Steven Frank

The Buffer Zone Solution

A bulldozer from Gaza breaks through the Israeli-built security fence between Gaza and Israel.  [Reuters/Mohammed Fayq Abu Mostafa]

On October 7, 2023, thousands of Gazans easily crossed the one hundred yard buffer zone between Gaza and Israel and poured through Israel’s vaunted security barrier (on Israeli territory) to quickly reach Israeli communities (not settlements) legally located within Israel proper. The result, as the world now knows, was a horrific massacre, involving rape and mutilation and the execution of over 1,400 Israeli non-combatant civilians.

Exactly how the terrorists were able to breach Israel’s high-tech wall will be determined during the course of extensive investigations to come. But it is certain that a wall, no matter how sophisticated, standing entirely on the Israeli side of the warring factions, with only a one-hundred yard no man’s land on the Gaza side was not enough to stop the terrorist hordes from reaching Israeli homes in minutes.

There have been and will be multitudes of proposals to prevent such a massacre from happening again. One such solution, currently adopted by the Israeli government and ongoing (with a brief pause to negotiate the release of hostages kidnapped by Hamas), has been to launch a massive ground invasion into Gaza to “destroy” and “dismantle” the ruling Hamas party entirely. That is the present Israeli strategy and the goal repeatedly pronounced by Israeli officials.

No matter how desirable a goal it is and how much one supports its ultimate outcome, a legitimate question arises: how realistic is it? A few weeks of fighting has demonstrated how difficult it will be to wipe out Hamas terrorists (who number over 30,000 and easily blend into the general population) and how much devastation such a campaign will impact seemingly innocent Gaza civilians. And although the international community has thus far patiently (but increasingly less patiently) not widely called for Israeli “restraint” (i.e.,a permanent ceasefire), it cannot be expected to allow this war to go on indefinitely (Israeli officials speculate it may take months to achieve its goals).

Many knowledgeable military analysts and commentators believe it will be impossible for Israel to completely destroy Hamas, its fighters, and extensive infrastructure in building-by- building urban guerrilla warfare, no matter how necessary Israel and its supporters feel that is imperative to protect Israeli society. And even if Israel were somehow able to dismantle Hamas, that would leave Israel with the no-win responsibility of governing over two million largely hostile Gazans indefinitely.

Assuming all that is true, what is Israel to do? One idea being quietly floated is for Israel to negotiate an indefinite ceasefire in exchange for the release of all the hostages Hamas now holds. In addition, for humanitarian reasons, Israel would withdraw from Gaza cities and other enclaves to a fortified buffer zone one to two miles inside Gaza from the Israeli border (Gaza is 25 miles long, and from 3.7 to 7.5 miles wide). Of course, increasing the buffer zone between Gaza and Israel from a hundred yards to a mile (at least) will not guarantee safety but, properly manned and operated, it will significantly enlarge the zone of safety for Israeli citizens living in nearby communities. No terrorist will be able to penetrate Israel proper after transversing only one hundred yards as was the case on October 7. Similar and long-standing buffer zones exist today in regions as diverse as Cyprus, Korea, and Sinai.

Yes, this proposal will not completely destroy Hamas but then what plan would realistically do that? And yes, Hamas will still have the ability to indiscriminately fire rockets at Israel but given their finely-tuned aim, such rockets are mostly more of a nuisance than a deadly threat.

The real threat to Israel, however, is permitting Hamas madmen and their Gazan acolytes to invade Israel in order to rape and pillage and this nuanced idea will certainly limit that unspeakable possibility. The only realistic goal for Israel is not to “destroy” Hamas but to make it more difficult, if not impossible, to harm Israelis.

Of course, Hamas would continue to run Gaza in the same corrupt, illegal, and authoritarian manner it has always done. But as long as it is not an existential threat to Israel, that is the problem of the Gaza people – – who elected Hamas to rule them in the first place – – not Israel.

About the Author
Steve Frank is retired after a 30-year career as an appellate lawyer with the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. His writings on Israel, the law and architecture have appeared in numerous publications including the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, the Baltimore Sun, the Jerusalem Post, the Jewish News Syndicate and Moment magazine.
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