by Maj. Gen. (ret.) Yaakov Amidror
Last week media outlets in Israel quoted a diplomatic official as warning that Hamas has resumed manufacturing rockets and has begun rebuilding the terror tunnels destroyed by the Israel Defense Forces during the recent Gaza operation. I dare surmise that the reports were merely attempts to demonstrate how badly Israel's Gaza operation had failed rather than the product of reliable information. However, I do believe that at some point in the future Hamas will in fact resume manufacturing rockets and digging tunnels. After all, that is the nature of the cease-fire agreement: Both sides preserve the calm while preparing for the next confrontation.
Anyone with eyes can see that in order to obviate preparing for a future confrontation, or to prevent a future confrontation for that matter, the recent operation should have been handled differently. The IDF should have re-conquered the Strip, or at least Gaza City and its immediate surroundings and paid the price that occupation entails in order to clean out the city. Israel should have been able to sacrifice more Israeli soldiers and kill more Palestinians, including many civilians. The occupation would have been short, but the cleansing process would have gone on for months. The damage incurred by the fighting and the subsequent cleansing and the demolition of tunnels would have been immense, much greater than the devastation actually suffered by the Palestinians (itself not at all trivial). Finally, Israel would have remained as the only entity required by law to ensure the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Gaza and its residents.
The moment Israel decided not to pay the price these actions entail it became obvious that there was no way to break Hamas' will to fight or to prevent it from remaining in power after the operation's end. All the proposed alternatives were, and are, completely unrealistic both militarily (to cut off the head of the snake) and in regard to the aftermath (transfer authority over to the U.N. or hand Gaza over to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas).
Therefore, having no illusions about the future, we must prepare for the next operation while simultaneously making every effort to push it as far into the future as possible. And it is possible. But in order to do so we must instate a very clear policy under which Israel responds to every cease-fire violation with force and immediacy.
The rules of the game will be decided by our response to the first instances of rocket fire, so it is important to really think about what we will do when that happens. Fortunately for us, on the other side there is a different Egypt, not the Egypt that was completely passive during the Mubarak era or the Egypt that actively supported Hamas during the reign of Mohammed Morsi. The current Egyptian leadership understands that Hamas poses as much of a threat to Egypt as it does to Israel, and will make much more of an effort to prevent Hamas from regaining its power. But even then, Hamas will inevitably try, and may occasionally succeed, to smuggle weapons and other materials into the Strip, because military power is its raison d'être and it will never give it up.
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In the negotiations that will soon begin in Cairo, Egypt will mediate between Israel and Hamas. Israel will be pressured to allow the reconstruction of Gaza. The destruction there is very obvious in certain areas where the fighting was heavier, and in parts where there were command centers and weapons manufacturing facilities the destruction is localized, but extensive.
The reconstruction of Gaza will serve Israel's interests because, alongside Israel's power of deterrence, the Gazans will own property that they will be afraid to lose again. But the reconstruction needs to be conducted under a number of limitations. The chief limitations have to do with building materials, and Israel must develop a mechanism that will minimize, as much as possible, the use of materials for building terror tunnels and military command centers. We must not delude ourselves that Israel can prevent this absolutely -- partial prevention of spillover will have to suffice. It cannot be prevented completely.
The true test is not whether Hamas will continue to rebuild its military might -- in the absence of Israeli occupation that is the only possible scenario (as we learned after Oslo and after the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza) -- the true test is the test of preserved calm. The longer the calm persists, the more of a success the operation will have been. Time will tell, but we have the power to influence how the future will unfold, and we must not forget or neglect that despite the complexity.
It is important that we readjust our expectations, not just in regard to Gaza. Israel is a strong country, probably the strongest in the region, but also on a global scale. However, military ability does not necessitate the use of force every time we are faced with a security challenge. It is best to channel our capability, and the little legitimacy we have in the world, toward the really important threats, certainly if they are critical and existential, and those are undoubtedly looming. It is essential that everyone's expectations are in line: the civilian and military leaderships as well as the public. It is always important, but in times of crisis it is 10 times more important.
Yaakov Amidror is a major-general (res.) and former national security adviser to the prime minister.
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