuse to disarm, and there the matter will end.  Middle East analyst Jonathan Spyer told Britain’s Fathom journal: “How do you get Hamas to consign its Gaza authority to oblivion and become a junior partner to Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] of its own free will?”  Spyer doesn’t believe that removing Hamas from authority can be done only through carrots.  “I think there would need to be sticks, and I don’t see quite what the stick’s going to be unless somebody is prepared to take the Hamas authority out of existence.”

Hamas rule still exists though after facing the might of the Israeli army for nearly a month, and its leaders are defiant.  Even after its civilian population suffered great hardship and many buildings in Gaza have been reduced to rubble, the Economist quoted a Hamas official as coldly saying: “This isn’t the time for crying.  Algeria lost a million people fighting for freedom, Vietnam more. This is the tax we have to pay.”

Hamas’ leaders continue to state they are resisting the Zionist “occupation,” but for Hamas the occupation did not begin with Israel gaining control of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967.  For Hamas, the occupation began in 1948 when the State of Israel was created, and it views every inch of Israel as occupied territory: Tel Aviv, Haifa, Beersheva, all of it.  Hamas, whose name in Arabic is an acronym for the “Islamic Resistance Movement,” believes that all of Israel is Muslim land, and the preamble to the Hamas charter of 1988 states unambiguously:  “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.”

If Hamas remains in power in Gaza, there is every expectation they will work to rebuild their rocket arsenal and infiltration tunnels, and prepare for another round of fighting against Israel.  There was nearly a four-year gap between ‘Operation Cast Lead’ and ‘Operation Pillar of Defense,’ but less than two years until ‘Operation Protective Edge’ began.  Israeli deterrence against Hamas may be having less of an effect.  If Hamas remains in power in Gaza, unfortunately we might have to get ready for ‘Operation Here We Go Again’ in 2016.

About the Author
Gavin Gross, a New York City native, was a commodities trader in New York and London before serving as Director of Public Affairs at the British Zionist Federation (ZF). He has appeared on BBC TV and radio, Al Jazeera English, and Iran's Press TV discussing Israel issues. He has an MBA from the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business and an MA in Near and Middle Eastern Studies from SOAS, University of London, and now lives in Israel.