Is Israel’s Gaza Policy Working?
The recent round of hostilities between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip has sparked a debate over Israel’s continued acceptance of an Islamist stronghold on its southern border that is committed to the destruction of the Jewish state.
When Israel unilaterally disengaged from Gaza in 2005, Israeli leaders hoped the Gaza Strip would blossom into a Palestinian Hong Kong or Singapore—a prosperous, independent state living alongside Israel in peace. The opposite happened.
In January 2006, Hamas, whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel through jihad, won Palestinian legislative elections and gained administrative control over Gaza. In June 2007, Hamas won an armed conflict with its rival Fatah, the largest Palestinian political party, and gained military control over Gaza. Since then, Hamas has launched tens of thousands of rockets into Israel.
In December 2008, Israel launched Operation Cast Lead to stop indiscriminate Palestinian rocket fire into Israel. That conflict, also known as the Gaza War, ended in January 2009 when Israel, facing international criticism over mounting civilian casualties, declared a unilateral ceasefire. Since then, Israel has repeatedly conducted military operations in the Gaza Strip, including Operation Pillar of Defense (November 2012), Operation Protective Edge (July–August 2014), and Operation Guardian of the Walls (May 2021). These operations all ended inconclusively.
In May 2023, Israel launched Operation Shield and Arrow after Palestinian Islamic Jihad, an Iranian proxy, launched hundreds of rockets from Gaza toward Israel, including Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. After five days of clashes that threatened to drag Israel into another major war, Egypt mediated a ceasefire. Most experts agree it is only a matter of time until Palestinian militants launch the next barrage of missiles into Israel.
Israel’s failure to neutralize, much less eliminate, the missile threat from Gaza now faces scrutiny. In a policy paper titled “How Israel Can Solve Its Gaza Problem” published by the Middle East Forum, an American think tank, Brig. Gen. (Res.) Yossi Kuperwasser wrote that the Israeli government has “defined its goals vis-à-vis Gaza as achieving the longest possible intervals of relative calm between major eruptions of violence.” He noted that Jerusalem “does not challenge Hamas’s ability to attack Israel” and that, “in between the rounds of escalation,” it allows Hamas to “continue its military buildup,” as “the Israelis seldom strike first, and the government’s responses to Hamas’s limited attacks are always measured and proportionate.”
Kuperwasser wrote that Israel’s current approach is flawed because it grants Hamas “the ability to develop its offensive capabilities, increase its political power, and condemn Israelis—especially those living within range of the Gaza Strip—to persistent threats from Hamas terrorists.” A better definition of victory, he argued, “would be to rid Israel of Hamas’s threat by disarming it, prohibiting its rearmament, and demonstrating conclusively that threatening Israel is indisputably against its interests.”
The Israeli government “must reassess its strategy and embark on such a campaign to end permanently Hamas’s threats . . . as soon as possible, especially should Hamas again attack,” Kuperwasser wrote. In military terms, “Israel must achieve the ability to suppress totally the capability of Hamas and the other groups to launch attacks from the Gaza Strip.”
According to Kuperwasser, the Israeli government must formulate and implement “a proactive and decisive strategy” aimed at forcing Hamas to “accept a new set of rules that will relieve Israel of this threat.” Such a strategy, he argued, “will weaken Hamas’s political standing and send a message of deterrence to Iran, Hezbollah, and their allies.” It may also “aid the diplomatic process by demonstrating that armed attacks and jihad against Israel harm Palestinians, and that their conditions will improve only after they accept Israel as the Jewish state.”
To read “How Israel Can Solve Its Gaza Problem” in its entirety, go to meforum.org/64463/how-israel-can-solve-its-gaza-problem.