Wednesday, July 06, 2016

A Story with No End

Israel Can Only Manage, Not End, the Threat - Efraim Inbar

[I]t is a mistake to believe that it is possible to root Hamas out of Gaza and destroy its capabilities once and for all. There is no one-shot solution to the Hamas military/terrorist challenge.

Despite assertions to the contrary by the Israeli right, the end of Hamas rule is not an easily attainable military objective. The roots of Hamas are deep in Palestinian society, particularly in Gaza. A recent poll indicates that if new presidential elections were to be held right now in the West Bank and Gaza, Hamas's candidate Ismail Haniyeh would do better than Mahmoud Abbas.

Hamas simply cannot be eradicated by outsiders conquering Gaza and then politically reengineering Palestinian society. One cannot import a leadership of choice.

The calls from the Israeli left for a "political solution" are similarly unrealistic. Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Salafist groups see Israel as a theological aberration. They might reluctantly accept temporary cease-fires, but they continue to categorically reject any diplomatic course of action intended to fully solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel must be realistic about what can be achieved by military means. Force should be applied not to attain impossible political goals, but [rather] in the service of a long-term strategy of attrition designed to debilitate enemy capabilities and exact a cost with the object of enhancing temporary deterrence.  [O]ccasional large-scale operations have a temporary deterrent effect that creates periods of quiet along Israel's borders.  Hamas needs to be punished for its aggression and reminded of the cost it must pay for continuing its violence against Israel. And on a practical level, a period of calm can be achieved by destroying capabilities that are both difficult and expensive to rebuild. Buying time is a legitimate military goal.

The greater goal is the establishment of a reality in which Israeli residents can go about their lives without the continuing threat of indiscriminate terror, and in which a significant blow has been struck to Hamas's terror infrastructure. So far, the Israeli government has wisely adopted these limited political and military goals, a strategy dubbed "mowing the grass."

This strategy has a positive effect both within and beyond the borders of the conflict. Other actors in the Middle East are watching, and they too need vivid reminders that aggression against Israel can be costly. In this tough neighborhood, inaction is perceived as weakness, harming deterrence and inviting aggression.

The question "When will this end?" is inherently flawed. There is, unfortunately, no end in sight. As long as the basic motivations of Hamas remain, the violent struggle will continue. But this does not mean that significant periods of quiet cannot be achieved by military action.

Israel will probably be engaged in a war of attrition against Hamas for a long time. Keeping the enemy off balance and reducing its capabilities will require Israeli military readiness and a willingness to use force intermittently, while maintaining a healthy and resilient Israeli home front despite the protracted conflict.
[Middle East Forum]

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