A sojourn down to the Gaza border with Yahad-United for Israel’s Soldiers Fund CEO, Brig. Gen. Yehiel Gozal is a lesson in diplomatic, security and strategic artistry. Standing less than a mile from the Israel-Gaza border at Black Arrow – a memorial to the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) fallen paratroopers and named after an incursion into Egyptian-controlled Gaza in 1955 – it is easier to understand the lay of the land and why war may be brewing.
The situation seemed surprisingly peaceful. We had a children’s playground at our backs as we looked at Hamas HQ with a giant Palestinian flag atop a flagpole billowing in the wind. Yet, with an Israeli wheat field slowly smoldering from a Gazan incendiary kite, white smoke billowing from inside Gaza and the whirring of an attack drone overhead, first appearances were clearly deceptive.
Gozal was joined by Earl Cox, veteran journalist, long-time supporter of Israel and former U.S. government spokesperson. Cox had previous made the journey to the Israel-Gaza border on countless occasions. He asked Gozal to explain what we were looking at and give his assessment of the current situation.
The Brigadier General noted that the border area was one of the most historic and beautiful places in the world. He added that Israel completely and unilaterally removed its presence from Gaza more than 10 years ago in order to encourage peace with the Palestinians.
“However, since then, from the first rocket launched into Israel, we are supposed to respond to ensure that they never launch another one,” he opined, critiquing the current tactic of limited strikes on targets, such as incendiary kite launch sites.
The latest round of terrorism on southern Israel started more than three months ago with violent riots at the Gaza Strip border fence. Named the “March of Return,” Hamas encouraged “protesters” to plant explosive devices at the fence and even attempt to breach it.
Cox asked Gozal what his assessment of the Oslo Peace Accords was, in light of 2014’s Operation Protective Edge [Israel’s most recent full-scale military incursion into Gaza] and the incessant rounds of fighting between the IDF, Hamas and other Islamist terrorist organizations in the Gaza strip. “The idea to make peace was a good one,” said Gozal, “They just got the execution wrong. Yasser Arafat and his partners were exiled [in Tunisia] and we brought them here!”
He was equally scathing in his appraisal of the current Hamas leadership and how he felt sympathy for the citizens of Gaza forced to live under misrule. “Palestinian leaders take them to war time after time. Instead of building hospitals and schools they dig concrete tunnels and prepare for battle. They are teaching their children to kill. They don’t accept our existence and they don’t care what is written in the Bible. When is enough, enough? We can live with the people, not with their leadership.”
Cox suggested that the international media’s animosity toward Israel meant that it would be criticized no matter what. Gozal replied that, as a military man, he did not feel it was in Israel’s best interests to listen to anyone from outside Israel to accept their strategies vis-a-vis dealing with Hamas. “What’s good for us is good for everyone,” he explained. “Israel acts as a buffer [from terrorism]. We are here for peace, not war. A normal life means that the Palestinians will not need Hamas – we are not threatening innocent citizens, rather their leadership.”
There is a growing fear in Israel that the country could be plunged into a war on three fronts; Gaza, Lebanon and Syria. Gozal, however, tempered such concerns without entirely dismissing the premise. He stated that, while it was true that Israel cannot afford to lose any of its military entanglements – which he strongly suggested would have a negative effect on security worldwide – during the 2014 war, Lebanon remained quiet. Gozal reassured us that if war did break out on multiple fronts, just as it had in 1967’s Six Day War and 1973’s Yom Kippur War, Israel’s military would be ready.
Gozal was clear that a cessation of terrorism would not only benefit Israelis, who would be able to live in peace and security, but also the Palestinians. “[Former President Shimon] Peres announced that ‘we must make peace with our enemies.’” he said. “No, that is not correct. You can only make peace with an enemy that wants to make peace with you. When they accept us, there will be peace.”
As we prepared to leave, a visitor to the site informed us of a red-alert siren – a warning of an incoming missile. Ducking down behind large stones at the manicured paratrooper memorial, we were given a taste of what life is like for the thousands of residents living in southern Israel. And as the military drone above struck a target in Hamas-controlled Gaza, killing one incendiary kite operative and wounding three other terrorists, it seemed like the cycle of violence and potential war might just keep repeating itself.
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