Maj. Gen. (res.) Gershon Hacohen
The latest flare-up in Gaza – a direct corollary of the Oslo Accords and the 2005 unilateral withdrawal from the Strip – is a sad testament to the limits of Israeli power and a forewarning against repeating the same mistakes in the West Bank.
The latest Gaza conflagration was all but predictable. Though lacking advanced weapons systems such as fighter aircraft, tanks and artillery, Hamas and Islamic Jihad have constructed a formidable military system that fits their strategic needs by neutralizing key aspects of Israel’s military supremacy.
So much so, that it is arguable that the two terror groups have achieved strategic balance with Israel. Not in the sense of being able to conquer (however small) parts of Israel or to prevent the IDF from invading Gaza; but in their ability to disrupt Israel’s national routine to the point of halting financial and economic activity in the country’s heartland – the Gush Dan metropolitan area.
Underlying this strategy is recognition that mosquitoes are far more dangerous to humans than wild beasts. Mosquitoes have killed millions of people throughout the ages while wild beasts are a relatively rare phenomenon that humans have learned to deal with. Even jungle residents do not regularly encounter lions and leopards in their living quarters while mosquitoes penetrate the seemingly most protected homes as a matter of course. Recognizing that any attempt to overwhelm the IDF in a frontal assault is doomed to failure, Hamas and Islamic Jihad have sought to exhaust Israel through continuous numerous mosquito-like “stings.”
Finding an adequate response to this strategy is of course an integral part of the IDF’s overall responsibility. But it also depends on the Israeli public’s ability to grasp the nature of the terrorist threat and to shoulder its highly demanding consequences.
For quite some time, the Israeli Left has been telling Israelis of the need to recognize their limits of power and end the “occupation” of the West Bank. In fact, it is not the continued retention of this territory (albeit not its population, which has been ruled since 1996 by the Palestinian Authority) that signifies the limit of Israel’s power but the IDF’s inability to redress the catastrophic security implications attending such a withdrawal.
Contrary to the belief that the IDF’s prowess will enable it to easily defeat any threat from the prospective Palestinian state, the Gaza experience in general and the latest conflagration in particular illustrate the limits of Israeli power. Even if the IDF is thrown into the fray and achieves an unequivocal victory (something it has been unable to achieve in the three Gaza wars over the past decade), it will still be unable to prevent the prolonged disruption of Israel’s national life through massive rocket and missile attacks on the country’s civilian population. This is a situation no Israeli policymaker will readily entertain.
Maj. Gen. (res.) Gershon Hacohen is a senior research fellow at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. He served in the IDF for 42 years. He commanded troops in battles with Egypt and Syria. He was formerly a corps commander and commander of the IDF Military Colleges.