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The Gaza Debacle

        On August 25, two heavily armed terrorists wearing Israeli army uniforms climbed over the fence separating Israel from Gaza undetected in the early morning fog.

 

         Disguised in IDF uniforms, armed with guns and explosives and wearing bulletproof vests, the men were only discovered after they opened fire on unsuspecting IDF forces at short range, lightly wounding one soldier. Both were killed in the ensuing gun battle.

 

         The next day, six unarmed teenagers from Gaza scaled the security wall. The IDF personnel who arrested them expressed concern that the youths’ action was a diversion to enable terrorists to infiltrate the country somewhere else.

 

         Earlier in the month, two Gazans infiltrated Israel on a Friday night and with an Israeli Arab accomplice made their way to Tel Aviv. The massive manhunt that ensued brought traffic in and around Tel Aviv to a screeching halt for hours as roads were closed and checkpoints erected throughout the area. The men were arrested in Bat Yam.

 

         These infiltrations come against the backdrop of daily Palestinian rocket and mortar attacks against Israeli towns and villages bordering Gaza. From mid-June to mid-August, Israel was hit with 110 rockets and 170 mortars from Gaza.

 

         Gaza itself serves today as a hub for global jihad. Since Israel withdrew its civilians and military forces from Gaza two years ago, forty tons of explosives have been smuggled into the area through the breached border with Egypt. Sophisticated anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles as well as long range Katyusha rockets capable of hitting all of Ashkelon, Kiryat Gat and Netivot have also been brought in.

 

         Terrorists from Egypt, Lebanon, Iran and Syria have flocked to Gaza where the abandoned settlements of Gush Katif have been transformed into terror training camps.

 

         Then there is Hamas’s army. After Israel withdrew, Hamas announced the formation of its army or “Executive Force.” Today, that army numbers some 20,000 soldiers. Soldiers and commanders are sent to Iran and Lebanon on a weekly basis for training by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps and Hizbullah. The IDF attests that these Iranian and Hizbullah-trained units fight as well as Hizbullah.

 

         Military commanders along Gaza’s border with Israel daily press for permission to conduct a large-scale operation inside the area. The main aim of the proposed operation would be to reassert Israeli control over the border zone between Gaza and Egypt including the town of Rafah and the abandoned settlements in Gush Katif.

 

         While aware of the growing dangers, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his government have been unwilling to move. The government claims that there are four main factors informing its decision to allow the Palestinians to transform Gaza into a mini-Taliban ruled Afghanistan.

 

         First, they say they wish to strengthen Palestinian Authority chairman and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas in his bid to wrest control of Gaza away from Hamas. A major operation in Gaza, the government argues, would make Abbas look like a collaborator with Israel and so strengthen Hamas’s hand against him and against Fatah, which surrendered Gaza to Hamas in June.

 

         Second, the government argues that a large-scale operation in Gaza would ruin any chance that the peace conference Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is planning to host in November will yield positive results.

 

         Third, the government believes a large-scale IDF operation along the Egyptian border could damage Israel’s relations with Egypt and induce Egypt to legitimize Hamas.

 

         Finally, the government argues that a large-scale operation in Gaza would require a large contingent of forces, including reserve units. In light of the present tension along the Syrian border in the north, to government argues that such a large-scale deployment in the south could encourage the Syrians (or Hizbullah) to attack in the north.

 

         What is disturbing about the government’s calculations is how detached they are from reality. Abbas has no interest in fighting Hamas. He regularly pays the salaries of Hamas’s soldiers and of its civilian employees. Fatah terror cells both in Gaza and in Judea and Samaria operate jointly with Hamas against Israeli targets. So why Israel should care more about Abbas’s relative strength or weakness than about its national security is unclear.

 

         It is also unclear why the government thinks Rice’s conference will make any contribution either to peace or to Israel’s national security. On August 23 Abbas denied Israeli media reports that he had agreed on the parameters of a peace treaty with Olmert that would include a Palestinian territorial compromise in Judea and Samaria and a Palestinian compromise on the “right of return” or immigration of foreign Arabs to Israel.

 

         Given Abbas’s position, it is far from clear why the Olmert government (or Rice, for that matter) has any reason to believe a deal can be reached in November or that any deal that could be reached would enhance the security of southern Israel.

 

         The government’s concern about the possible impact on Israel’s relations with Egypt of an IDF takeover of the border zone between Gaza and Egypt is similarly misplaced. For the past seven years, by hosting “dialogues” between Hamas, Fatah, Islamic Jihad and Hizbullah in Egypt, the Egyptians have done more than any other country to ensure the continuation and internationalization of the Palestinian jihad against Israel. Further, by treating Hamas as a legitimate actor, Egypt has done more than any other state to legitimize the jihadist movement.

 

         Finally, then, there are two problems with the government’s concern that an Israeli military operation in Gaza would precipitate a Syrian or Lebanese onslaught against Northern Israel. First, the IDF has always sought to build its forces in a manner that allows it to concentrate its efforts on one front at a time while holding off onslaughts on additional fronts. If the government does not believe the IDF is capable of deterring an enemy offensive in the north while fighting in Gaza, then Israel is in deep trouble.

 

         Aside from that, the government’s analysis ignores the fact that Syria, Hizbullah and the Palestinians are all component parts of the belligerent axis Iran has built up against Israel. Debilitating Hamas through an offensive operation in Gaza would weaken both the Syrians and Hizbullah. Indeed, it would do more to deter them from attacking than placing ten IDF divisions in the Golan Heights could.

 

         But all of the government’s considerations hide a larger truth. The main reason the Olmert government refuses to take action to secure Southern Israel from Gaza is because doing so would mean admitting the decision to vacate Gaza and expel its 8,500 Israeli residents two years ago was a strategic fiasco.

 

         Olmert and his colleagues built their political careers and their political party on their implementation of the Gaza withdrawal under Ariel Sharon’s leadership. They are unwilling to acknowledge their folly.

 

         What this means, unfortunately, is that unless the Palestinians carry out a catastrophic attack from Gaza, Israel will only act against the base for global jihad on its doorstep after the next elections – currently scheduled to take place in November 2010.

 

         Caroline Glick is deputy managing editor of The Jerusalem Post. Her Jewish Press-exclusive column appears the last week of each month.

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