Operation Pillar of Defense: Mission Not Accomplished

If Operation Pillar of Defense’s mission was to free the civilian population of southern Israel from the recurrent threat of rocket attacks by terrorists from the Gaza Strip, then it missed its mark.

Moshe_Arens_cropped-150x150By Moshe Arens

(A version of this column appeared in Haaretz on November 26, 2012.)

If the mission of Operation Pillar of Defense was to free the civilian population of southern Israel from the recurrent threat of rocket attacks by terrorists from the Gaza Strip, this mission was not accomplished. They are today, after the cease-fire, as exposed to this threat as they were before.

Moreover, during the operation it became clear that the terrorist rocket threat reached all the way to Tel Aviv, and that more than half of Israel can now be reached by rockets launched from the Gaza Strip. You would have to be an incurable optimist to believe that the blows the Israel Air Force rained down on the terrorists of Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and all the others had now brought them to the conclusion that they should not launch rockets against Israel from now on.

However, it is correctly claimed that the government did not define this as the aim of the operation. The government was quite modest in defining the operation’s goal and received compliments from many quarters for this sober behavior. No goal that might be beyond reach was announced. Presumably the lessons of the past had been learned – a modest goal was set that could be matched by modest achievements. To “change the security situation,” the government announced was the aim of Operation Pillar of Defense.

As modest as the announced aim was, the result of the eight-day long operation was even more modest. Has the security situation really changed substantially in the wake of the operation?

The arsenal of rockets in the Gaza Strip is today substantially diminished. So is the Israeli arsenal of “Iron Dome” missiles. Both will, no doubt, be replenished in short order. The active manpower of terrorist organizations has been hit by air strikes, but there will be no shortage of replacements for those who are gone. The terrorist command infrastructure has been hurt, but will be rebuilt. In terms of the physical balance, it will not be long before it will be difficult to observe a substantial change in the security situation as compared to what existed before the operation.

That leaves the deterrent effect. Is it likely that the Gaza terrorists will conclude after eight days in which they rocketed Israel day by day and were in turn pummeled day and night by the Israel Air Force that they better not try again? Will Mohammed Morsi, the Egyptian president, force them to abandon their rocket terror against Israel’s civilian population? Will Israel’s civilian population be able to enjoy a few years of well-deserved quiet as a result of the operation? Hard to believe. If not, then the security situation has not changed substantially despite the operation.

Was there really no alternative at this time to a cease-fire brokered by Morsi, an ideological ally of Hamas? To bring about a real change in the security situation in the south the rocket arsenal of the Gaza terrorists and their rocket manufacturing facilities would have to be destroyed, and the renewal of supplies through the Sinai would have to be blocked. Considering the small size of the Gaza Strip this is not an impossible mission for the IDF. However, it could not be accomplished solely from the air. It would require an incursion into the Gaza Strip by IDF ground troops.

It did not have to be a lengthy operation, nor would the IDF have to continue to stay in the Gaza Strip for a long time. No need to topple Hamas rule, if that is at all possible – it is their rocket arsenal that has to be dismantled.

Such an operation would, no doubt, involve losses. But it is high time that soldiers replace the civilians in the front line. The civilians have been at the front for too long. This should have been done during the first few days of the operation. Thereafter, the international pressure for a cease-fire agreement became difficult to resist.

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