Israelis ponder alternatives to 'mowing the lawn' in Gaza (+video)
Israel has yet to articulate a long-term strategy for Gaza, but there is a growing consensus that a military operation every few years is not the answer.
Not too many Israelis seem able or willing to articulate a long-term solution for Gaza. But Gilad Sharon, the son of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, has offered an unequivocal strategy: Crush the coastal territory with such force that Gaza militants will never again be able to strike Israel.Skip to next paragraph
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“There is no justification for the State of Gaza being able to shoot at our towns with impunity,” he wrote in a Nov. 18 Op-Ed for The Jerusalem Post, arguing that the territory has effectively become a sovereign entity under Hamas and thus bears responsibility for attacks on Israel. “We need to flatten entire neighborhoods in Gaza. Flatten all of Gaza. The Americans didn’t stop with Hiroshima – the Japanese weren’t surrendering fast enough, so they hit Nagasaki, too.
“There should be no electricity in Gaza, no gasoline or moving vehicles, nothing,” he added. “Then they’d really call for a ceasefire.”
Mr. Sharon’s strong words have caused wincing both in Israel and abroad, as international pressure grows for a truce to end the fighting. But there is a strong strain of thought in Israel that sees military deterrence as the pillar of any long-term strategy. Some compare Gaza militant groups to weeds, arguing that Israel’s military needs to “mow the lawn” every few years to keep the situation under control.
“I do think that their conclusion is that once every several years, we must launch a preventive operation and destroy some of the Hamas government’s [military] power, in particular the long-range missiles,” says political scientist Menachem Klein of Bar Ilan University. “That’s the strategy.”
But even many of those who say that Israel has no other choice than to rely on military action acknowledge that brute force alone will not guarantee Israel’s security, given the hatred of Israel that is cultivated in Gaza schools and society – and heightened, some argue, by operations like Pillar of Defense.
“We see indoctrination as the key issue,” said Yossi Kuperwasser, director general of Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs. “It’s got to be something really profound that stops it.”
“We have all kinds of contingency planning,” he said, speaking at a briefing last month before Operation Pillar of Defense began. “If worst comes to worst, we can take a much wider operation in Gaza … But this is not going to really solve the problem.”
There are also concerns on the Israeli left about what a semi-permanent state of conflict would do to Israeli society. “There is a danger of society taking on a bestial nature,” said celebrated playwright Yehoshua Sobol, one of roughly 100 Israeli figures who have drafted a petition to end the violence with Gaza. “The danger is not just from the missiles, but also from our society becoming morally corrupt. We have to remember that there are human beings on the other side, not animals,” The Jerusalem Post quoted him as saying.
Withdrawing was a 'mistake'
It was former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon who withdrew Israeli troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005, a controversial move intended to reduce friction with Palestinians and stem international criticism of Israel for occupying the territory. The following year, Hamas won parliamentary elections by a landslide. Then in 2007, after quarreling with its secular rivals in Fatah, Hamas violently ousted them, estranging Gaza from the West Bank. The Palestinian house remains divided today, as reconciliation efforts flounder.