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Op-Ed: Land Invasion: Beware the Trap Laid by Hamas

There are more effective choices.
Published: Thursday, July 10, 2014 5:06 PM


Hamas, for the last few days, has been continuing the war it lost in Judea and Samaria – from Gaza.

The kidnapping and murder of the three boys afforded Israel the opportunity and legitimacy to hit hard at the organizaion’s infrastructure and send it several years back in its tracks, just when it was about to take over the area by means of the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections.

However, the advantage of fighting on the ground is only the case in Judea and Samaria; in Gaza, Israel will find it vey difficult to act effectively on the ground for the following reasons:

1. Population size and density, especially in urban areas such as Gaza City, Khan Yunis, Rafiah and the refugee camps make it necessary for Israel to introduce large infantry forces to a considerable number of points.

2. A tank has no advantages in urban areas as it has limited maneuverability, cannot aim at upper floors and is a slow-moving, easily hit target for antitank weapons, such as RPGs and rockets.

3. An armored jeep is also an easy target for antitank weaponry in a built up area.

4. Soldiers making their way on foot in built up areas are sitting ducks for snipers. Hamas has laid mines, built tunnels underneath the houses, fortified sniper positions in strategically placed buildings.

5. Eliminating Hamas military and civilian infrastructure requires a large Israeli presence over a lengthy period of time, enabling Hamas to attack command posts and headquarters (that is what occurred in Tyre).

6.Total elimination of Hamas will not prevent its resurgence as soon as our soldiers leave.

These points lead to the conclusion that sending land forces deep into Gaza will cost many lives without much to show for it. The subsequent retreat will be presented as a victory for Hamas.

Air battles, on the other hand, give Israel a definite advantage over Hamas, even if spotty intelligence and the proximity of the targets to uninvolved civilians presents difficulties.

Hamas knows this well, and therefore will do all it can to drag Israel into a ground operation involving sending forces into Gaza itself, because on the ground Israel has almost no edge over Hamas.

These reasons also make it difficult for Israel to define the mission of a land operation in Gaza. Partial conquest will not break up Hamas, total conquest will not solve the long range problem, despite the high cost in human life that we will have to pay.

In order to drag Israel into Gaza, Hamas posted on its official website a picture of a missile – apparently a Grad missile – launched from a crowded urban site.

The release accompanying the picture has Hamas proudly telling how the missile was aimed at the “settlement of Ofakim”. Hamas delivers several message in this way:

"We are launching rockets from urban areas and if Israel attempts to take out the launchers and operators it will hit women and children. We will bring all the media to show how Israel fights and murders uninvolved civilians, women and children. The civilian population supports our cause and is willing to suffer for it. Israel can only stop the rockets with a ground operation."

By launching rockets from built up areas, Hamas is transgressing international law which forbids involving civilians in battle, except that the Gazan jihadists – Hamas and the other organizations there – do not take international law into account. If they did, they would not be aiming at civilian communities.

The above leads to the following question: How should Israel respond in order to prevent continued rocket launching? The answer is clear:

1. Israel must not enter Gaza and continue dealing with the problem from the air, where Israel has a significant advantage over Hamas and the other terror organization.

2. Israel must continue and expand its targeted assassinations against activists and leaders Israel must give Hamas political leaders clear warning that continued rocket launching will lead to their elimination.

3. Israel must announce publicly that two days after the aforesaid announcement, it will shut the supply of electricity, water, food and fuel to Gaza, and that this will continue until the rockets cease. Israel can also threaten to cut off all line-based communication to Gaza that goes through Israel. There has never been a situation in which a country continues to provide supplies and services to an area from which it is being shot at. This two days in advance warning is intended to deal with legal, public, poliical and media issues that might result from the cutoff.

As this article was being written, on Tuesday, July 8, the Palestinian Arabs launched more than 100 rockets and missiles at Israeli cities, from Sderot in the south to Hadera in the north., including Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. On that very same day, Israel allowed 170 truckloads of food – I repeat, 170 truckloads! – filled with food and other supplies to enter Gaza. Is there a greater absurdity than that one??

