This past week has seen a rise in tension in the south of Israel, with early morning rockets fired from the Gaza strip towards Israel on October 17, one of them hitting and destroying a home in the city of Be’er Sheva. With strikes continuing, the IDF struck 20 Gazan coastal targets, including underground infrastructure including a terror tunnel and tunnel dig sites, Hamas military bases and rocket manufacturing sites.
While IDF spokesperson Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis held Hamas responsible for the attack, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, however, denied responsibility for the rocket fire, claiming the cell belongs to an “errant” radical factions formerly part of Fatah, now with close ties to Iran.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a security assessment meeting at the headquarters of the IDF Gaza Division, with the participation of Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, Deputy IDF Chief-of-Staff Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi, National Security Council Director Meir Ben-Shabbat, ISA Director Nadav Argaman and senior security establishment officials.
“If these attacks do not stop,” Netanyahu told them, “we will stop them.”
Dr. John A.I Grossman, Chairman of LIBI USA, thanked the IDF for its quick response and continued efforts in keeping Israel safe “and for doing everything it can to minimize casualties and trauma, especially in southern Israel where residents have only seconds to take cover in bomb shelters.”
He expressed his relief that the family in the destroyed Be’er Sheva home was able to run to their bomb shelter in time. “Thankfully, the mother acted quickly to rush her three children to safety,” he said. “Unfortunately, this is a situation all mothers in Israel must be prepared for – a reality of terror that the IDF is working to address to the best of its abilities.”
A long-term solution, he said, is critical in order to provide Israel with lasting calm.
As a part of such efforts to address Israel’s security challenges on the Gaza border in the future, Major General (ret.) Giora Eiland, who previously headed the IDF operation branch, planning branch and Israel’s national security council, addressed the escalating tensions at a press conference call and laid out his long-term solution towards a quiet border.
Eiland urged Israeli politicians to adopt a “more realistic” reframing of Israel’s security situation, necessary to pave the way for lasting solutions on the Gaza border. The current political perspective, he said, does not permit the IDF to make important security decisions that could make a real change.
He posed that Israeli politicians are hesitating between two alternative responses: “One alternative, the implicitly chosen alternative, is to tolerate low levels of terror activities along the fence, as well as Palestinian civilian demonstrations with terrorist devices such as arson balloons,” he said.
Another alternative, presented Eiland, is to retaliate with airstrikes and a ground operation similar to the 2014 incursion. “If this happens,” said Eiland, “we could regain deterrence against Hamas and others.”
However, maintained Eiland, this option would not solve the root problem, and Israel is reluctant to enter into another incursion “because there would be a high military, economic, political and international price for few achievements.” Hamas, he said, is also uninterested in another cycle of violence.
Eiland therefore called for a third policy alternative, an option he posed as necessary to address the root problem of terror on Israel’s border. He warned, however, that this third policy alternative would be difficult to adopt with the current political narrative that Hamas is only interested in the destruction of Israel and should not be negotiated with.
Thus, a reframing of Hamas would be necessary – a reframing towards the accurate perspective that Hamas has created a de facto, independent Palestinian state. “It has clear territorial borders, a central government with independent foreign policy and military force,” said Eiland. Because Hamas is the de facto government of the state of Gaza, he said, it maintains interests like any other government – first and foremost of which is maintaining power in Gaza against any opposition, whether it is the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank or “any other extreme organizations.”
“Once Israel adopts that perspective, we might be able to negotiate for the benefit of Israel’s security interests,” declared Eiland.
Towards those ends, Hamas would need monitored economic assistance to rebuild Gaza. “Hamas does not accept Israel’s nonviolence for nonviolence proposal because they are then left with the responsibility of a shortage of electricity, water, employment, funding and infrastructure,” Eiland explained.
What would interest Hamas, he maintained, is an arrangement with Israel in which economic assistance is given by a European country or international organization to build power stations and other infrastructure, in addition to desalination and power assistance to increase the GDP of Gaza. In return, Hamas would be committed to full non-violence and a reasonable exchange of prisoners – a perspective Eiland believes Hamas would accept.
To ensure that the money would not be funneled towards terror activities, a bank would allocate funds in phases related to the progress of infrastructure building. “Every dollar would need to be presented, as is the way national projects work all over the world. It could be done in Gaza quite easily if Hamas gives a clear commitment to nonviolence,” he said.
“If we view Hamas as a government that needs to be accountable and feed its people, we would understand that Hamas will agree to these conditions and there would be no conflict with security interests,” Eiland related.
“But the fact that Israel only will work with the Palestinian Authority is an obstacle preventing both sides from reaching this arrangement – ff there is no change in Israeli policy shortly, we might be left with the two other alternatives.”
Adopting this perspective is not simple for a politician, he warned, but policy “must be conducted on real national interests.”
“We cannot ignore the de facto state of Gaza. Recognizing this reality will most likely lead to a solution that would promote a lasting quiet on our Gaza border.”
Written in coordination with LIBI USA.