Photo: Israel's Iron Dome air defense system intercepts Hamas rockets fired from Gaza toward the southern Israeli city of Ashdod. Due in part to Iron Dome's effectiveness, Israel's leadership has not attempted to neutralize, let alone eliminate, the threat posed from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
The Middle East Forum has released a policy paper challenging Israel's passive "mow the lawn" Gaza policy, instead presenting a path toward Israel Victory. and has requested that Arutz Sheva publish it. The paper calls on Israel to rid itself of Hamas's threat by disarming it, prohibiting its rearmament, and demonstrating conclusively the cost of threatening Israel.
By Jonathan Spyer, director of research at the Middle East Forum
Israel has in recent years allowed a situation to emerge in which it has accepted the emergence on its southern border of an Islamist statelet committed to its destruction. Currently, Jerusalem's stance toward the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip amounts, as the author of this paper puts it, to seeking "the longest possible intervals of relative calm between major eruptions of violence." That is, Israel seeks to achieve a kind of live and let live situation vis-à-vis Gaza. This is maintained via a system of inducements – such as the Qatari financial assistance which Israel permits – and occasional punishments.
This policy is not the result of careful formulation and planning on the part of the relevant Israeli bodies. Instead,, it has emerged as a de facto response to events since the Hamas takeover of Gaza in 2007.
In this paper, Yossi Kuperwasser attempts for the first time to examine and challenge the assumptions behind this policy. He asks if Israel has ceded the initiative to the rulers of Gaza and in so doing permitted a dangerous situation to emerge in which Hamas is continually improving its capacities and arming itself with more sophisticated systems, while this situation is accepted by Israel in return for periods of quiet. Kuperwasser proposes that Israel rid itself "of Hamas's threat by disarming it, prohibiting its rearmament, and demonstrating conclusively that threatening Israel is indisputably against its interests."
To do this, the author suggests a series of pro-active steps and initiatives that Israel should implement.
At the present time, Hamas is actively engaged in a campaign of violence against Israel launched from the 'West Bank' and from southern Lebanon. At the same time, it is improving its capacities in Gaza. The movement and its allies are thus dictating the pace and shape of events. Israel, meanwhile, seeking short-term quiet as a cardinal objective, is reactive. In the face of the current reality, a discussion of whether the current contours of Israeli policy remain tenable is long overdue. This paper intends to begin this debate.
By Zvi Hauser, Israeli businessman, lawyer and politician. expert in Israeli national security policy, international relations, regulation, and communication. He is a former cabinet secretary, MK, Chair of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, and Co-chair of Knesset Israel Victory Caucus.
Israel's unilateral disengagement from Gaza in 2005 kindled buoyant predictions of the strip's bright future. Some even envisaged a "Singapore of the Middle East," hoping that Gaza's coastline alone with massive international aid and a desire for self-betterment would steer it toward a prosperous, independent existence that would culminate in a comprehensive peace agreement with Israel.
Nothing of the sort happened. As Hamas, an Islamist terrorist organization, gained control of Gaza in the summer of 2007, the Singapore dream gave way to a Somali-Iranian mutation. In 2009, Hamas began implementing the strategy of its Lebanese counterpart, Hezbollah, making massive rocket and missile attacks on Israel's population centers the cornerstone of its attempt to eliminate the Jewish State.
Photo: Although Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005, terrorists continued to launch thousands of rockets into Israeli cities and communities.
For its part, Israel's leadership absorbed the countless attacks and contained their devastating impact through a string of defensive measures, notably the development of the Iron Dome anti-missile system. In other words, Israelis did not attempt to neutralize, let alone eliminate, the threat (contrary to pre-withdrawal warnings that all future terror attacks would be met with unforgiving retaliation). The political-military-media elite seemed to view the thousands of missiles raining down on Israel as a preordained calamity that could not be eradicated, only mitigated and protected against.
As a result, Israel's four operations against Hamas (2008-09, 2012, 2014, 2021) all ended inconclusively with the latter quickly replenishing its losses after hostilities ended. Since the May 2021 operation ("Operation Guardian of the Walls"), an effective status quo has ensued whereby Israel acquiesces not only to Hamas's continued rule of Gaza, its partial reconstruction and build-up of its rocket and missile arsenal, but even to its new self-proclaimed role as "defender of Jerusalem."
The transformation of the home front (particularly the "Gaza envelope area," as the localities around the Strip are known) into the new military frontline has undermined Israel's sovereignty and the personal security of its citizens. It has also damaged its status as a regional power and eroded its deterrent posture. To make matters worse, Hamas's strength grew even as Israel became increasingly desperate to reach a long-term arrangement with it. This explains why Israel engaged in virtuoso, pinpoint military tactical attacks instead of a comprehensive strategy that would ensure the security of its citizens.
