Thursday, November 15, 2018

Failure to bolster deterrence may take heavy toll - Yoav Limor

by Yoav Limor

The desire to avoid another war is ‎legitimate, but it is also dangerous considering the ‎prolonged erosion in Israeli deterrence.

The Israeli public learned of the Egyptian-brokered ‎cease-fire in this round of ‎violence in Gaza – the worst since Operation ‎Protective Edge in 2014 – from Qatari news network ‎Al Jazeera. No Israeli official saw fit to announce ‎the truce or provide any details of what it ‎entails. ‎

The government's decision to avoid war is ‎‎legitimate, even if much of the public ‎believes it is wrong. There are enough ‎reasons not to be dragged into a large ‎military operation, including the fear of prolonged ‎entanglement that would result in many casualties and ‎extensive destruction, the desire not to ‎divert strategic attention from the northern sector, ‎and, of course, the knowledge that the "day after" ‎would look exactly the same, if not worse. ‎

The government should have explained all of this to ‎the public. Its failure to do so only intensified ‎the sense of public frustration and confusion, not ‎to mention the feeling that Hamas has emerged ‎victorious. If anything, everyone, especially ‎residents in communities near the Gaza border, believes ‎the next round of violence is only a matter of time.‎

The situation on the ground is more complex. Hamas ‎suffered more blows than it dealt and lost many ‎substantial assets, and while its senior leaders ‎escaped with their lives, it was only because of an ‎Israeli decision that stemmed from the belief that ‎targeting their hideouts would place many innocent ‎Palestinian civilians in harm's way.‎

But the terrorist group was not devoid of ‎achievements, most prominently the relatively high ‎number of projectiles the Iron Dome defense system ‎failed to intercept. ‎

Nearly 500 rockets and mortar shells were fired from ‎Gaza between Monday and Tuesday: 100 were ‎intercepted, over 200 landed in open areas and ‎‎30 hit urban areas in Israel, mainly in Ashkelon and ‎Sderot, while the rest landed in Gaza. This indicates that there are issues with ‎the defense Iron Dome offers and these issues must ‎be addressed immediately. ‎

The successful missile fire on an army bus near ‎Kibbutz Kfar Aza was also a substantial achievement ‎for Hamas. It seems Hamas intentionally sought to ‎minimize casualties, waiting until about 30 soldiers ‎disembarked the bus before firing on it. In the ‎words of a senior defense official, the entire ‎incident was a "disgrace," as the bus had no ‎businesses being in a restricted military area. ‎

The flare-up has seen the IDF successfully foil ‎Hamas "surprises," including the use of drones, but ‎Gaza's terrorists deliberately refrained from ‎aggressively escalating the situation, which is ‎probably why they did not use terror tunnels or ‎extend rocket fire to Ashdod and Beersheba.‎

The IDF, too, exercised restraint. All air raids ‎were preceded by warnings, to minimize casualties, ‎as past experience has proved that the higher the ‎number of casualties, the more Hamas feels obligated ‎to prolong the fighting.‎

The Egyptian-brokered cease-fire will face its first ‎test this Friday, at the weekly border protest. ‎During this week's flare-up, Israel insisted on ‎preventing Palestinians from approaching the security ‎fence in order to try to reestablish the security ‎perimeter along the border. Hamas will likely try ‎to challenge that over the weekend, and it is ‎doubtful whether Israel will press the issue, so as not ‎to trigger fresh violence.‎

The lull will also test Hamas' ‎ability to curb arson terrorism and the border ‎riots. Israel will have to refrain, ‎at least in the foreseeable future, from mounting ‎any operations in Gaza, overt or covert, and the ‎IDF will undoubtedly have to deal with a host ‎of ensuing and complex dilemmas. ‎

Down the line, the issue of the Israeli captives in ‎Gaza will have to be addressed, as well as the issue ‎of Gaza funds. Violence will surely erupt if Hamas ‎finds itself in dire need of cash again. But ‎allowing another delivery of Qatari money to Hamas ‎will paint Israel as aiding not only the civilian ‎rehabilitation of Gaza but as aiding Hamas to rebuild ‎its infrastructure. ‎

All these factors all but guarantee that the Gazan headache ‎will continue to throb for a while. In the absence of a ‎strategic solution, Israel will ‎continue to put out fires. This is a legitimate ‎policy but it is also dangerous, because it gives ‎Gaza's terrorist rulers far too much leeway. ‎

One can only hope that the decision not to change ‎this policy at this time, even at the cost of ‎undermining Israeli deterrence, will not turn out to ‎be a mistake.‎

Yoav Limor


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