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Thursday, March 23, 2023

Why is Hamas still an issue? – opinion

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During the past 16 years, a new generation aged in their 30s is now driving our economy. They grew up knowing almost only one prime minister, a right-wing government and full employment, as well as the setback of the COVID pandemic.

They also lived through several military incursions into Gaza, the long-running saga of Gilad Schalit, thankfully resolved, and the fruitless efforts to retrieve the bodies of MIAs and an Ethiopian citizen who are held hostage by the Hamas terror regime in Gaza.

The most recent reports that are impossible to avoid hearing about are the events from Afghanistan.

The proverb that a week is a long time in politics cannot be applied to the shameful capitulation to the terrorists in Afghanistan, orchestrated by US President Joe Biden. The consequences were foreseen by America’s closest allies, who warned of the chaos, suffering and casualties that would ensue, but it was Biden’s stubbornness that made that forecast into reality by insisting to reverse the orderly withdrawal timetable that had been planned by his predecessor, Donald Trump. Biden’s actions have clearly shown that he is totally unsuited to be commander in chief. He has never served in any military capacity but received five deferrals as a student, and hence has never had to make any military tactical decisions, even at a micro-level. That’s why 20 years of US efforts to build the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan into a Western democracy ended in disaster.

But sometimes even generals make mistakes. Following the German invasion of Poland in 1939, neither Britain nor France took any military action. An attack on the Germans at that time would have severely weakened them, firstly because they would have had to fight on two fronts, and secondly, at the beginning of the war, their military hardware was not yet sufficiently developed. The war might have been considerably shortened.

Israel also has its share of costly mistakes made by the leadership, like leading the IDF twice into the quagmire that is Lebanon; yet today the radical Hezbollah terrorist organization is pulling the strings of the legitimate Lebanese government and is poised to discharge thousands of rockets at Israel. That subject could take up more space than I have available.

I want to deal with what are arguably the biggest and most hurtful mistakes Israel made, conducted by a veteran commander of Israel’s War of Independence and successful general in subsequent wars – Ariel Sharon. During his service as defense minister, he caused an international incident in 1982 during the IDF’s operation in Lebanon “Peace for the Galilee: by his apparent acquiescence to the massacre in the Sabra and Shatilla “Palestinian Arab” refugee camps carried out by the Maronite Christian group of the Lebanese army, which cost the lives of hundreds, some estimate thousands. Interestingly, the late Yitzhak Rabin has called Sharon “the greatest field commander in our history.”

It is not unusual that generations learn of the consequences that prevail following historic events but are usually not aware of what caused them. That is the case about the conflict with Gaza. 

So let me set out why we are enduring continuous attacks from this small strip of land and how it can be stopped.

IT HAS now been accepted – not only by the political Right, but countrywide – that the unilateral withdrawal in 2005 of 21 Israeli towns and villages from within the Gaza Strip, ordered by then-prime minister Sharon, was his most serious tactical and costly miscalculation

Prior to the Disengagement, its official term, the following results were calculated:

42 day-care centers, 36 kindergartens, seven elementary schools and three high schools were to be closed.

5,000 schoolchildren needing to find new schools

38 synagogues to be dismantled

166 Israeli farmers with lost livelihoods – in addition to 5,000 of their Palestinian workers

48 graves in the Gush Katif Cemetery, including those of six residents murdered by terrorists, exhumed and moved to Israel.

The total cost of the operation was estimated at $2 billion, including $1b. for family relocation – about 3.5% of the 2005 state budget.

In addition, the IDF was estimated to spend $500 million on removing military bases and equipment from the Gaza Strip.

Because the Israeli lifestyle of individual villas was not acceptable to the Gaza administration, Israel agreed to turn them all into rubble. To cite just one example of the costs entailed, the demolition and removal of rubble from some 3,000 homes and public buildings cost an estimated $25 million. As further proof of goodwill, Israel agreed to pay for that.

In the context of Israel’s 2005 state budget, the estimated $2b. cost of disengagement is equivalent to about half the country’s annual health budget or approximately one-third of the budget for education. As is usually the case, it can be assumed the final figures were appreciably higher than the estimates.

The reason given for the Disengagement and its massive disruption to the lives of the 8,500 Jewish inhabitants and the incalculable financial loss was the plan to improve Israel’s security and international status in the absence of peace negotiations with the Palestinians. It was envisaged the Palestinian Authority, who was at that time in political control of the Strip, would take the opportunity to take advantage and further develop the agriculture, as well as the horticulture in greenhouses left behind intact by Israel.

Was it worth it? What Israel received in return is being continually felt to this day, 26 years later.

