Now that Hamas has rejected the cease fire proposed by Egypt, the next logical step is for Israel to move into Gaza and capture and dismantle Hamas’ arsenal of rockets. It’s not clear, however, whether this is what Prime Minister Netanyahu has in mind.
Netanyahu says that “when there is no cease-fire, our answer is fire.” But this could mean a continuation of Israel’s air attacks on Hamas’ arsenal, rather than a ground incursion.
Reluctance to enter Gaza is understandable. Israeli troops will die in this scenario. And past incursions have, at most, succeeded only in temporarily halting rocket attacks against Israel.
But what is Israel’s alternative to an incursion? Herb Keinon, writing in the Jerusalem Post suggests that Netanyahu hopes to degrade Hamas’ military capability through the aerial assault and then, following a truce, obtain international assistance in the demilitarization of Gaza.
Supposedly, Netanyahu has in mind something akin to the dismantling, with Russian help, of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile. Netanyahu has praised that effort.
Whatever one thinks about the alleged Syrian chemical weapons disarmament, its applicability to Gaza seems far-fetched, if not laughable. In fact, one Israeli diplomatic official told Keinon, “I can’t say demilitarize Gaza; people will laugh in my face.”
Putin’s Syria disarmament gambit was a one-off response to the threat of U.S. air attacks against a Russian ally engaged in a desperate civil war. Gaza presents a completely different set of circumstances and considerations.
The international community is unlikely to agree to assist Israel in pacifying Gaza. And even if it did agree, Israel could not rely on serious follow-through.
As Keinon reminds us, the U.N. Security Council Resolution that ended the Second Lebanon War in 2006 included a clause stipulating that the area from the Israeli border to the Litani River be “free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the Government of Lebanon.” What was the result? Before the war Hezbollah had some 6,000 missiles; today that number is estimated at more than 60,000.
It’s difficult to believe that Netanyahu truly sees the international community as the solution in Gaza.
Does this mean that Israel is condemned once again to buying only a year or two of relative calm during which Hamas regroups and obtains more effective, longer range rockets?
Perhaps. But there is reason to believe that this time an incursion might buy Israel considerably more than that. According to Griff Witte and William Booth of the Washington Post, Israeli authorities believe that Hamas is far weaker than it was the past two times it fought Israel (2008-09 and late 2012).
One reason is that Hamas’ international backers, most notably Iran, apparently have been less generous in their funding. Another is that Egypt, now run by a military hostile to Hamas, has shut down the smuggling tunnels that were a major source of revenue.
Egypt and Israel have a shared interest in crushing Hamas. In fact, Egypt’s offer to broker a ceasefire may, as Hamas claims, intended to ease the way for an Israeli incursion.
These factors suggest not only that Israeli forces will face a weaker Hamas if they enter Gaza, but also that Hamas may struggle to rearm in a post-incursion environment.
No one can guarantee this outcome, of course. But it’s plausible enough to provide a good case for a ground incursion, assuming that Hamas keeps up its rocket attacks.