With fewer tunnels left to destroy, Israel is rapidly arriving at a crucial decision in its fight with Hamas. First is a “call it good” option, to be initiated when Israel succeeds in its overt goal of destroying dozens of Hamas-utilized tunnels into the country from the Gaza Strip. The other option is to dig in for the longer haul by deploying forces even deeper inside Gaza, relieving Hamas of its grip on the territory and taking complete control of the entire area.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is pushing the latter idea. He says that the complete removal of weapons systems from the Gaza Strip, as well as killing or arresting all terrorists, would take six months to a year. In addition to the lives of many Israelis and Palestinians, of course. As Lieberman acknowledges that the second option would be “very costly and very bloody” he says it holds out hope that Israel could truly be rid of the threat of Hamas – a more lasting solution to the threat of rocket fire and “terror tunnels.” The first option, he says, will do little more than postpone the next round of battles.
Such an operation would require Israel Defense Forces (I.D.F.) to enter the most densely populated areas of the Gaza Strip and, using the precedent of the last few weeks of battle, such a “we have to finish the job” operation would certainly result in the death of, and injury to, many more Palestinians than Israelis. One result of this would be even greater international pressure on Israel. But, more important, the open question of what to do with Gaza’s 1.8 million Arabs would need to finally be resolved.
As Lieberman declared that a real solution is possible through an actual occupation of the Gaza Strip, he was clear that the price would be heavy and that his country must be prepared to pay it. He predicted that if the decision was made not”pay the price” then death and destruction would occur within five years.
Lieberman’s understanding of the Israeli public is that it would consciously choose to pay the price of the second option, opting for the hope and possibility of getting rid of the threat of Hamas once and for all. Although the Israeli public believes their country should do all it can to ensure the problem is solved, Lieberman says he is “not sure everyone is aware of the real price, but that is another issue.”
While this article was publishing, Israel had begun the withdrawal of most of its ground troops from the Gaza Strip. The almost month-long fighting with Hamas has killed more than 1,800 Palestinians and 60 Israelis. For its part, Hamas has vowed to continue fighting, so it will likely continue to dip into its estimated 5,000 rockets it has not yet lobbed into Israel.
Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman, confirmed that the bulk of ground troops were being pulled from the Gaza Strip, a decision that was made after the military concluded it had destroyed most of Hamas’ tunnel network. He declared that the “huge threat” posed by the tunnels had been minimized.
Opinion by Gregory Baskin