Only time will tell whether Israel has been successful in buying for itself some time before it needs to “mow the grass” in Gaza again. In the meantime, Israel must learn from what transpired in Operation Guardian of the Walls. Here are ten takeaways which should guide IDF and government preparations for the next conflict.
1. Most of the Israeli public is dissatisfied with the results of the operation, mainly because it finds it difficult to accept the assumption that Hsamas cannot be deterred from using terror against Israel. Most Israelis think that the operation should have continued until Hamas was crushed, despite the expected casualties. This willingness to continue the fight makes it apparent that Israeli sensitivity to casualties is smaller than generally presumed. The public mood was not accurately reflected in Israeli media.
2. At the same time, Israeli leaders should not be tempted to “crush Hamas.” There are advantages to the current policy of “mowing the grass” (i.e., occasional military action to degrade Hamas’s capabilities), to avoid wallowing in the Gaza mire. The blows sustained by the Hamas organization from the IDF inflicted damage to its operational capabilities and achieved temporary deterrence. The period during which quiet will prevail depends not only on the price that Israel exacted from the organization, but also on factors over which Israel does not have full control.
This is especially true when there are more significant challenges to Israel from Hezbollah on the northern border. Israel must maintain freedom of action with respect to that threat, which is tenfold more serious than the threat from Hamas.
3. A public campaign should be conducted within Israel to explain the underlying logic of the current policy, underscoring its advantages compared to other alternatives.
4. The operation constituted a warning regarding the possibility of a multi-arena war. The implications of this for IDF force buildup must be examined. This includes an assessment of whether Israel has enough advanced precision munitions and anti-missile (Iron Dome) interceptors. Israel Police manpower needs to be maintained, as well. Preparations must be made to contend with widespread disorderly conduct during wartime, especially in mixed Jewish-Arab cities.
5. Maintaining deterrence requires decisive responses to ceasefire violations on the part of Hamas and to any sign of a return to the “trickle” of rockets or incendiary balloons. Ceasefire violations should be exploited to eliminate senior Hamas members, provided the necessary intelligence is available.
6. Israel should not rush to help rebuild Gaza, since any aid inevitably will be used by Hamas for rearmament. It is difficult to assume that US efforts to establish a reconstruction mechanism without Hamas involvement will succeed. Israel and Egypt have a common interest in a gradual and controlled process that will not provide military resources for Hamas. Insist on linking the rebuilding of Gaza with the return of the Israeli hostages and MIAs. Humanitarian gesture in exchange for humanitarian gesture.
7. Qatar’s involvement should be replaced by mechanisms that will enhance the influence of Egypt. Prevent the resumption of funds flowing from Qatar directly to Hamas leaders in Gaza. As the rockets fired on Jerusalem demonstrated, this does not buy quiet. Ultimately, Qatar supports the Moslem Brotherhood and reinforces Hamas’s hold on Gaza.
8. Recognize that there is no practical way of demilitarizing Gaza without prolonged IDF occupation. Nonetheless, the demand for demilitarization can serve tactical purposes: Delay rebuilding until a broad arrangement is reached, and/or establish a rebuilding mechanism that will diminish what Hamas leaders stand to gain.
9. Sever the linkage between Hamas and Jerusalem. Accustom the Arabs in Israel and the entire world that Jews have a right to ascend to the Temple Mount, the most sacred place for Jews. The renewed visits of Jews (and tourists) to the Temple Mount was a positive move, demonstrating that the “status quo” (which is also important for Jordan and signifies, in effect, acceptance of Israel’s sovereignty in the city) has been reestablished. Strive for a practical solution in Sheikh Jarrah, without succumbing to pressure that will erode Israel’s sovereignty in its capital. In any event, continue policies in eastern Jerusalem that encourage the integration of east Jerusalemite Arabs into Israeli society.
10. Animosity between the Jewish and Arab sectors within Israel will not disappear any time soon. Tense coexistence at one level or another will accompany life in Israel due to the prolonged ethno-religious conflict. Nevertheless, efforts at integration of Israeli Arabs in all areas of life should be continued, while at the same time demarcating strict boundaries of acceptable behavior. Violent behavior should get a sharp response. In this regard, confiscation of weaponry in the Israel Arab sector is the Israel Police’s first and foremost mission.
Efraim Inbar is president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security (JISS). Eran Lerman, a reserve IDF colonel, is vice-president of JISS. A version of this article appeared in The Jerusalem Post.