A time-bomb called Gaza is sitting Israel’s back yard. The question is not whether it will explode, but when.
Caught between Egypt and Israel, and ruled by an oppressive terrorist organization, Hamas, the 1.85 million Gazans are in a dire situation. One third of the population is under 30, and two out of three of these young people are unemployed. With no hope over the horizon for this generation, an explosion is only a question of time. And we know from past experience what form this explosion might take: attacks on Israel. These attacks have already invoked three major counter-attacks by Israel — Operation Cast Lead (2008), Operation Pillar of Defense (2012) and Operation Protective Edge (2014) — which brought devastation to Gaza, but couldn’t stop the cycle of violence.
Right now, Hamas, still licking the wounds of the blows it suffered from the IDF in 2014, is restraining itself. The few rockets randomly launched at Israel are fired by a renegade ISIS-associated Islamic group, which Hamas tries to contain. However, with the basic socio-economic situation unchanged, it takes very little to ignite the fire again.
To borrow a page from the history of Los Angeles, think of the Rodney King police beating that set off riots in 1992. This, of course, was a trigger, not a cause.
The easiest thing would be to claim that the people of Gaza brought these miseries on themselves. Instead of using Israel’s 2005 pullout from Gaza as an incentive for nation-building, they chose to let the destructive Hamas lead them instead. Therefore, they have only themselves to blame.
While this argument carries a lot of truth, it doesn’t help Israel, which finds itself once again on the receiving end of Gazans’ frustration. Therefore, two schools of thought have developed in Israel regarding a possible solution to the Israel-Gaza conflict.
The first, led by former Defense Minister Moshe Arens, maintains that the routine of periodic clashes with Hamas is intolerable, especially when Hamas digs attack tunnels into Israel and arms itself with thousands of rockets. The cure should be uprooting of Hamas altogether, by going after its leaders and destroying its offensive arsenal.
Surely this kind of operation — a war, rather — will inflict many casualties on both sides and will bring more devastation to Gaza. But will it succeed in eradicating Hamas, which is not only a terrorist organization but a deep-rooted social and religious system, as well? And will Israel be given the time and the freedom of action to carry out such an awesome task?
The second proposal for defusing the Gaza time-bomb is not military, but economic. Current Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, recently suggested helping Gaza build a big port and an airport, thus easing the sense of siege.
The fact that the same Liberman, who, when he was in opposition to the government, had called for an all-out military action to destroy Hamas, now changed his mind, is not surprising. It has long been the position of the IDF and other Israeli security agencies, that alleviating the living conditions of the people of Gaza is the best way to avert the eruption of violence.
The Israeli government is now wavering between these two options. A recent report of the State Comptroller on Operation Protective Edge in 2014 has stirred a public uproar, but focused the attention on the failure of the Netanyahu government to seriously tackle the threat of the attack tunnels Hamas had been digging. Less attention was given to a more important part of the report, which had criticized the government for not considering any alternatives to the use of military force.
Wavering between these options means that the next time an incident triggers a clash, Israel will again be dragged into another round of violence, which will cause more pain but will not solve anything. Time for Israel to make up its mind. I’d prefer the economic option, but it hasn’t been given the credit it deserves.
Uri Dromi is director general of the Jerusalem Press Club, a former spokesman for the Rabin and Peres governments and a retired colonel in the Israeli Air Force. He writes a column on Israeli affairs for the Miami Herald.