November 16, 2020
To:      Members of Knesset, Cabinet
From: Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Matan Vilnai
Re:      An Alternative Strategy for the Gaza Strip

The rockets fired earlier this week and the tunnel that was discovered in early November were reminders that that status quo on the border with the Gaza Strip is misleading.  Rounds of fighting, battle days, rocket attacks, disturbances on the fence and incendiary balloons all illustrate that bringing about a change in prevailing conditions is a fundamental Israeli interest.  Doing this will require that we shift from a reactive to a proactive approach, which must start with a clear articulation of the strategic goal to be achieved.

It is here where there seems to be a broad consensus: Our goal is a stable and long term cease fire.

Repeated rounds of fighting over the years, interspersed by periods of instability, have long since demonstrated that we cannot achieve this goal by military means alone.  The deterrence we possess due to the imbalance of power between the sides can only bring about a temporary lull.  A decisive military victory, meanwhile, is not the answer either, since it would trap us in the quagmire of reestablishing our rule over Gaza and its two million civilians, with no exit strategy.

Israel needs a comprehensive plan of action that will enable us to take full advantage of the opportunities offered by our new normalization agreements as well as the change in administration in Washington, in order to assemble a broad coalition and its resources, thus make it happen.

An Israeli decision to bring about a change in the Gaza situation by nonviolent means could help persuade Egypt, Jordan, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia (all parties to the Arab quartet) along with the United States and the Donor Community, to join forces in this endeavor. This powerful coalition would have the potential to overcome resistance from both Hamas and Fatah.

Israel is thus called upon to initiate, and to invite the coalition to help implement a coordinated, three legged strategy, that includes:

  • A security element:  Formalizing and stabilizing the cease-fire with the Gaza Strip, including armament limitations and cessation of tunnel digging, all coupled with on-site Egyptian manned verification and compliance mechanism.
  • A political element:  Facilitating the return of the Palestinian Authority to Gaza, first by removing the Israel veto over such a move and then by gradually restoring its control over the Strip, with the assistance of the Arab quartet.
  • An economic-civilian element:  A far-reaching rehabilitation and development program, with the help of the Donor Community, led by the US.

Regional changes offer a unique opportunity to try and bring about real change.  There is, of course, no guarantee that this strategy will reach a successful conclusion.

If it succeeds, however, it will make an important contribution to the quality of life of Israelis living in the Gaza envelope and beyond.

It is important to point out that Israel will benefit even if the plan does not succeed.  The credit for the sincere effort to bring about a non-violent solution will serve us well in the region and beyond, if it later turns out that the use of force is unavoidable.

Commanders for Israel’s Security has developed a detailed plan based on the above principles. We would be happy to present it to the appropriate forums, of Knesset members and senior government staff.

Maj. Gen. (ret.) Matan Vilnai
Commanders for Israel’s Security