As the range of rockets and missiles increases and the technology of destructive unmanned aerial devices becomes widely accessible, the ability of the few to threaten the many, anywhere and anytime, grows. Eventually, the astounding growth in the scope, range, and accuracy of Hamas's rockets and missiles will leave Israel no choice but to make the dismantling of this deadly arsenal its goal. Jerusalem even articulated this objective at the end of the 2014 operation, only to ignore it altogether in 2021.
Israel must now return to this goal, not least since Hamas's disarmament was already envisaged by the Oslo Accords in 1993. The terror group must be made to choose between keeping its regime or its Eventually, the astounding growth in the scope, range, and accuracy of Hamas's rockets and missiles will leave Israel no choice but to make the dismantling of this deadly arsenal its goal.
Some doubt the possibility of disarming Hamas, thinking this either not feasible or that it would exact an intolerable cost to Israel. This recalls the debate among the Israeli leadership on the eve of Operation Defensive Shield in April 2002, when there was widespread skepticism regarding Israel's ability to regain control over large swathes of the 'West Bank' in order to destroy the Palestinian Authority's terrorist infrastructure. Yet Operation Defensive Shield achieved this goal at a much lower human cost than initially feared despite being implemented too late and only when a rapidly rising death toll from terrorist attacks forced the issue and broke the mental gridlock that had paralyzed the political, military, and media leaderships.
In its most recent operations in Gaza – "Guardian of the Walls," "Breaking Dawn," and "Shield and Arrow," Israel remained captive to the concept of rounds of fighting. But the Gaza quagmire will not be resolved through further inconclusive rounds of hostility. To create a new reality, Israel must adopt a new policy that conditions Gaza's reconstruction on the dismantling of Hamas's rocket and missile arsenal, which threaten Israel's civilian population, violate the essence of international law, and must be ended.
Israel has often proved to be the canary in the coal mine, and its current woes may thus become others' problems. Europe, for example, may soon face a similar threat of rocket and missile attacks from ungovernable regions of North Africa.
Demilitarization should become the overriding goal of Israel's military strategy vis-à-vis Gaza. The most powerful army in the Middle East must immediately remove the threat from a far weaker terrorist organization and achieve a decisive victory after fifteen years of inconclusive fighting.
Policy Paper, part I: What Should We Do about Gaza?
By Brig. Gen. (Res) Yossi Kuperwasser
Background: The Problem with Israel's Gaza Policy
Israel has in recent years been living with a dangerous phenomenon to which it has become accustomed: namely, a process of adjustment to an unacceptable situation. This process has occurred without any real debate as to its advisability. Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), antisemitic Palestinian Arab terror organizations committed to annihilating Israel through jihad, control Gaza, use its territory and the assistance they get from Iran to accumulate a growing arsenal of arms directed towards Israel, and threaten to launch attacks at a time of their choosing if Israel does not behave as they expect. These organizations use Gaza's population as human shields to prevent Israel from hitting their terror infrastructure.
Israel has defined its goals vis-à-vis Gaza as achieving the longest possible intervals of relative calm between major eruptions of violence without challenging Hamas's rule over the Strip. Israel regards Gaza as a de facto state where Hamas is accountable for the use of force, though from time to time, as in Operations Black Belt in 2019 and Breaking Dawn in 2022, it preferred to address the PIJ threat directly, realizing Hamas is unwilling and/or incapable of doing so itself.
Israel wants Hamas to be sufficiently weak that it is deterred from initiating armed conflict, yet strong enough to force its will over any potential competitor, such as PIJ, ISIS, or other Salafist groups. Israel also seeks to keep Egypt on its side as a force that can and will help ensure tranquility and stability.
Israel desires to help the Gazan economy both because it wants prosperous neighbors and to make Hamas more reluctant to commence hostilities. In the end, Israel believes the division between Hamas in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority in Judea and Samaria is beneficial to its interests.
As in all the arenas of military conflict in which Israel is engaged, in Gaza Israel plays a key role in developing specific rules of the game that determine what the parties can and cannot do. Such rules are meant to support Israel's security doctrine to give Israel the ability to deter attacks, defend its territory, maintain intelligence dominance, and safeguard the capability to win decisively in the event of war. In the context of Gaza, these rules assure Hamas that its rule over Gaza will not be challenged and that in between the rounds of escalation it will be allowed to continue its military buildup, as Israel seldom strikes first, and its responses to Hamas's limited attacks are always measured and proportionate.
Israel refrains from using its economic leverage over Gaza for an extended period of time, rules out the possibility of a large ground operation, avoids eliminating key Hamas figures, does not retaliate in Gaza for Hamas terror operations originating elsewhere (even if Hamas manages them from Gaza), does nothing about Hamas incitement, and does not try to alter the negative role that UNRWA plays by eternalizing the conflict and promoting hate.
