As always, once the serious fighting starts, Israel is receiving most of the blame for the current battle in Gaza. And in an important sense, Israel actually is to blame. Had it not pulled out of Gaza, it would not now be fighting this war.
This war, like the several before it, is the entirely predictable consequence of Israel’s inability to police Gaza. As a result of the pullout, Hamas is able to obtain rockets, establish sites from which to fire them, build tunnels from which to send terrorists into Israel, and so forth.
To protect itself from rocket attacks and terrorist infiltration, Israel must periodically fight bloody battles, in which, inadvertently, it inflicts civilian casualties. And each time it fights Hamas, Israel finds that Hamas has more sophisticated equipment.
This time, Hamas has been able to land a missile close enough to Israel’s international airport to provide at least a pretext for Western airlines to suspend, for a time, much of the air traffic into Israel. One of these days, as David Goldman suggests, Hamas may well have missiles that can defeat Israel’s defense systems and inflict vast damage upon major Israeli population centers.
Israel, in sum, continues to pay a big price for pulling out of Gaza.
What has Israel gained? Its soldiers no longer have to patrol this cesspool and incur the casualties that doing so entails. And Israeli taxpayers no longer have to foot the bill for occupying Gaza. But it is the proper role of soldiers to endure the dangers associated with protecting the civilian population, and the proper role of the civilian population to foot the bill.
Israel hoped by withdrawing from Gaza to gain favor with the West. This was always a pipe dream. As Evelyn Gordon points out, all Israel bought itself from the West, including the Obama administration, is the acknowledgement that it has the right to defend itself from attacks launched out of Gaza provided that it does so without inflicting civilian casualties — an impossibility in any war.
Where does Israel go from here? Reoccupying Gaza seems out of the question. Israel will have to settle for destroying Hamas’ infrastructure to the maximum extent possible in a military operation of limited duration.
There should be no ceasefire. Israel should go about its work and then pull out when ready to do so. Missile attacks on Gaza can continue post-pullout, if they are deemed necessary.
Finally, Israel needs to internalize the lesson of Gaza: never again cede land to the Palestinians.
The cessation of international flights into Israel alone should be enough to establish this “never again” proposition. As Shmuel Rosner put it on Twitter, Israel can’t afford to have its sole air bridge to the world be at the mercy of a terrorist organization’s whims.
Hamas and Fatah are already too close to Israel’s population centers and its airport. To invite them closer would be folly.