All it took was rockets.
Seven years of rockets. Rockets launched toward civilian populations, schools, a college, rockets that slammed through private homes, children's bedrooms in the blue collar Israeli town of Sderot. More than a thousand rockets a year for seven years, directed at kibbutzim which for decades had supported an end to occupation and the rise of a Palestinian state. Eight thousand rockets, fired when Israel had 25 settlements and 20,000 troops in the Gaza Strip, and when Israel expelled the settlers and withdrew its troops, rockets fired from the ruins of the settlements and former emplacements of the IDF.
For Palestinians, Gaza was a prison before the disengagement, and a maximum security lockup thereafter. For Palestinians, the end of Israeli rule and the subsequent rise of Hamas were a human rights tragedy turned human rights catastrophe. For Palestinians, there is no more work in Israel, no more work in Gaza, no more hope anywhere.
When Israel ended its operation in the Strip on Monday, a Hamas radio announcer declared victory, saying that despite all of the destruction and death, Hamas gunners were still hitting Sderot and Ashkelon and even Netivot. Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar addressed a rally to mark what he called Hamas' success in the Five Day War. Taking the trouble to thank the news media in general for its coverage of Palestinian casualties, Al Jazeera and Hamas' own Al Aqsa TV in particular, he told a cheering, chanting crowd, in effect: We showed them. The Israelis?ll think twice before invading ever again.
He's right. Israelis will think twice, and many times again. This is why: Hamas, with the direct or inadvertent cooperation of Hezbollah, Iran, the Islamic Jihad, Fatah fatcats, Fatah rebels, the Bush administration, and, of course, Israel itself, has created a situation in which every one of Israel's moral and strategic options is a bad one.
This is the test for Israel: There is no way to ace it, and there are countless ways to fail. Here are a few.
Choose your poison:
1. A massive IDF ground offensive.
Arguments in favor: There is no alternative but to use overwhelming if tactically directed force to root out terror groups which fire the rockets, and to break the back of the Hamas government and remove it from power.
Marshalled example: Operation Defensive Shield, 2002
Arguments against: The risk-benefit equation suggests that large numbers of Gaza non-combatants as well as Israeli forces would be killed and wounded, without truly material success in curbing Qassam and Katyusha attacks.
International outrage could cause Israel great political, economic, even strategic harm.
2. Reoccupy the Gaza Strip
Arguments in favor: Israel cannot abide a terrorist state less than an hour's drive from Tel Aviv. Hamas, if allowed to rule, will eventually take over the West Bank and, effectively, East Jerusalem as well. Even a large-scale IDF offensive, if only temporary, will leave the field open to rearmament and continued attacks.
Arguments against: Israel militarily occupied the Gaza Strip for nearly forty years, but was unable to prevent the manufacture and firing of Qassams. Qassam firing continued under Israeli occupation for more than three years until the disengagement in 2005. Finally, Israel lacks the will and the forces to occupy Gaza indefinitely.
3. Shell sources of rocket fire
Arguments in favor: Use of long-range artillery will save the lives of soldiers who would be out at risk in a ground offensive. If Israel puts Gazans on notice that artillery will immediately and consistently shell any area from which rockets are fired, they will either prevent Hamas gunners from using their homes and yards, or will flee before the firing begins.
Arguments against: Artillery has proven markedly inaccurate as retaliatory fire against small crews of armed men, often with disastrous consequences. Cases of innocent civilians killed in error, tragic in themselves, have in many cases also made it impossible for the IDF to continue to pursue its military targets.
4. Assassinate Hamas leaders
Arguments in favor: Assassinations of commanders and political leaders can paralyze the organization, sending leading figures underground, cutting lines of communication, interrupting chains of command, while at the same time causing less danger to Palestinian civilians and to IDF soldiers. When Israel assassinated Hamas founders Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Abed Aziz Rantisi in 2004, threats os monumental retaliation never materialized, and the organization subsequently offered a limited truce.
Arguments against: Civilians are often killed by mistake in assassination attempts. Assassination is also a dangerous policy, as it invites counter-attempts, such as the murder of then-cabinet minister Rehavam Ze'evi in Jerusalem in 2001. Finally, it fails to address core concerns, and may cause deadly reprisals, as in the suicide bombings that killed 60 people in Israel after the 1996 assassination of Hamas bomb mastermind Yihye Ayyash.
5. Negotiate with Hamas
Arguments for: Hamas is not only the democratically elected ruler of Gaza, it also still enjoys broad, if somewhat dimished, popular support in the Strip. Because it trades on an ideology of martyrdom and steadfastness in the face of attack, it will be defeated neither by economic sanctions nor military confrontation. There is no alternative to talks toward a cease-fire, which Hamas has been proposing for years, holding out the offer of the return of captured IDF soldier Gilad Shalit in an exchange for jailed Hamas men.
Arguments against: Negotiations would constitute a major victory for Hamas, and tacit Israeli recognition of the organization, further undermining the standing of Mahmoud Abbas and the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority and perhaps paving way for future Hamas control of the West Bank.
The Hamas charter continues to call explicitly for the violent destruction of the state of Israel, and any expansion of Hamas hegemony to the West Bank could put large swathes of central Israel, the bulk of Israel's population, in range of Katyusha-Grad rockets.
6. Tighten the economic siege over Gaza
Arguments for: How can a nation at war justify supplying its enemy with fuel, electricity, water, and even supplies which may be used for producing rockets and other armaments?
Arguments against: The people of Gaza as a whole should not be punished for the actions of a small number of armed men. Collective punishment, moreover, increases hatred toward Israel and will, in the end, persuade more youths to become terrorists.
7. Lift the economic siege over Gaza
Arguments in favor: Such a step could, if carried out in cooperation with Abbas and the PA, strengthen Abbas' hand. (Also see arguments against, numbers 6 and, if carried out in cooperation with Hamas, 5 above)
Arguments against: Such a step could bolster Hamas, whioch could list it as a strategic victory and an indication that its policies were correct all along.
8. Increase IDF operations in the West Bank
Arguments in favor: Israel must do everything it can to confront and contain Hamas in the West Bank, to keep it from taking over.
Arguments against: Such operations sap the limited sovereignty of Abbas and the PA, which has taken action of its own against Hamas in the West Bank. Such operations also cast Abbas in the role of collaborator with Israel, cutting his support among Palestinians.
9. Do nothing
Arguments for: This stance, which, while it may have adherents in practice, has no proponents.
Arguments against. Israel does not have the option of doing nothing. To do nothing is, in effect, a violation of the human rights of the people of Sderot and the western Megev, who are the targets of Hamas war crimes.