It is also careful to limit the collateral damage of its operations in Gaza and adheres to the law of armed conflict and international humanitarian law.
-This policy reflects Israel's view that Hamas's challenge from Gaza is a chronic problem that cannot be solved, and yet a minor threat compared with those from Iran, Hezbollah, the Israeli Arabs, and the Palestinians living under the Palestinian Authority.
-It also reflects an approach that rules out putting IDF soldiers in harm's way should a ground operation become necessary to effect change, and a fear that reuniting Gaza and the PA will invite international pressure on Israel to succumb to Palestinian demands regarding any permanent settlement to the conflict.
-Israel is also worried that an attempt to proactively change the situation may raise tensions with the U.S., its strategic ally, and with its regional allies Egypt, Jordan, and the Abraham Accords partners.
The flaws of such an approach are clear: it grants Hamas the self-confidence to develop its military and terror capabilities, increase its power in the Palestinian Arab political arena, and, worst of all, condemn Israelis – especially those living in the vicinity of the Gaza Strip – to persistent threats from Hamas terrorists.
The IDF defines victory as achieving its mission, which in the context of Hamas is realized by inflicting the degree of damage necessary to ensure a renewed and relatively long interval of calm until the next round of violence. This facilitates the win-win scenarios characteristic of the last several cycles, including Operation Guardian of the Wall in May 2021, in which Hamas paid a heavy price militarily in a way that restored Israeli deterrence, but achieved its strategic goals inside the Palestinian Arab political arena and was able to recover quickly to continue threatening Israel.
A far more effective definition of victory would be to rid Israel of Hamas's threat by disarming it, prohibiting its rearmament, and demonstrating conclusively that threatening Israel is indisputably against its interests.
Achieving this goal will not be easy, but with proper preparation it may be feasible, and Israel should craft a campaign to achieve it. It must further improve its excellent intelligence coverage of the terror groups in Gaza, improve and make optimal use of its operational capabilities, and better employ its diplomatic and legal assets. Moreover, Hamas is recognized as a terror organization by the countries whose support in Israel must take the initiative and deny Hamas the ability to produce and develop new weapons even absent Hamas's provocation. This must be done on a grand scale.
this matter Israel needs, so defeating it should be seen as self-defense.
Achieving true victory also requires Israel to revisit its mode of operation in Gaza. Israel must take the initiative and deny Hamas the ability to produce and develop new weapons even absent Hamas's provocation. This must be done on a grand scale and not in the limited way it is performed today, which is futile. Economic pressure is one particularly effective option, because Hamas's leadership should be held accountable as long as it incites and threatens Israel and arms itself to fulfill its threats. Achieving lasting victory also means convincing Hamas (and Egypt) that if there is no other option, Israel might launch a ground operation against Hamas as well as encourage Gazans to revolt.
All of this requires invigorating public debate about Gaza. Discussion on this matter usually dies out minutes after the last rocket launch in any given conflict – a situation arising from Israel's crowded agenda and its (over)confidence that the Iron Dome and other new defense capabilities will protect it from Gaza-based threats. Politicians, civil society groups such as the Israel Victory Project, and popular movements must keep this debate alive, as otherwise the old paradigm will remain in place.
When to implement any new policy is an open question.
On the one hand, immediate execution would be ideal, as there is no justification for allowing Hamas to stall in order to boost its ability to harm Israel and threaten its population.
On the other hand, adopting a new policy without sufficient time to properly prepare military and diplomatic forces as well as public opinion would be a mistake.
Therefore, it would be best to implement a new policy only after preparations are complete, or if Hamas hands Israel a trigger to apply the new plan. Some elements of the new policy, however, such as clandestine activities, can be adopted right away.
Some of the opposition to forcing Hamas to disarm may stem from fear that it would threaten Hamas's power in Gaza, thereby forcing its replacement, at least temporarily, by the IDF, a move that would be costly over time.
In fact, an Israeli takeover is neither necessary nor inevitable. Even should it occur, it may be preferable to the alternative of never-ending barrages of Hamas rockets threatening Israelis nationwide.
Note: Part II, What Is to Be Done?,will be posted on Sunday
Brig. Gen. (Res) Yossi Kuperwasser is an Israeli intelligence and security expert. Formerly, Kuperwasser served as the head of the research division in the Israel Defence Force Military Intelligence division and Director General of the Israel Ministry of Strategic Affairs. Kuperwasser is currently a Head of the Israeli Intelligence Methodology Research Institute and a Senior Project Manager at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs specializing in the security dimensions of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.