By Maj. Gen. (ret.) Gadi Shamni

Operation Guardian of the Walls created an opportunity to change the rules of the game in the Gaza Strip. For years Israel pursued a failed policy that acquiesced in the strengthening of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in order to focus on the Iranian challenge, only to end up with Iranian influence on the fence in Gaza. Hamas leaders Muhammed Deif and Yahya Sinwar, miscalculated when they launched those rockets on Jerusalem Day.  Like a frog, startled by a sudden noise, who jumps to safety from a pot of water and unwittingly escapes being boiled to death, Israel was shocked out of its own complacence by Hamas aggression.

The IDF performed well during the latest operation, inflicting heavy damage on Hamas.  Even if the leaders of that terrorist group tell themselves another story, they know the truth.  Since the May crisis, ensuing IDF’s forceful response to provocations from Gaza, and decision to strike at Hamas targets in response to actions that in the past would have been ignored, reflect that change. Israel must continue with this policy, escalating if need be, even at the risk of a new round of conflict until Hamas realizes that residents of southern Israel will no longer be held hostage by Gazan terrorists. Concurrently however, we should seek to avoid the kind of escalation which leads to the IDF overrunning and occupying Gaza for the purpose of destroying all terrorist infrastructures there. The drawbacks of this latter option would be far greater than its benefits, and the long-term outcome hardly certain.

Even the most effective use of military force cannot produce long term stability absent complementary political measures.  Should the recent operation fail to secure quiet in the south, and the return of Israeli captives and the bodies if its soldiers, this will erode Israel’s deterrence and might invite aggression on other fronts as well. This must be avoided, hence the importance of diplomacy.

The effort to stabilize Gaza and achieve quiet has now moved to the diplomatic arena.  Reconstruction of the Gaza Strip is a prerequisite for long term tranquility. For that to happen, Israel should support American efforts to forge a powerful coalition that includes likeminded Middle East – first and foremost Egypt and Jordan, as well as those who have normalized relations with Israel — and other countries. This coalition is to facilitate Gaza reconstruction, subject to strict supervision so as to minimize diversion of resources to Hamas and PIJ rearmament.

The success of this endeavor will depend in large measure on our ability to deprive Hamas of the ability to leverage other developments to its benefit. The most significant of these is the Temple Mount/Haram a Sharif. Restoring the Status Quo and Jordan’s role there, important in and of themselves, are also essential in depriving Hamas of a propaganda asset. Concurrently, we must act forcefully against extremists of all kinds whose provocations threaten to ignite one of the most sensitive spots the world over.  Morocco, in its capacity as Chair of the Arab League Jerusalem Committee, can also be of assistance here. Another important step would be to engage with moderate religious leaders – Jews, Moslems and Christians – in promoting peaceful cooperation in Jerusalem.

Another major factor in securing long term stability is the Palestinian Authority (PA).  Israel should support American-Egyptian efforts to gradually restore PA authority in the Gaza Strip, beginning with its presence at border crossings both with Israel and with Egypt. The latter, known as the Rafah and Salah Adin crossings, much like the Israeli Kerem Shalom, should be equipped with advanced inspection and screening technologies, subjected to international supervision, and remotely transparent to Israel, as was the case prior to the Hamas took over of the Gaza Strip.

To enable the PA to gradually reassume control in Gaza, its governance, as well as ability to meet civilian and economic needs, must be enhanced. Israel must also remove impediments to the effective functioning of PA Security Forces (PSF) and avoid intruding on areas where they operate effectively. Overall, the IDF needs to lower its profile and avoid friction with the civilian population, all based on the principle: the more they do, the less we do.

Israel is a powerful state. We are a regional superpower, and not in terms of military potency alone.  While resolute in fighting terrorists, we must cooperate with – and be forthcoming toward — those who have made a strategic decision to abandon armed conflict as a means of achieving political objectives. Concurrently, Israel should support American efforts to launch a process that stabilizes the arena, starts the process of separating between Israelis and Palestinians, while preparing the ground for an eventual two-state agreement. Assuring Israelis and Palestinians of an equal measure of dignity, self-respect, opportunity for prosperity and eventual sovereignty is an important contribution to our primary objective: Israel’s security.

The author is a former Head of the IDF Central Command, Military Secretary to Israeli Prime Ministers, and IDF Defense Attaché in the US. He is a member of Commanders for Israel’s Security.