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Op-Ed: Gaza: How to Perpetuate the Conflict

Is demilitarisation of the Gaza region feasible? It has already been tried. In the Kadesh Campaign, 1956. It lasted for a day and a half.
Published: Monday, September 01, 2014 9:26 AM


In his nightmare dystopia of 1984, George Orwell described the inversion of reality and the falsifications which the people were inveigled into believing by their government: “The Ministry of Plenty’s forecast had estimated the output of boots for the quarter at 145 million pairs… every quarter astronomical numbers of boots were produced on paper, while perhaps half the population of Oceania went barefoot”.

A few pages on, Orwell again contrasts the reality with the government’s propaganda – propaganda which the entire population swallowed unthinkingly: “With the tobacco ration at 100 grammes a week it was seldom possible to fill a pipe up to the top. Winston was smoking a Victory Cigarette… The new ration did not start until tomorrow and he had only four cigarettes left… The fabulous statistics continued to pour forth out of the telescreen. As compared with last year there was more food, more clothes, more houses, more furniture, more cooking-pots, more babies – more of everything except disease, crime, and insanity”.

Such was the disconnect between reality and government claims that Orwell foresaw.

During the last few days, the Israeli Government has announced that the Hamas’ reservoir of rockets has been depleted by some 70%. Over the last two months, the Israeli Air Force has launched some 5,000 strikes at terror targets in Gaza.

On Tuesday, the fiftieth day of Operation Protective Edge, just half a day before Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu acceded to the Hamas’ demands and accepted a ceasefire, the Voice of Israel announced on its 10:00 a.m. news broadcast that the IDF had targeted the rocket launchers which had fired missiles at Ashkelon. Since the end of the previous cease-fire a week earlier, the “Canopy of Fire” (the multilayered offensive system which combines intelligence aerial capabilities) succeeded in killing between 40 and 50 terrorists in Gaza.

Since the beginning of Operation Protective Edge, this system has attacked some 470 terror targets, and killed some 460 terrorist activists. The previous night, the IDF struck more than 15 terror targets in Gaza, including buildings which serve as command and control centres for the Hamas. Among other targets, the mortar battery which fired the shell which killed four-year-old Daniel Tragerman on Friday evening was destroyed.

And the reports of strike after IAF strike against terror targets in Gaza continue. Almost every hour since Operation Protective Edge began, Voice of Israel news has reported yet another terror target identified and destroyed, yet another terrorist commander killed, yet another rocket-launcher blasted to a wreckage of twisted metal.

And yet the rocket strikes continued. With all these successful IAF strikes against the Hamas, their infrastructure, their personnel, their command-posts, their weapons systems, their launchers, their communications, their vehicles – they are still able to launch as many rockets per hour as they were before Operation Protective Edge ever began.

On the fiftieth (and maybe last if the ceasefire holds) day of Operation Protective Edge, the Hamas fired well over 100 rockets at Israel – no reduction whatsoever from the firepower that precipitated this Operation in the first place.

With all its dazzling successes, the IDF did not manage to prevent the Hamas from launching even one rocket or one mortar shell.

Neither did the IDF succeed in deterring the Hamas in Gaza from firing one rocket. For sure, the civilian population there (using the term “civilian” somewhat loosely) was successfully frightened away from the launching sites (when they were able to get away, that is, when the Hamas gunmen allowed their own civilians to leave, when they did not threaten to murder them for fleeing).

But whether or not the masses in Gaza oppose the Hamas’ attacks on Israel (depending on whose reports you choose to believe), their opinions have absolutely zero impact on what the Hamas does. After all, even in a true democracy the population never decides on every military campaign that their government embarks on, much less on every individual strike. How much more so in the despotic tyranny of Gaza under the Hamas.

Clearly, deterrence does not work. Even if 100% of the Gazan population were to oppose the Hamas and their attacks in Israel – a result which is impossible to achieve – then that still would not deter the Hamas from launching even one missile against Israel.

Neither is attriting the Hamas’ supply of terrorists, commanders, bunkers, and materiel succeeding in preventing missile fire. In spite of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s bombastic claim on Sunday morning (24th August) at the opening of the Cabinet Meeting that “the Hamas is paying, and will continue to pay, painful prices for the crimes it is committing”, the Hamas itself seems more than willing to pay that allegedly high price in order to continue committing its crimes.

In 1984, astronomical numbers of boots were produced while perhaps half the population went barefoot, and every year there was more food, more clothes, more houses, more furniture, and more cooking-pots, while the majority of the population lived in hunger and squalor.

In Israel today, the IDF can destroy Hamas terror targets in their scores every day, pound their infrastructure by day and by night…and somehow, their rockets never let up, the IDF has not succeeded in reducing the number, the range, or the power of the Hamas’ fire.

Even the report that the Hamas’ reservoir of rockets has been depleted by some 70% is laughable. Even if it is true, it is not because the IDF has destroyed those rockets; it is because the Hamas has fired those 70% of rockets at Israel. Heralding this as an Israeli military success is about as risible as Japan claiming military victory over the USA in August 1945 on the grounds that they had successfully depleted the American atomic arsenal.

