Looking for an Exit

Hamas and Islamic Jihad are getting stronger, so the IDF should enter Gaza sooner rather than later.


By Moshe Arens

(A version of this column appeared in Haaretz on February 25, 2008.)

The Olmert government by now has run out of all conceivable excuses for not taking the only action that will remove the threat of Qassam rockets and mortar shells from the Israelis living in Sderot and the communities in the vicinity of the Gaza Strip. That action, as everybody knows, is sending IDF ground forces deep enough into the Gaza Strip so as to put the rockets and mortar shells out of range of these communities.

The foolish argument that Palestinian terrorists might then start using longer-range rockets dates back to the argument made during the Second Lebanon War: that a ground force action that would move the Katyushas out of range of the settlements in northern Israel would still leave them exposed to longer-range rockets.

The result was that the ground forces were not ordered to move in and that the short-range rockets, the ones that are so easy to move and conceal, and so hard to locate and attack from the air, kept raining down on Israel until the very last day of the war.

Is there really anybody who has not learned the lesson that it is easier to deal with long-range rockets than with the small, short-range rockets? This is certainly the case in the Gaza Strip.

So now the excuse for letting Israeli civilians to remain under rocket fire is that we do not have an exit strategy. Or, in other words, how are we going to get out after we have gone in? “Exits” are the name of the game in the business of venture capitalism. Make an investment in a start-up enterprise and get out as soon as you can make a sizable profit.

Of course, nowadays everybody in our government is very business-minded, but one should hope that our ministers nevertheless realize that the fate of Sderot’s children, whom the government is obliged to protect, bears no resemblance to the kind of risks that venture capitalists take upon themselves. A cost-benefit analysis may be relevant when considering alternatives that all achieve the desired objective, but are totally irrelevant when only a single move will achieve this goal; which in this case is providing safety for the Israelis living in the vicinity of the Gaza Strip.

So for those foolish enough to believe that they can foretell the course of future events, and think that they can know under what circumstances the IDF, once having entered the Gaza Strip, will or will not be able to withdraw, I would suggest considering some possible scenarios.

In one, the optimistic scenario, the IDF is sent into the Gaza Strip, and is successful in preventing the recurrence of rocket attacks after it has withdrawn. This scenario is not certain, but also not impossible.

In another, the worst-case scenario, upon the withdrawal of the IDF from the Gaza Strip, rocketing recurs. This also is not certain, but possible.

Obviously, there are any number of possible intermediate scenarios. Now, even in the worst-case scenario, the residents of Sderot and the communities in the vicinity of the Gaza Strip will have had a respite from daily danger and lives will have been saved and property damage avoided during the period that the IDF is in the Gaza Strip.

There will then be time to consider other options, take other initiatives, and the government will be free to decide if and when to withdraw. In the optimistic scenario, the objective of providing safety for the civilians living and working in the vicinity of the Gaza Strip will have been achieved over the long run.

Both scenarios, as well as the intermediate scenarios, are better than the status quo, which threatens daily danger to the lives of Israeli civilians in the vicinity of the Gaza Strip.

How difficult is sending ground troops into the Gaza Strip going to be? Considering the months that have been available to the IDF for planning, preparation, and training for this mission, the intimate knowledge of the terrain, and the great superiority in numbers and equipment, this is certainly not the most difficult mission that the IDF has had to perform.

However, one thing should be clear: it is not going get easier as time goes by. Hamas and Islamic Jihad are bringing in weapons and ammunition, are training and preparing, and getting stronger. So better sooner rather than later.

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