- Israel has been subjected to rocket fire from Gaza since 2001.
- In 2005, there were those who thought the motivation for the rockets would end with the Gaza Disengagement. They were wrong.
- The rate of rocket fire has increased 500% since 2005.
- Why did it get worse?
- Immediately after the disengagement, Abu Mazen was responsible for Gaza and no one wanted to undermine him by confronting him over the situation.
- Hamas took over Gaza in a coup in 2006, but Israel still declined to precipitate a confrontation.
- Today, the lessons of the 2006 Lebanon War are in play in Gaza.
- Early in the Lebanon War, Prime Minister Olmert said Israel’s war goals included “disarming Hezbollah.” It was never possible to do it - the goal was too far-reaching and set Israel up for failure.
- The Israeli government is currently being very circumspect with regard to its goals in Gaza. The immediate goal is a halt to the rocket attacks.
- There has been a massive increase in rocket attacks since 2005.
- There were 4,000 rockets into Israel from 2001-2008, plus mortar attacks.
- More than 6,000 projectiles in all
- This posed two problems for Israel
- First - there has been a quantitative increase
- Second - the number of smuggling tunnels blossomed after the disengagement. There are hundreds of them under Rafah and they have permitted both a larger number of rockets as well as more sophisticated and longer-range rockets to be brought into Gaza.
- In 2006, the Grad made its first appearance.
- Rockets that could be disassembled to be brought into Gaza and reassembled inside have been found.
- Now there are upgraded Katyusha rockets - the ones that hit Haifa from Lebanon. They are provided by the Iranians to Hamas (as they did to Hezbollah)
- They are the ones that hit Ashdod this week.
- Israel’s first goal is to stop the rockets; not only those of Hamas, but those of other groups as well.
- Israel’s second goal is to stop the smuggling.
Rumors of a Cease Fire
Two hours ago, there was a rumor that Israel would consider a 48-hour humanitarian cease-fire. The actual story is that the French brought the idea of a cease-fire to Ehud Barak, the Minister of Defense. Barak couldn’t say no, but did say he will take it to Prime Minister Olmert and Foreign Minister Livni for a Cabinet decision. IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi said he knew nothing about the prospect of a cease-fire.
- The calculus: Israel stops bombing Hamas assets for 48 hours to give Hamas a chance to stop rocketing Israel and arrange a more permanent cease-fire. If it doesn’t work, Israel can resume its attacks.
- The problem: They say 48 hours, but that won’t be the end of it. There are outside forces that want to be the brokers of a longer halt. After 48 hours, they will ask Israel, “Do you really want to go back to war?” And there will be pressure on Israel not to end the cease-fire no matter what the conditions on the ground.
- French President Sarkozy wants to be the broker.
- Turkey in conjunction with Qatar wants to be the broker.
- Egypt found itself too closely allied with Israel to broker anything with Hamas, so Turkey wants to enhance its position in the region at the expense of Egypt.
- This would please Iran, which wants to diminish Egypt’s influence.
- From Israel’s point of view, 750,000 people are living in fear of rocket fire. We cannot accept this.
Q & A
Q: How can Israel stop attacks from Gaza without physically being in the Gaza Strip?
A: It can be done if Israel can establish fear in Hamas of the freedom of Israel Air Force action. They have to believe the IAF can and will hit targets inside Gaza with impunity. It is “compellance” if you will, not “deterrence.” They have to believe that Israel means business - which they will not if Israelis find themselves stopping before the goals are achieved. Is it doable? Time will tell. If not, there is only occupation left.
Q: How much of this - and the timing of it - is political?
A: The IDF is being shielded as much as possible from politics. The Defense Minister is a military professional and the IDF is being very careful and professional.
- One of the lessons of the 2006 Lebanon War is that Israel cannot have a cease-fire without accomplishing its goals.
- Israel made a mistake in not insisting on the return of the bodies of its two soldiers back from Lebanon before the cease-fire.
Q: Will the Israeli public stand for a long war?
A: This is not a “luxury war,” or a far-away war. When the people know that Ashdod was shelled they know what the stakes are. This is not about another country or other people’s militias - it is our country. Nachum Barnea (the dean of Israeli journalists, and a generally left-of-center writer) wrote that if Israel has no deterrent capability against Hamas, it would have no deterrent capability across the region. That has implications for Israeli security at the most basic level.
Q: Is there any evidence that Hezbollah will join in?
A: We are watching very carefully what happens in the north. Last week, Katyusha rockets fitted to launchers on timers were found in southern Lebanon by UNIFIL forces. We don’t know who put them there, but we will be watching.