Since massive Israeli strikes at the Hamas infrastructure throughout Gaza clearly have not stopped the rocket attacks, what then can bring peace?

A popular proposal being bandied about these days is a comprehensive agreement, according to which Israel will lift the blockade on the Gaza region and allow free movement of persons and goods into and out of the region, in return for the region being demilitarised.

This solution has many proponents in the Israeli, American, and Egyptian governments, in the EU, the Arab League, and on many other places.

Is demilitarisation of the Gaza region feasible?

In fact, it was already tried over half a century ago.

In Israel’s early years, Arab terrorism out of the Gaza Strip (as it was then called) took a heavy toll: more than 400 Israelis were murdered in terrorist raids launched from the Gaza Strip in the period 1951-1956, the numbers rising year by year.

Eventually, after two years of pinpointed retaliatory raids, Israel launched the Kadesh Campaign (also known as the Sinai War or the Suez War) on the 29th October 1956. In 100 hours, the IDF conquered the entire Sinai Desert, including the Gaza Strip (which alone took 27 hours to subdue), from Egypt. The war was officially over by the morning of the 5th of November, and the next day a ceasefire came into force.

A few months later Israel withdrew from the entire Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip, and according to the agreement, the Gaza Strip was to remain demilitarised.

The Israeli Prime Minister David Ben Gurion took no chances. The demilitarisation of the Gaza Strip was signed between two stable, legitimate, and recognised governments – the Israeli and the Egyptian. It was guaranteed by the four most powerful countries in the world at the time – Great Britain, France, the USA, and the Soviet Union. It was enforced on the ground by the United Nations when Israel withdrew from Rafah on the 8th of March 1957.

With all those guarantees, the Gaza Strip remained demilitarised for a day and a half.

This historical precedent makes it clear that it is impossible to demilitarize the Gaza region. Any such agreement would be signed between Israel and either the Hamas or the Palestinian Authority – but neither of these can ever be held to account. The Hamas is not a stable or legitimate or recognised government, and the sole legitimacy that the Palestinian Authority has is the power that comes out of the barrel of assault rifles (Israeli rifles as much as their own).

Hence there is no stable, legitimate, or recognised government controlling Gaza for Israel to sign any demilitarisation agreement with.

And if Israel does sign a demilitarisation agreement with the Hamas or the Palestinian Authority – then how will it ever be enforced? Even if it is guaranteed by the US, the EU, the Arab League, the UN, and by any other internationally recognised body – how will that help?

It is pertinent in this context to recall the Wye River Accord, the agreement that our current Prime Minister Netanyahu signed with the PA, under which Israel withdrew from Hevron in January 1997. The agreement stipulated that the Arab police who took over Hevron would be armed with nothing heavier than submachine-guns. The reason was obvious – submachine-guns would not threaten the Jews of Hevron (which in itself shows how much Netanyahu and the Israeli government trusted their own peace partners).


What will Israel do if Hamas fires two rockets a week into Israel? Declare war?
But the very first uniformed terrorists who marched into Hevron that winter’s morning were armed with Galil assault rifles. But what could Israel do about it? – Cancel the hard-won Wye River Accord and invade Palestinian territory just because they were carrying the wrong weapons? Threaten to destroy the entire peace process just because of a technicality? – Of course not.

So the PA got away with that violation, and just over four years later the 10-month-old Shalhevet Pass (Hy”d) paid the price when an Arab sniper, carrying the rifle that Israel could not prevent him from deploying, fired his fatal bullet into her tiny body.

But what was the Israeli government going to do about it then? – Invade Hevron just because of one maverick? What are we – fanatics? Expansionists? Peace-haters?

Just as, as generation earlier, when the Egyptian Army marched into Gaza in direct violation of a signed and internationally-guaranteed agreement – what could Israel have done? Reignite the war against Egypt? Invaded sovereign Egyptian territory for the second time in less than half a year?

And similarly in today’s reality. The Hamas makes no secret of its intention to annihilate Israel or of its intention to violate any agreement it might sign with Israel as soon as it is expedient to do so.

So the question remains: When the Hamas begins to rearm and to remilitarise the Gaza region – what will Israel do? Bomb the weapons factories? Invade? Impose sanctions?

Indeed, now that the ceasefire has come into effect and has been accepted by both sides – what will Israel do if the Hamas fires two rockets a week into Israel? Declare war? Restart Operation Protective Edge? Repudiate the ceasefire?

And who does Israel trust to prevent war materiel being imported into Gaza? Egypt? The UN, which openly collaborates with the Hamas? The Arab League?

Clearly, then, any agreement with the Hamas is not merely unenforceable, it is quite openly a prelude to the next round of conflict.

Is this any way for a country to live its national life? Constantly on high alert, waiting for the next war?

In part two, next week, we will suggest a genuine resolution to the conflict in and around Gaza.