How to Stabilize Gaza

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.

Red Lines for a Cease Fire

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)


Maj. Gen. (ret.) Gadi Shamni | December 10, 2018

Hezbollah’s tunnels in the north; the turn of events in the Syrian arena, only some of which are reported; the turn of events in the Iranian context even further afield; the ongoing clashes in the south that stop only intermittently; and the counterterrorism activity that is carried out in Judea and Samaria—all of the above demonstrate the pace of security issues in the State of Israel.

Those challenges should not be underestimated, but it is essential to recognize that none of them constitutes an existential threat to Israel. Israel is significantly stronger—and not only from a security perspective—than all of the challenges facing it. The IDF, the GSS, and the other security apparatuses have repeatedly proven their impressive capabilities, and have given the government sufficient time and maneuvering room to formulate a political strategy. The political echelon has been hard put to draft a legislative initiative that might alter the arena on most of those fronts and, as a consequence, it is being dragged into reacting to efforts that have been put forward by our adversaries. But there is one front in which we have a near absolute ability to influence the arena—the one front that poses the only palpable threat to the Zionist enterprise—and yet the government has not been dragged into acting by our enemies but, instead, by the flesh of our flesh, a minority in the Israeli public and the Knesset, which possesses disproportionate influence in the coalition: the proponents of annexation.

As someone who has had extensive first-hand experience of the significance of the friction between Palestinians and Israelis across Judea and Samaria, and as someone who contributed to the national decision-making process, I am fearful of the possibility that this minority might act on its stated intention to pass legislation to annex territories. That minority has asserted that it can ensure a “deluxe annexation” in two senses: annexing the greatest amount of territory with the smallest number of Palestinians while preventing the security situation and other derivatives from deteriorating. That assertion simply doesn’t stand up to the test of reality.

A decision by the Knesset to pass legislation to annex territory, no matter its size, will be interpreted in the region and in the international community as an Israeli national decision to abandon the strategy of negotiations and to establish facts on the ground unilaterally, shutting the door to future separation from the Palestinians. That message will do away with the last vestiges of any internal Palestinian justification for continued security coordination with Israel, which has been praised by the IDF and the GSS and will create a security vacuum that will be filled by violent elements with criminal and terrorist activity. As a result of those developments, or in an attempt to avert them, Israel will have no alternative but to have the IDF retake control of the entire area and the millions of Palestinian residents therein. By so doing, we will be responsible for the collapse of the Palestinian Authority and the final entrenchment of Hamas in the Palestinian leadership.

As such, before passing any hasty legislation, the government needs to instruct the National Security Council to oversee a thorough and extensive inter-ministerial study on the anticipated repercussions annexation would have on Israel’s security, economy, relations with its neighbors, international standing and other issues. Since that is a decision that is liable to severely jeopardize the Zionist vision of a secure, democratic Israel with a solid Jewish majority for generations to come, the findings of that study should be presented to the public with full transparency and be put to the public to vote on in a referendum.

I am a full partner to the warnings that have been published recently across Israel: “For the sake of Israel’s security, the time has come for us to divorce the Palestinians.” The Commanders for Israel’s Security Movement, which has hundreds of members, veterans from all parts of the security establishment, knows what it is talking about. It is vital to begin a process of civilian separation while retaining security control until an arrangement is reached. It is vital to stop irresponsible annexation initiatives. Both need to be done immediately.

This article was previously published in Yedioth Ahronoth in Hebrew.