On Wednesday, at approximately 3:40 a.m. Israeli time, sirens blared throughout the southern Israeli city of Be’er Sheva (Beersheba) shattering the stillness of the night. In what is considered to be a major escalation, Gazan-based terrorists fired a single rocket at the city, which is located approximately 25 miles from Gaza Strip. Miraculously, the projectile, which landed in a courtyard, caused no casualties but five people were treated for shock. Israel responded by hitting 20 military targets throughout Gaza. The Israeli Air Force also launched a precision strike against a group of terrorists in the midst of setting up a rocket launch from the northern Gaza Strip. The IDF later released video footage of the strike, which appears to have liquidated the rocket squad. The brazen and indiscriminate terrorist attack comes amid talk by Israel’s political echelon of the need to take decisive military action against Hamas, the entity that controls the Strip.
This past Friday, Palestinian terrorists, using violent demonstrations as cover, placed an explosive charge on the security fence marking the border between Gaza Strip and Israel and blew a hole through it. They then charged through the newly created opening toward the direction of a nearby Israeli outpost. An alert female Israel Defense Force soldier of the “Nesher” battalion quickly detected the infiltration and guided a response team to the area. All three infiltrators were liquidated. An additional four Palestinians were killed that day while engaged in violent Hamas-inspired, anti-Israel border rioting, rioting which has been occurring on a regular basis with no letup since May.
That same day, Israeli firefighters were forced to battle and extinguish 10 blazes sparked by incendiary balloons sent by Palestinians in Gaza and carried by wind patterns into Israel. Thus far, this form of eco-terror has devoured some 7,000 acres of forest and agricultural land. Large swaths of what were previously productive agricultural lands and lush greenery have been transformed into charred and blackened acreage. Israeli farmers on the Gaza periphery have lost millions of dollars as a result of what has been dubbed “kite terror.”
Just a day earlier, Israeli combat engineers detected and destroyed a Hamas terror tunnel that penetrated 200 meters into Israeli territory. It was the 15th such tunnel that Israel had destroyed since October 2017. Israel estimates that the cost of constructing the tunnel was $3 million, money that could have been spent on improving the lives of ordinary Gazans.
Meanwhile, over half of Gaza’s Palestinian labor force is unemployed. The Strip is plagued by chronic fuel and water shortages. Electricity is sporadic and raw sewage flows in the streets. The Hamas government in an effort to deflect attention away from its own venality and corruption is stoking the flames of violence. Violent rioting, damage to border infrastructure, sporadic rocket and mortar fire, terror tunnels, kite terror, IEDs and sniper fire are recurring themes that Israel must contend with on a daily basis from its genocidal Islamist neighbor.
Gaza is an open festering boil for Israel and there’s evidence suggesting that Israel’s exasperated leaders are quickly running out of patience with Hamas. At the government’s behest, the IDF is readying itself for a major military undertaking against the terror group. The goal would be to degrade Hamas until the terror group comes to its senses thereby purchasing four to five years of relative quite. This doctrine is known as “cutting the grass” or “mowing the lawn,” a reference to the fact that periodic military action is necessary to reestablish deterrence and compel Hamas to cry uncle.
Since December 2008, the IDF has undertaken three major counter insurgency campaigns – Operation Cast Lead, Operation Pillar of Defense and Operation Protective Edge – against Hamas. All three campaigns were militarily successful and temporarily put a halt to Hamas aggression but did not represent a permanent solution to the Hamas problem.
Some within the Israeli government, led by Education and Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett, are advocating a more robust military approach that goes well beyond lawn mowing. They argue that Israel must completely topple Hamas. This strategy, while tempting, overlooks the fact that it would require Israeli forces to operate in dense, hostile urban environments, environments in which Hamas thrives. Hamas has no regard for the laws of war and excels at the practice of shielding, the process by which it uses the civilian population as cover. An urban war with liberal use of human shields and an extensive network of interconnected tunnels is precisely the type of war that the terror group wants to draw Israel into.
The age of asymmetrical warfare has made it exceedingly difficult but not impossible for a conventional army to completely root out an elusive and immoral enemy that has no regard for basic standards of decency. Israel certainly has the capability to topple Hamas but the cost, it terms of casualties, negative press coverage and political fallout might outweigh whatever benefits are accrued by ousting the terror group from Gaza.
Secondly, Israel must have an exit strategy. Hamas’s ouster requires the presence of another entity to rule the Strip. There would be little popular support in Israel for a re-occupation of Gaza, with its million or so hostile Arabs.
The best solution for Israel in taming Hamas is an approach that lies somewhere between mowing the lawn and toppling the junta. Israel’s 2014 Protective Edge campaign inflicted massive harm on Hamas and was regarded as a military success; yet partly in an effort to placate Obama, Israel operated with extreme restraint. In the next war, Israel should substantially relax the self-imposed limitations it places on its military. Israel’s desire to curtail collateral damage is viewed upon as a weakness by its amoral enemies, who cynically exploit the civilian population by routinely utilizing them as human shields. Moreover, such self-imposed restraints substantially hamper the IDF’s freedom of action and undermine its effectiveness while potentially exposing its personnel to greater danger. Additionally, the IDF should not limit its targeted liquidations to military commanders. Hamas’s political chiefs like Ismail Haniyeh and Mahmoud al-Zahar, who are keen on sending young Palestinians to their deaths, should be placed on notice that they are now fair game.