Israel Paid High Price for Little Achievements in Gaza

The operation in Gaza didn’t stop Hamas from rocketing Israeli towns, nor did it bring about the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit.


By Moshe Arens

(A version of this column appeared in Haaretz on March 24, 2009.)

The allegations that some of the Israel Defense Forces units that participated in Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip deviated from the IDF’s standard of ethics need, of course, to be investigated. But it is also high time to ask ourselves what was actually achieved during that operation, and whether there is any reasonable relationship between the costs incurred by Israel and those achievements.

At first sight, the Israeli public was relieved to see the IDF operating in Gaza, well trained and well equipped, unlike the way it appeared during the Second Lebanon War. Israelis were encouraged when the dire predictions that a ground operation in the Gaza Strip would lead to hundreds of casualties among our troops turned out to be groundless. A sign that the IDF had been well prepared for this operation.

But what was the result? The operation did not put an end to the rocketing of Israeli towns and villages in the south, nor did it bring about the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit. However, the cost for Israel was not inconsiderable. Israel has paid and continues to pay a high price in the ledger of world opinion for the massive destruction left behind in the Strip and the resulting distress of the civilian population there. That is going to haunt Israel for some time and will, no doubt, lead to considerable hesitation when Israel will be required to respond to the Hamas terrorists’ next provocations in the Gaza Strip.

In comparison, the achievements seem close to zero. The operation was halted while rockets were continuing to land in the south with the lame excuse that there was nothing further to be done, and the IDF was withdrawn after having accomplished next to nothing.

The fiasco of the Second Lebanon War is frequently blamed on Amir Peretz, who entered the Defense Ministry with little prior experience in military matters, and inherited a chief of staff, Dan Halutz, who was convinced that air power was the answer to everything. That theory was demolished during five weeks, while Israelis in the north were getting hit by Hezbollah rockets launched by the hundreds against Israel.

An almost audible sigh of relief could be heard from the Israeli public when Ehud Barak, a former IDF chief of staff with a previous tenure as defense minister under his belt, took over from Peretz. He inherited a chief of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, an experienced foot soldier of sterling reputation. Now matters of defense seemed to be in the best of hands. But we were to be disappointed.

Barak’s handling of the Hamas rocket problem had a most inauspicious beginning. For months, while rockets were raining down on Israeli towns and villages, we were told that the correct thing would be done at the right time, and that every passing day was bringing a ground operation closer. The next step was the conclusion of a “cease-fire” with the Hamas terrorists that, according to Barak, was going to lead to intensive negotiations for Shalit’s release. As should have been expected, Hamas utilized the “cease-fire” to introduce additional weapons, and especially longer-range rockets, into the Gaza Strip, while Gilad Shalit continued to languish in Hamas captivity.

When Hamas continued to launch rockets against Israel despite the “cease-fire,” Operation Cast Lead was finally launched, based initially on heavy aerial bombardments with the attendant collateral damage to civilians and civilian property, and only then were ground troops hesitantly introduced. They were withdrawn before the objectives that should have defined their mission had been accomplished, amid a renewed call by the defense minister for a “cease-fire” with the Hamas terrorists.

Strangely enough, there were great similarities between the Second Lebanon War directed by Peretz and the Gaza operation directed by Barak. Common to both is the erroneous idee fixe that the IDF operation had in both cases succeeded in restoring Israel’s deterrence posture. The fact of the matter is that Hezbollah is today much stronger than before the Second Lebanon War, occasional rockets continue to fall on northern Israel, and the threat in the north has not dissipated by any means. Hamas continues to rearm and threaten, while occasional rockets are launched from the Gaza Strip into Israel. The lesson that terrorists cannot be deterred but need to be disarmed has to be learned again and again.

Two successive military failures for Israel are more than enough. We need some new strategic thinking to deal with the serious dangers facing us.

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