There Must No Longer Be An Iranian Terror Base in Gaza
By Ephraim Sneh*
January 18, 2009
Everyone is now urging a quick end to Operation "Cast Lead". This operation has been unprecedented in its scale, relative to Israel's past actions in the Gaza Strip. So is the damage it is leaving behind unprecedented, and that won't make things easier for us on the diplomatic front. A campaign like this needs to have a strategic outcome that justifies its scale. The needed outcome is for there to no longer be an Iranian terror base 3 kilometers from Sderot and 8 kilometers from Ashkelon.
The government is not doing enough to achieve this goal. As things now stand, the focus of the diplomatic efforts is on the issue of engineering-sealing off the Gaza-Egypt border-and not on the formation of a different reality in Gaza. If there is no one in Gaza to accept the missiles and the money from Iran, the tactical/engineering issue becomes secondary. If we leave behind a Hamas regime in Gaza, it will soon find a way to bypass the obstacles and to rearm.
The immense missed opportunity of the present campaign is that Gaza will evidently remain under Hamas rule. This is not the fault of the IDF, which has done an excellent job, but our political leadership.
What is going to happen? The Hamas chiefs will emerge from their bunkers after the cease fire, will hold a victory march down Gaza's main streets, and like Hizbollah in 2006 will manufacture an image of victory. "Three weeks of aerial assaults and a ground invasion by the IDF did not break us."
The Hamas government in Gaza will be the address for the hundreds of millions of dollars that will come in from Iran, but also from other countries, to reconstruct Gaza's ruins. Hamas will rebuild Gaza and also its own status after having brought about its destruction.
We know from the Hizbollah experience in Lebanon that the road from physical and political reconstruction to military reconstruction is short indeed. Who would have believed in late August 2006 that by the end of 2008 the Hizbollah would come to possess three times as many missiles and rockets?
The government wasted the Year of Annapolis. I warned many times in the past that without a political framework agreement with the Palestinian Authority we would not have an ‘exit strategy' for the inevitable operation in Gaza. Now we can expect an exit without a strategy. There is a tactic of maintaining an image of victory until the elections. I suspect that the latter opportunity too is going to be squandered by the government.
Yesterday, Said Siyyam, one of the most important and Satanic of the Hamas chiefs in Gaza, was liquidated. This liquidation was a success of the intelligence and operational units. It is the example of what needs to be done further in Gaza, rather than deepen and broaden the ground campaign. We need to continue to pressure the Hamas leadership while taking advantage of our dominance in the air, our intelligence capabilities and the positions the IDF holds on the outskirts of Gaza's built-up areas.
The Hamas leadership is close to the breaking-point. That is why it wants a cease fire so badly. This is the time for strong nerves and an ability to resist outside diplomatic pressures. We must not allow the revival and continuation of Hamas rule in Gaza, or we will pay for it dearly in the future.
We must also make use of this moment to bring about the release of Gilad Shalit. When the Hamas leaders in Gaza understand that they are liable to be the next targets of assassination, they can be pressed in the cease-fire negotiations on this ethical and humane issue too. It is to be hoped that the government does not squander this opportunity.
* Dr. Ephraim Sneh is a medical doctor, veteran of many years in the Israel Defense Force in both medical and combat roles, including serving as head of the civil administration for the West Bank. Sneh has been a leading figure of the traditional Israeli Left. He served in the Knesset for 16 years as a Labor party Member of Parliament and has held the positions as minister of health, of transportation, and deputy defense minister. In May 2008 he resigned from the Knesset and the Labour party, and formed the Strong Israel party, declaring as its goal a strong Israel: not merely as an effective military but also honest government, strong educational and health system.
He is known in the Israeli public as a soft-spoken consistent socialist about social issues and about reconciliation with the Palestinian people. His article illustrates how and why has Hamas succeeded to unite the entire Israel.