It remains to be seen whether the prime minister’s show of strength will prove an effective deterrent.
A bad ceasefire is better than a good war. The majority of Israelis feel differently. The eight-day Gaza campaign Pillar of Defence was launched to create deterrence against continued indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza on Israel’s civilian population. The situation was definitely intolerable. No government in the world could accept having their civilians targeted by rockets from a neighbouring territory and action had to be taken to change this horrible reality.
There were three opinions considered. One, supported by people like me, advocated that there was a growing trend of pragmatism (to be differentiated from moderation) in Hamas that was willing to enforce a ceasefire and undertake preventive actions stopping attacks against Israel. The opinion on the opposite side argued that Israel needed to conduct a forced regime change in Gaza. If Israel did not do it now, it would have to do it in the future.
The centrist opinion, the prevailing one that guided Israel’s current policy, stated that a ceasefire with Hamas would strengthen it, and that is against Israel’s interest. Instead Israel must rebuild its deterrence so that in Gaza they would think 100 times before shooting a rocket into Israel.
Deterrence is a very amorphous concept. You never know if you have it until after the fact. The 2006 second war in Lebanon was thought to be a huge failure inside Israel, but Israel’s northern border has been quiet for six years and Hezbollah chief Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah is still hiding in underground bunkers. Deterrence was created and still exists. How much force is necessary, how many people must be killed, how many leaders targeted, how much destruction must take place to create deterrence? No one really knows.
The Israeli triumvirate – prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, defence minister Ehud Barak and foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman – claimed victory after eight days of air force bombardment of Gaza. Israeli ground troops and tanks, which were parked outside Gaza, never entered one of the most densely populated areas of the world. The Israeli leaders declared that Pillar of Defence has brought deterrence back and that the enemy in Gaza learned its lesson.
Meanwhile on the streets of Gaza thousands were celebrating their victory. Even after some 1,500 Israeli air force sorties and some 150 dead, Hamas and its allies in Gaza continued to shoot rockets at Israel’s civilian population until the very last moment, asserting that they shot the last round; making sure that it was after the ceasefire had gone into effect.
In Gaza, they claimed shooting down an F-16 aircraft, bombing the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, shooting down an Israeli drone, and even sinking an Israeli naval warship. The leaders of Hamas emerged from their bunkers amid a massive amount of destruction to their infrastructure and claimed victory.
Gone from the Israeli leaders were the fiery inciting speeches they made just four years ago when they sat in the opposition and criticised the then prime minister, Ehud Olmert, for not destroying the Hamas regime and bringing it to its knees. Now, Netanyahu and his associates are the government, not the opposition. And as another Israeli prime minister (Ariel Sharon) said: “What you see from here [the prime minister’s seat] is not what you see from there [the opposition]”.
Netanyahu and his government made the right decision not to launch the ground operation. But the Israeli public expected more, especially those in the south of the country who have suffered from 10 years of rocket fire from Gaza. The public believed that, when the operation began with the killing of Hamas strongman Ahmed al-Jaabari, Netanyahu would “finish the job” Israel didn’t do in Cast Lead in 2009.
Now Netanyahu will be held to his promise that deterrence has been created, and time will be its only test.
Gershon is an advisor to Israeli, Palestinian and International Prime Ministers on the Middle East Peace Process and the founder and director of IPCRI, the Israeli-Palestinian Public Policy Institute. He was the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel between Israel and Hamas for the release of 1,027 prisoners – mainly Palestinians and Arab-Israelis of which 280 were sentenced to life in prison for planning and perpetrating various attacks against Jewish targets that resulted in the killing of 569 Israelis in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit. Gershon is actively involved in research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, environmental security, political strategy, peace education, economics, culture and in the development of affordable solar projects with the goal of providing clean electricity for 50 million people by 2020.