Daily Israel Report

Op-Ed: Should Israel Retake Gaza?

Will an emboldened Iran shrink from undermining the relative status quo in the region, either through Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip to the south, or Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Golan Heights to the north?
Published: Saturday, March 15, 2014 7:49 PM


The recent capture by Israel's naval forces of a secret arms shipment in the Red Sea ferrying advanced Iranian-supplied rockets to Gaza, was a botched attempt by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards to try to strengthen Palestinian Islamic Jihad military capabilities.

The Iranian-backed terror group fired nearly 100 rockets into southern Israel after Israeli forces killed three of its fighters a day earlier, drawing 29 retaliatory Israeli air strikes on unmanned rocket launch sites without Palestinian Arab casualties.

Hamas and the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah  did not intervene to prevent the massive barrage of Gaza rocket attacks, the largest on Israel since the November 2012 Operation Pillar of Defense ended in a ceasefire mediated by Egypt.

Moreover, the coldly calculated response by Israeli defense establishment after the targeted air strikes in Gaza and Lebanon may appear somewhat conciliatory but then, Israel knows that any further escalation would be an unnecessary exercise in futility.

After being weakened by the fall of its Islamist Muslim Brotherhood ally in Cairo and by the subsequent clampdown on weapons smuggling from Egypt to Gaza, Hamas has sought to maintain a low profile to avoid a wider war.

In large measure, Iran via proxy, Palestinian Islamic Jihad have blatantly taken advantage of Hamas regime's vulnerability in Gaza. Since Hamas has already paid a heavy price during the Operation Pillar of Defense, Israel has to confront only a small fraction of terror groups supported by Iran.

Amid rising tensions following the seizure of Iran's arms shipments leading to a flurry of rocket attacks into Israel, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's call for full reoccupation of Gaza was not only impractical but a tactical mistake.

Taking into consideration the inherent risks to IDF forces, a total re-conquest of Hamas-controlled Gaza would entail a more complex military undertaking even larger than a combined "Operation Cast Lead" and "Operation Pillar of Defense."

Although there is no dispute about IDF capability to invade Gaza, collateral damage in urban combat theater has been proven to be quite unpredictable.

Ask yourself this question: Will an emboldened Iran shrink from undermining the relative status quo in the region, either through Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip to the south, or Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Golan Heights to the north?

Truly, an escalation could easily decapitate Hamas regime in matters of hours, but, at what price?  Israel will have to pay for a full-scale invasion of Gaza.

Gaza and the 'West Bank' becoming the next Iranian satellite is an extremely worrisome and unacceptable scenario for Israel. Hitherto, the best course of action is for Israel to lead an international coalition together with the US, determined to forcibly prevent Gaza and Ramallah's inexorable slide to anarchy and offer guarantees that it will not be pulled into Iranian orbit.

True, All controversial territorial withdrawals by Israel, from Sinai, Lebanon, and eviction of Jews from Gaza in 2005 after 38 years of residency there, were each a strategic blunder that boosted Hamas and Iranian-backed Palestinian Arab terror groups hostile to the Jewish state.

To better understand what is driving Israeli policy, it is necessary to consider Israeli geopolitical reality. In order for there to be a Jewish state, it must be governed by Jews. If it is also to be a democratic state, as was envisioned by all but a few, then it must be a state that is demographically Jewish.

The State of Israel has always had a single defense goal - to ensure the existence of Israel and the security of its citizens. All arguments in Israel devolve from these principles, but all share a common reality -- the need for the physical protection of Israel.

Extended attritional warfare was not an option for Israel. Thus, in order for Israel to survive, three conditions were necessary: 1) Arabs must never unite into a single, effective force; 2) Israel must choose the time, place and sequence of any war; and, finally 3) Israel must never face both a war and an internal uprising of Arabs simultaneously.

Israeli national security strategy is founded on the premise that Israel cannot afford to lose a single war. Since it lacks strategic depth, Israel must prevent the enemy from entering its territory, and must try to quickly transfer the battle to enemy territory.

After the 2006 Second Lebanon War proved that the high tech American-made pinpoint weapons ineffective, it  now appears that Israel has given up on the idea of a ground assault to remove the many rocket and missile launchers in Lebanon.

Today, however, Hezbollah could be decimated on purpose by Israeli forces  if it chooses to do so, by carrying out a sequential air attacks on ballistic missile infrastructures, many of which are inconspicuously hidden in universities and civilian homes.

Syria, which for a long time served as a conduit for Iranian arms smuggling to Hezbollah, could be decapitated by "cutting off the head of the snake." Cutting off the head in Syria is Saudi Arabia's method of trying to decapitate Iran.

In a national security context, Israel follows a policy of  "nuclear opacity" - visibly possessing nuclear weapons while denying their existence. This has allowed Israel to enjoy the benefits of being a nuclear weapons state in terms of deterrence without having to suffer the international repercussions of acknowledging its arsenal.

There is no dispute, that the IDF could topple Hamas relatively easily, but then we can only guess what happens next - any sort of scenarios, all of which put Israel in a bind.

Let us bear in mind, that despite Israel's superior military edge, there are almost always unintended consequences to take over 1.7 million Palestinian Arabs. This could prove to be bloody and may also be damaging to the on-going 'peace process' with the rival US-backed Palestinian Authority in the former Judea and Samaria.

However, cutting off Iran's foothold to its proxies is strategically important because Iranian-sponsored terrorism would be visibly contained. It will conspicuously hurt Iran's international prestige and may hamper its ability to continuously deceive the West regarding the military dimensions of its illicit nuclear program.

As such, failure to stop a nuclear armed Iran would mean the Middle East will never cease to be a hub of raging murderous conflicts constantly threatening the Jewish state. Mindful of this fact, Israel does not have the luxury of ignoring it.

According to Major Gen. Aviv Kochavi 'about 170,000 rockets and missiles are pointed at Israel, they are deadlier than ever' and "for the  first time in many years, enemy forces can attack all of Israel’s cities".

The Chief of the IDF Intelligence Directorate estimated that Hezbollah, the terrorist organization positioned along Israel’s northern border, now possesses 100,000 rockets and missiles.

The extraordinary size of this stockpile redefines Hezbollah’s capabilities: An organization that has more than 100,000 rockets resembles a military more than a terrorist organization.

However -- and this is the key problem for Israel -- the diplomatic solution is inherently impermanent. It requires constant manipulation, and the possibility of failure is built in. Given enough time, anything is possible, including a surprise attack against Iran.

The writer was clinical research-physician-general surgeon for Saudi Arabian, Philippine and American healthcare systems and is currently an American freelance writer as well as op-ed contributor.