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They had their chance. Now take back Gaza!

By Michael Freund
3/6/2008, 12:00 AM


The Palestinians had their chance for autonomy and independence, and they blew it. Israelis should not have to continue paying dearly in blood just to give them another shot.
Israel continues to pay the price of its 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, as Palestinian rocket attacks intensify against southern Israeli towns and cities. In response, the Olmert government undertook a small incursion into the Strip, which failed to halt the barrages and only strengthened Hamas politically. 
As I argue in the column below, it is not too late to the correct the error of withdrawal and to finally put an end to the terrorist threat. It is time for Israel to retake Gaza, topple Hamas and assert complete control over the area. And while we're at it, let's rebuild the destroyed Jewish communities of Gush Katif.
  

They had their chance. Now take back Gaza

By Michael Freund

There is a certain country which has been the target of fierce terrorist attacks in recent years, leaving untold thousands of citizens living along its southern border exposed to ongoing violence and cruelty.

After enduring ceaseless bombings, killings and abductions, the country's leadership decided to take bold action, crossing the frontier over the weekend and eliminating the terrorist group's top echelons, including its second-in-command.

In case you haven't been following the news, the country in question is Colombia, which sent troops on a cross-border raid into neighboring Ecuador, where they tracked down and killed some of the leading thugs of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) terror organization.

The audacity of the move led Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who backs the FARC brutes, to invoke the Jewish state in his denunciation of Bogota.

"The Colombian government has turned into the Israel of South America," Chavez said during his weekly Sunday talk show on Venezuelan television. "Colombia is a terrorist state that is subject to the great terrorist, the government of the United States and their apparatus," he added.

Now with all due respect to Mr. Chavez (and quite frankly, not all that much is due him), he could not be more wrong in his comparison.

For while Colombia's weekend counter-terror operation was indeed effective, Israel's was anything but.

Unlike Colombia's raid, Israel's foray into Gaza left it in a worse position than before.

A quick recap: last week, after months of dilly-dallying, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert finally mustered the courage to send tanks and troops to pursue Palestinian terrorists who have been firing rockets indiscriminately at the Negev.

"Israel is at the height of this battle and we will pursue it until the danger threatening residents in the south is over," Olmert vowed shortly after the operation began.

But then, sure enough, just five days after it had begun, Israel turned tail and pulled out.

Not surprisingly, a few short hours later, the Palestinians were gleefully firing rockets at Ashkelon, striking a seven-story apartment building and a playground on Monday.

Naturally, Hamas celebrated Israel's retreat with a large rally in the streets of Gaza, declaring "victory" in what they wryly termed "The Five Day War."

SO NOW let's consider what exactly Mr. Olmert accomplished with his little operation.

From a military point of view, the maneuver did not halt the Palestinian rocket attacks or even deliver a punishing blow against those behind them. Politically, Hamas emerged stronger than before, with Gaza's Palestinian population rallying to its defense. And diplomatically, Israel botched efforts to make its case to the international community that it was fully justified in resorting to force to stop the violence being directed against it.

In other words, Olmert blew it once again, failing miserably to provide Israel and its citizens with the safety and security they so rightly deserve.

Worse yet, he reinforced the dangerous impression among our adversaries that Israel does not have the will, or the wherewithal, necessary to wage a protracted war for its survival.

The fundamental problem, of course, is that the government is effectively playing games with the lives of Israel and its citizens. Instead of undertaking a large-scale ground invasion in Gaza to clear out the terrorists and their infrastructure, Olmert seems to favor small, "ping-pong" style strikes, even though these have proven entirely ineffective.

But merely tapping the ball ad nauseam over the net is not going to solve things. The only way to break out of this deadly mess is for Israel to hit the equivalent of an overhead smash in tennis. We need to strike a decisive and winning blow against the terrorists, and not merely volley back and forth with them at their leisure.

Let's be honest: after years of retreat, it is time to try something else. For far too long, Israel has been seeking to run away from the Gaza problem, and that has gotten us nowhere. We must stop fleeing and finally face this threat head-on.

Israel tried turning the territory over to PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, and he ended up scampering off to Ramallah to save his life when Hamas took over.

The government then sought to give the Islamists a chance, and that too has resulted in disaster. Those who preached concessions and disengagement have been proven painfully wrong, time and time again, but it is the people of Israel who have been made to pay the price for their folly.

We need not accept the present situation, nor should we. It is not too late to correct the error of withdrawal, and to finally declare an end to the delusions of reaching a false peace with those who seek our demise.

Simply put, Israel should reassert complete control over Gaza, topple the Hamas-led regime, arrest and try its leadership, and finally declare that this land is rightfully ours and we shall never again abandon it.

We should then move quickly to rebuild the rubble of Gush Katif and its once-thriving Jewish communities. This would send a clear message to our foes that they will never succeed in uprooting the Jewish presence from this region. And it is the least Israel can do for the thousands of Jews who were expelled from their homes for nothing in the 2005 pullout from Gaza.

The Palestinians had their chance for autonomy and independence, and they blew it. Israelis should not have to continue paying dearly in blood just to give them another shot.

Like it or not, it is time to take Gaza back. Only this time, we must never give it up again. Let the Left mock the idea of returning to Gaza as much as they please. They were wrong then and they are wrong now.

Frankly, I'd rather be Right and alive, than Left and on the run.

--- from the March 5 Jerusalem Post