Reading the headlines various Middle East editors have slapped on a recent AFP/Reuters story, one would believe a top-ranking IDF officer switched sides, God forbid:
“Israeli General: ‘Israel and Hamas have common interests.'”
“A top Israeli general thinks Hamas is crucial to peace in Israel”
“No obvious alternative to Hamas in Gaza, says top Israeli general”
“Israeli general says Hamas needed for Gaza stability”
These headlines display a remarkable level of wishful thinking on the part of Arab, European and Israeli editors, gleaning confirmation for their political views from a factual—and frank—discussion of realities in the Gaza strip by said officer.
It began with a meeting this week, between soon-retiring southern command chief Major General Sami Turgeman and local southern mayors, in which the commander addressed the situation in Gaza, eight months after last summer’s Operation Protective Edge, and what to expect from the next round of fighting against Hamas.
Here is what Turgeman actually thinks about Israel’s options in Gaza, speaking to the top concern of the mayors—the fact that Hamas continues its relentless project of digging terror tunnels that reach under Israeli settlements on Gaza’ border.
“There are four options for Gaza,” the southern command chief believes:
“One is constant war without periods of quiet, and then there are no tunnels, but it also ensures that we will live in a perpetual state of emergency.
“A second option is to say we understand that the period of quiet is being utilized to rebuild [the other side’s] capacity, in which case we’ll know that every few years there will be another confrontation.
“A third option is the occupation of the Gaza Strip, in which case we will be responsible for 1.8 million people with all that this implies.
“The fourth option is a political solution, which is a complex thing. We’ll have to inquire with whom we reach it and on what terms, and to consider what it does to our relationship with the PA and with Egypt.”
Having stated those options, Turgeman concluded, “You have to choose between these alternatives,” and only at this point he added his view:
“I think we must find as many periods of quiet as possible, with the knowledge that every so often there will be a battle. And then we shouldn’t be surprised every few years [when a war breaks out]. I hope that after Protective Edge the quiet will last a long time.”
Major General Turgeman said many other things during that meeting, but the above statements reflect what he actually believes regarding the Gaza situation, and none of it suggests anything about “Hamas is crucial to peace in Israel.”
In fact, when he spoke directly about Hamas, Turgeman said:
“Every such battle is over our stamina. Hamas is doing everything to exhaust our society, it’s part of their mission. The damage it inflicts on the area surrounding Gaza is its most significant accomplishment. It’s not the IDF that’s being tested, it’s our entire society doing the fighting. When Channel 2 runs a story of how the settlements near Gaza are feeling abandoned, that’s a victory for Hamas. Hamas gets no greater success than this kind of headline.”
Now, here is where the authors of those semi-messianic headlines got their ideas:
Referring indirectly to calls in Israel to destroy Hamas during and after Protective Edge, Turgeman said that Israel has an interest in Hamas remaining in power for now.
“Inside Gaza, Hamas is the sovereign, and it is highly effective in exercising its sovereignty. As of now, there is no alternative sovereign in Gaza. The only alternative would be the IDF, and authoritarian chaos. The Palestinian Authority can’t govern there. Most Gaza residents see only Hamas as able to solve their problems. The prospect of a popular uprising—before or after Protective Edge—is not high.”
That’s anything but a political statement about the legitimacy of Hamas in any shape or form. It’s an evaluation from the point of view of a military commander who must choose between letting a dangerous but effective enemy run the civil society in Gaza—or having to go in and run things himself (or letting things just go to hell or ISIS). Each option coming with a price.
As military commander, on a functional level, Major General Turgeman needs someone on the other side so he could shake carrots and sticks before their eyes, someone he could intimidate and reward—to get results.
“We are interested in having an addressee [on the other side], because without it there will be chaos,” he explained. “In Syria the addressees are weak, which is why there are so many dangerous weeds growing there; likewise in Iraq and the Sinai. If there is no addressee [in Gaza], our security situation will be much more problematic. So we have an interest to have an addressee the Gaza Strip.”
But suggesting that any of the above includes sanctioning Hamas as a legitimate ruler, or seeing a chance for peace with an extremist Islamic-terror movement is simply the opposite of what the major general believes.