The IDF has not been complacent. Its performance has been impressive, but the political leadership has demonstrated continued incompetence. The former commander of the IDF’s Gaza Division explains how we must end the current operation.

By Maj. Gen. (ret.) Gadi Shamni

Hamas declared the latest war on Jerusalem Day, at a time when it was least deterred by Israel.  Faced with security challenges on numerous fronts, Israel’s defense strategy is based on four principles.  The first is Deterrence. If that fails, Israel must have sufficient Early Warning to prepare an effective response.  The next principle is Decisive Victory, one that leaves the enemy so traumatized that it is deterred from attacking Israel in the future. The fourth principle is Defense, a new element of Israeli strategy, adopted some 20 year years ago when the home front became a key target of enemy aggression.

Deterrence is uniquely problematic when facing a terrorist group that is responsible neither for a territorial unit nor a civilian population. For this reason, Israel has traditionally preferred to deal with state or semi-state actors that it could deter, threaten, or attack so as to reduce external threats.  Based on this logic, Israel has preferred that Hamas dominate the Gaza Strip, where it could be the object of IDF deterrence.  Since Operation Protective Edge (2014), however, Israel has chosen a false sense of quiet over the challenge of deterring Hamas.  This led Israel’s policy makers to deliberately keep Hamas in power and help it more firmly establish its control.  In recent years, thousands of trucks, laden with goods, have rolled into the Gaza Strip on a regular basis and generated big sums of tax profit that have supported Hamas’s military build-up.  Israel further helped empower the terrorists by allowing planeloads of cash to land and guarding the convoys that transferred this money to Hamas in Gaza.

Israel lost its deterrence and instead became deterred itself, treading carefully so as not to anger Hamas.  The terrorists received much of what they had asked for.  Meanwhile, the families of the late Givati reconnaissance unit officer Hadar Goldin and Golani combat soldier Oron Shaul – whose bodies have been held as bargaining chips by Hamas for seven years — have repeatedly demanded that Israel cease its obsequious behavior towards Hamas and condition any goodwill gesture on the return of their remains.  The political establishment has ignored them completely.  Having sent their sons to fight and die for their country, they rightly feel betrayed by the government.

Once Israeli deterrence had been so completely eroded, the leadership of Hamas felt the time was ripe to start a war. To their dismay, they were met by an overwhelming response from the IDF and the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet).  Israel’s security forces had continued to prepare for the eventuality of conflict, even as Israel’s political leadership wasted time in useless endeavors. The IDF’s performance has been nothing less than impressive.  Its tactics have been sophisticated, its intelligence penetrated deep inside Hamas and Islamic Jihad ranks, and looping tactical intelligence with operations proved most effective.  It shook both terror organizations to the core. No less important, the IDF has been true to its values and made every effort to avoid civilian casualties in Gaza.

The IDF had no intention of bringing about the collapse of Hamas rule, as it was never given the order to do so.   This would have required a land invasion of the Gaza Strip followed by years of occupation.  Even then, it is not clear who would free us from the responsibility for running the territory.  The IDF, therefore, allows Hamas to survive – albeit, a severely weakened and deterred Hamas, but one that can continue to serve as an ‘address’ for the State of Israel.  Still, the IDF knows that without firm maintenance, Israel’s deterrence will be eroded once again.

The first test will be the return of Israeli civilians and the bodies of Israeli fighters currently being held in Gaza.  This must be a precondition for allowing the first supply truck to enter the Strip.  To weaken Hamas, we must take action against its infrastructure in East Jerusalem.  We must close its facilities and institutions there, arrest its leaders, and prepare to expel them to the Gaza Strip. We must also take action against Hamas on the West Bank, together the security forces of the Palestinian Authority, who consider them as an existential threat.  Last, Hamas leaders currently in Israeli prisons, where they function as a command center for all intents and purposes, must be cut off from the outside world.

As mentioned above, the fourth leg of Israel’s strategy is defense.  It includes the Iron Dome system, which has demonstrated its effectiveness once again, the underground barrier, constructed along the border with Gaza to block Hamas attack tunnels, early warning systems, impressive Israeli civilians’ compliance with instructions of the Home Front Command, as well as protective shelters in border communities and beyond.  All these reinforced Israel’s civilian population’s spirit, allowing the IDF and the government to make balanced decisions.  Here too, however, there are tremendous gaps that require attention. There is a shortage of protected spaces (reinforced secrity rooms) in border communities that have long been subjected to rocket attacks.  This neglect must be corrected immediately.  Several years ago Israel’s defense industries developed the ability to intercept missiles fired at Israel while they are still in the sky over the Gaza Strip.  It is unclear whey this proven technology has not been operationalized and deployed. If Israel had political leaders who serve the public interest 24/7 rather than attending to their own needs, important matters like this would never have fallen between the cracks.

Maj. Gen. (ret.) Gadi Shamni, a former commander of the Gaza Division, of the IDF Central Command, Military Secretary to prime ministers and Military Attaché to the US, is a member of Commanders for Israel’s Security (CIS)