Prof. Efraim Inbar and Dr. Eitan Shamir of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies in Bar Ilan University liken Israel's policy in Gaza to a periodic “mowing of the grass,” designed to debilitate the enemy capabilities as part of a long-term strategy of attrition.
The Israeli military offensive in Gaza “reflects the assumption that Israel is in a protracted intractable conflict,” write the researchers in a paper published Sunday. “It is unlikely that Israel can purge Hamas from Palestinian society, nor is a political solution likely to be achieved. Instead, Israel is acting in accordance with a 'mowing the grass' strategy. After a period of military restraint, Israel is acting to severely punish Hamas for its aggressive behavior, and degrading its military capabilities – aiming at achieving a period of quiet.
"Israel's goal continues to be the establishment of a reality in which Israeli residents can live in safety without constant indiscriminate terror, while striking a significant blow to Hamas' terror infrastructure. The Israeli government wisely has defined limited political and military goals for this offensive, in accordance with what we call a 'mowing the grass' strategy.
“Israel’s strategy in the twenty-first century against hostile non-state groups, such as Hamas, reflects the assumption that Israel finds itself in a protracted intractable conflict. The use of force in such a conflict is not intended to attain impossible political goals, but rather is a long-term strategy of attrition designed primarily to debilitate the enemy capabilities. Only after showing much restraint in its military responses, does Israel act forcefully to destroy the capabilities of its foes as much as possible, hoping that occasional large-scale operations also have a temporary deterrent effect in order to create periods of quiet along Israel’s borders.
“As the ground phase of 'Operation Protective Edge' progresses, Israel must be realistic about what can be achieved,” warn Inbar and Shamir. “Destroying the terror tunnels along the fence around Gaza is an attainable military goal. In the process terrorists can be killed and a part of the terrorist infrastructure demolished. The Israeli ground advance might create unrest within the Hamas organization, causing some of its military leadership to move around and make mistakes that could result in better intelligence and opportunities for targeted killings from the air.
“An expansion of the ground operation might exact an even higher price from Hamas. Continuous shelling of Israel by Hamas may inevitably lead to Israel’s conquest of all of Gaza. Yet, the strategic calculus should always focus on cost-effectiveness,” the experts conclude. “Despite the calls from the political Right in Israel, the demise of Hamas rule in Gaza is not an attainable military objective. Hamas is well-rooted in Palestinian society, particularly in Gaza. A recent Pew poll shows 35 percent of the Palestinians view Hamas in a favorable way, and in Gaza the level of support is always higher. Eradicating Hamas and the subsequent political engineering of Palestinian society is not something outsiders can do. Even if Hamas rule can be terminated, the alternatives are Israeli rule, the rule of more radical groups, or chaos. None are good options.”