The War the IDF cannot win

Both Israelis and Palestinians have suffered greatly from the numerous operations and confrontations, with a grievous toll for both sides. The best way to end this cycle of conflict is not via another military operation but rather by economic progress and creating hope for the residents of the Gaza coastal strip.

“It was a good Ramadan,” Bashir, my Palestinian friend from Gaza, told me last week when I called to wish him ‘Eid Mubarak’ (blessed festival). We were in agreement that peaceful summers are good summers. It was only a year ago when Operation Protective Edge disrupted the lives of millions of Palestinians and Israelis. Now is a great opportunity to examine what measures have been taken to prevent the next bloody confrontation. As no one believes that Hamas has given up the idea of digging terror tunnels or decided to destroy its rockets arsenal and join the Peace Corps, perhaps it is appropriate to ask the Israeli government what it did throughout the course of last year to eliminate the ‘infrastructure of terror.’

Gaza has witnessed numerous operations and confrontations, with a grievous toll on both sides. Although we tend to believe that between one operation and another, there is a truce or a ceasefire, the truth is that it is during this period of time that the most critical struggle takes place. This is the war that will not be featured on the cover of The New York Times or broadcasted by sensationalized media, but it is the one that will determine the direction of the ongoing conflict. This is the war of Palestinian public opinion and it comes down to one pivotal choice: to accept the hate-ridden thorny path of extremism or to pursue continuing dreams of prosperity. While there are no rockets or planes in this particular war, it is the only war that can prevent aircraft bombs and mortar shells from flying through the skies of Gaza and Israel once again. To those who might ask why Israel should play her hand in such a war, the answer is simply: If not out of moral responsibility, then out of the interest of preserving her security.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has stated time and again that the terrorist infrastructure must be eliminated and he could not be more right. However, the terrorist infrastructure is more than just Hamas; it is also composed of poverty, ignorance, desperation, lack of a political horizon, and above all, hopelessness. Addressing these factors is not the job of the IDF; the IDF cannot fight incitement in textbooks or target high unemployment rates. After all, terrorism breeds where despair reigns. It will certainly take generations to construct a foundation sturdy enough not to crumble beneath the weight of mutual distrust and fermented hatred, but we owe it to future generations – to be those who started it. We owe this to Bashir from Gaza, who hopes for another peaceful Ramadan; we owe this to Israeli college students who prefer to spend their summers on the beach, rather than in the tank. We owe this to all the victims of this conflict, whose death bequeathed us life.

Israel has the strongest army in the Middle East but we cannot do away with Hamas. Not because we need more weapons and not because we need more support; we cannot eliminate Hamas because a stronger IDF is not enough. There is not a single case in modern history in which a terrorist organization that was willing to sacrifice the lives of its own people has been beaten by only military force. The IDF will not destroy Hamas exactly as it did not destroy it in 2004, 2005, twice in 2006, twice in 2008, in 2012 and in 2014. When I hear about the Israeli Security Cabinet meeting to discuss how to respond to the recent provocation by Hamas, I think: “Let us stop reacting. Instead, let us gather to begin thinking about where we want to be in twenty years and how to get there.”

So what will eliminate Hamas? The first step would be to establish a collaborative effort based upon economic cooperation between the international community, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority, in which financial assistance is deployed through indirect means and investments are made in projects that will enhance education and strengthen the economy. In the eventuality that economic aid is granted in the form of direct cash, there should be a systematic mode of transparency set in place, monitored and overseen by international NGOs so that Hamas is unable to grasp any fiscal aid. There is also the surreal idea of a Palestinian state in the West Bank; that might help too. While the international community calls for Gaza’s freedom using provocative flotillas and UN condemnations, what we truly need is to liberate Gaza from Hamas by creating opportunities for economic progress and hopefulness. In doing so, we will ultimately enable Israel to wrest free from Gaza as well. With all due respect to the IDF, liberating Gaza from Hamas is not within its capabilities.

Originally posted at Jerusalem Online on July 21st 2015

A former officer in the IDF Special Forces and speaker with a focus upon the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Visit Ohad's website

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