It is only a “matter of time” before the IDF has to re-enter Gaza to control terror, IDF Chief of Benny Gantz warns, three years after the three-week Operation Cast Lead counterterrorist campaign.
The IDF has carried out a consistent policy since several months after Cast Lead to retaliate after almost every terrorist attack on Israelis. Hamas and other terrorist groups, both allies and rivals, have carried out hundreds of rockets, missiles, mortar shells and sniping attacks since the end of Cast Lead in January 2009.
Israel has been operating on the basis of a “Negev roulette” policy, by which the military usually carries out a symbolic response to terrorist attacks that cause no physical injuries or serious property damage.
When damage is more severe, so is the response, even though most of the terrorist attacks are launched without guidance systems that can pinpoint targets. Gaza terrorists basically attack rural areas in the hopes of hitting human targets and know that if they hit a crowded urban center, there is more likelihood of a large-scale retaliation.
Last week, Be’er Sheva was targeted, but there were no physical injuries or major damage. Past experience has shown that Hamas strategically escalates its attacks to achieve a political end or when it thinks is will win media sympathy if it draws the IDF into a ground incursion not Gaza.
The IDF lost most of its ability to directly hit terrorists after the Sharon government expelled more than 9,000 Jews and ordered the withdrawal of all military presence from Gaza in the summer of 2005.
The “Disengagement” program ostensibly was aimed at removing any reason for Hamas to attack Israel, but the rocket strikes actually increased and struck deeper into central Israel until Cast Lead.
The military previously has said it is preparing for returning to Gaza, but Israel Defense suggested that next time around it might carry out a strategy of “divide and conquer” by dividing the region into several parts, effectively preventing Hamas from exercising control.
The terrorist organization is in the midst of returning to a unity government with the rival Fatah faction, headed by Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
Abbas' “peace” with Hamas has weakened his support from the United States and may cost him European Union backing as well. If Hamas and Fatah complete their unity arrangement and rocket attacks on southern Israel continue, the return of the IDF to Gaza could have severe consequences for Abbas as well as Hamas.