At the beginning of Operation Pillar of Defense, following the successful elimination of Hamas military chief of staff Ahmed Jaabari, Israel’s defense minister stated the goals of the operation. It was clear that this time Israel’s leaders have learned the lessons of the Second Lebanon War, of Operation Cast Lead, and of the historical statement of Likud MK Yaakov Meridor, who, on the eve of elections for the tenth Knesset in 1981, announced his invention that could illuminate the city of Ramat Gan with the amount of energy required to light a single light bulb. In other words – Israel’s leaders have not learned yet how to win wars, but at least they’ve learned how to phrase their promises so no one could blame them when they weren’t fulfilled.
Netanyahu and Barak promised “rehabilitation of our deterrence.” But you can only measure deterrence after a long time has passed. It is already clear, for example, that the side that shoots at Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Ashdod and Beer Sheva on the day the ceasefire talks are in their prime – is not really afraid, and is mostly assured of its own power, and realizes that with more power it would be able to squeeze more.
Netanyahu and Barak promised “significant damage to the military and organizational capability of the terrorist organizations in Gaza.” There is no doubt that dozens of terrorists, including senior officials, were killed. But was Hamas’s power damaged “significantly?” Hamas’s power is measured by its ability to harm us, and those who have been terrorizing millions of Israelis have been accomplishing all their goals.
Was rocket fire from Gaza reduced as per Netanyahu promises? The simple answer is known by all the civilians seeking shelter, for whom it does not matter if 120 or “only” 80 rockets are fired at Israel in one day.
The truly fantastic achievements of the ISA and the Air Force have led to the destruction of thousands of rockets before they could be launched. But Hamas and the Palestinian Jihad Gaza still possess tens of thousands of rockets. Therefore their ability to impact Israel has decreased, but not to a degree that would make a significant difference in the very life, the daily routines and the safety of property of the citizens of Israel.
And worst of all – Israel’s leaders promised “a long future period without without rockets.” Of course it’s impossible to measure such a promise now. But in the past, such promises on the part of terrorist organizations in Gaza were proven worthless.
One central issue was absent from the assurances given by Netanyahu and Barak: stopping the flow of weapons into Gaza. Without such a guarantee, there is obviously no value to all the other promises. In conclusion: the ceasefire taht was reached without achieving any of the operation’s goals, while accepting Hamas’s dictates on reducing the IDF’s freedom of action in the Gaza Strip, is a clear victory for Hamas.
Hamas knows that Israel now fears the prospect of a ground operation, due to the price we would have to pay in our soldiers’ lives – as well as the political and public opinion price of killing a large number of Arab civilians, which would be an inevitable part of such action.
Hamas understands the limitations of our power. It knows that even though we have the capacity to erase the Gaza Strip with indiscriminate artillery and air fire – we will never do it. The feeling of victory on the part of Hamas is a tremendous shot in the arm to all the other terrorist organizations, who are now taking up anew their old and familiar methods of murder, like a bus bombing in Tel Aviv last week.
Despite the failure in achieving the operation’s goals, Israel is being denied by its leaders the only move that can really subdue Hamas. What is this single move? The recapture of the Gush Katif area and the Philadelphi route in southern Gaza, and the creation of large, fixed land buffers between the Gaza Strip and the Sinai. Only then will it be possible to stop the flood of rockets, explosives, and the means necessary for their production in Gaza. Such a move would come at a price, but this is the only step with which Israel could truly choke Hamas.