Palestinians protest at night time near the border with Israel, east of Gaza City, on August 28, 2021. (credit: ATIA MOHAMMED/FLASH90)

RESULTING FROM a violent power struggle in Gaza between the PA-backed Fatah and Hamas, who subsequently won the 2006 election, Hamas took control of the 365 sq. km. Gaza Strip. 

None of the anticipated development in Gaza took place, and the foreign aid – as well as the metal salvaged from destroyed greenhouses and other structures – was used to build up an arsenal of rockets. Hamas put its political interests above those of the civilian population. Continuous attacks on Israel and attempts at kidnapping followed.

Israel, to this day, responds regularly with targeted airstrikes on Hamas property, but only after having given a warning so as not to kill any terrorists! As was again the case this month. The reason is beyond comprehension. Hamas retaliates by sending rockets at Israeli border settlements, whose residents are afforded 15 seconds time for their population to seek shelter. This developed into a perpetual pattern. Ever-increasing rocket attacks followed.

Fast forward: On several occasions, from operation Summer Rains in June 2006 to Guardian of the Walls in May 2021, the IDF entered Gaza in order to… – and here I am not sure of the purpose. To achieve what? If it was to destroy the capability of Hamas and its satellite, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, to attack Israel, it was an obvious failure. If it was to eliminate Hamas’s leadership, that was not achieved. Attacks on Israel with rockets and explosive devices carried on balloons continue almost daily and Hamas brags of its achievements to instill fear into our population, supposedly with the intention to break the morale. Such tactics only strengthen the determination to fight on. But it also works in reverse. Our sporadic, what one might describe as “lesson teaching” to the Hamas terrorist regime, will never achieve the desired result. So, what will?

World War II has shown that in any conflict, only unconditional surrender will change the facts on the ground. Once that is achieved, it must be followed by a judicial process to show to the Gazan inhabitants that they have followed a leadership that enriched itself at their expense, that the international aid to alleviate their hardship was diverted to manufacturing rockets and that this policy literally “backfired” on the people of Gaza.

Up to now, I grudgingly acquiesced with the policy and actions of our various governments, knowing that they look over their shoulder to the opinions of the US.

THE TIME has now come to ignore the American assurances of standing by Israel and be prepared to go it alone.

I am not advocating this step lightly but believe that Israel must make such provisions in case it becomes necessary. Biden’s actions of sudden abandonment of the people of Afghanistan, and to renege on US agreements with the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan must serve as an indication that the assurances of the current US administration cannot be relied upon when their own interests are paramount.

Israel is not the only country in this situation. South Korea and Taiwan also feel insecure following the abandonment of one of the American allies.

Hamas is jubilant about the American defeat and views it as weakening Israel. We can therefore expect a renewed barrage of rockets.

If Israel responds in the usual manner of attacking a few buildings in Gaza housing Hamas’s offices, perhaps even warning other tenants, which will also allow Hamas to evacuate, we are leaving the task of eliminating the Hamas regime to our grandchildren. Should that be our policy? Or is it incumbent upon us to build a secure Jewish homeland for future generations? I doubt if any reader would not answer that question in the affirmative, regardless of political affiliation.

The US action in Afghanistan has shown that any reliance on America is unreliable. So how should we deal with Hamas? Obviously, another attack. But it is a well-known joke that if you ask a Jew a question, he will retort with one of his own. And I expect to hear “what about the innocent civilians?” Well. I believe that most of them work for Hamas. Others crowded onto roofs to protect Hamas’s buildings covering attack tunnels, and the youth regularly attack the border fence. Only earlier this month a soldier was severely wounded, and we all hope and pray for his recovery.

The only way to put a stop to the terrorism from Hamas is for a strong force to enter Gaza with the intention to take out the leadership. That should happen after a comprehensive softening up from the air. Destroy all properties covering known tunnel entrances and weapons depots, regardless of collateral damage.

Then remain there until satisfied that Hamas is incapacitated. That must be followed by a military government and a thorough vetting of all civilians to be employed by it. 

Only when full order is restored, and the area functions normally, can a civil administration be installed in the Strip. Overall security, like airspace and seaports, must remain under Israeli control. During and after this operation Israel must ensure an adequate supply of goods and full services to show the population our intentions to set up a peaceful administration that acts in the interest of the population. 

The alternative to total war and unconditional surrender is a continuance of unending rocket fire of increasing distance, border skirmishes, riots, balloons carrying incendiary devices and the like. I am fully aware that regrettably, war causes unavoidable casualties, but don’t we suffer casualties during the status quo? The Germans have a proverb translated: “Better an end with shock, than shocks without end.” It is now high time to act.

The writer, at 97, holds the Guinness Record as the world’s oldest active journalist and oldest working radio talk show host. He presents Walter’s World on Israel National Radio (Arutz 7) and The Walter Bingham File on Israel Newstalk Radio. Both are in English.


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