Our side keeps saying: We differentiate between terrorists and civilians: we fight terror and send food to the civilians. There is noting more infuriating and incorrect, because think about it – who hands out the food to the people? Israel or Hamas? In other words, the people thank Hamas for succeeding in blackmailing Israel into transferring food even though Hamas is raining missiles on Israel.

We say that we are transferring food and fuel so that world media will report it. This, too, is a faulty approach, because it is based on a twisted scale of values, according to which Israeli lives are less important that Israel’s image.

Continuing to transfer food, water, fuel and electricity, is seen as a sign of weakness by  the other side, and weakness invites more pressure in the form of rockets and missiles. Stopping the supplies would cause the residents of Gaza to demand that Hamas cease to launch rockets. Clearly, continued transfer of supplies is the reason for the continued rockets.

Nevertheless, Israel has no need for or interest in destroying the Hamas government in Gaza, as that would lead to chaos and force Israel to take care of one and a half million Gaza citizens, of whom not even a minyan (quorum of 10 men) are pro Israel. On the contrary, the very existence of the Hamas government in Gaza seves Israel, as then the Palestinian Authority divides into two parts that prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state that may turn out to be  a Hamas state – including Judea and Samaria.

The Hamas movement, gallingly, sets conditions for a ceasefire: free those freed in the Schalit exchange, free the Hamas leaders that were arrested, remove the naval siege on  Gaza, remove the sea blockade and end the targeted assassinations.

Israel has to reject Hamas conditions, if only because an agreement with a terror organization lends it legitimacy and is a surrender to terror that that invites further pressure.

Operation “Defensive Edge” must create an Israeli -made sitution - aimed at Hamas, the rulers of Gaza, because there is a gut feeling that Hamas has no choice but to restore quiet and force, the other organizations to do the same.  That means Islamic Jihad and the Comnittee for Popular Resisance. There is no escaping the conclusion that this is not just a struggle between the IDF and the Hamas military arm, but a struggle between two societies – the Israeli one and the Gazan one – and that the winner will be the stronger society, the more cohesive one and the one more prepared to sacrifice.

If this requires temporary evacuation of children, women or families from the south to other areas – that is what must be done in order to give our government the  possibility of acting as long as it must against the rocket terror without worrying about casualties.

If the government of Israel acts in such a way that she protects Israeli citizens, if our Prime Minister can appear before the public and explain the concept behind this operation, the vast majority of the public will cooperate and go along with government policy on this issue.

The Israeli public realizes that this is a war and that “in war, as in war”. Israel must achieve a victory, and it must be an unequivocal one, clear as the afternoon sun in July. If at the end of the current round of violence, the jihadists can claim that they have won, this will encourage them to try again.

I am not so naïve as to think that an Israeli victory can solve all our problems with Hamas forever, but the spaces between the rounds of violence will widen when our enemies realize that violence does not bring them the desired results.

An Islamic State in Gaza

The situation in Gaza is problematic because Gaza has several "wildcat" groups that do not heed Hamas government directives. The most well known are Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees, and there are other smaller ones as well.

Lately, there have been voices in Gaza who claim to have sworn allegiance to the Islamic State and the Caliphate, and Caliph Abu bakar Albaghdadi. The significance of this is that if Hamas does not deal with those rebel organizations immediately, it will find itself dealing internally with an armed opposition, cruel and resolute in its desire to bring terror from the Sinai, Iraq and Syria to Gaza.

Gaza is not alone, and an oath of loyalty to an Islamic state is being heard in Lebanon, Sinai and Libya, while three weeks ago we saw demonstrations in support of an Islamic state in Jordan. In my opinion, it is only a matter of time until we hear and perhaps see similar occurrences in Judea and Samaria – and even within pre 1967 Israel.