Opinion: Israel’s attempts to contain constant acts of aggression, from incendiary balloons and sporadic rocket fire to crime in the country’s north and south, have eroded its sovereignty over the past decade; now it must show that what has happened won’t happen again
Soldiers near the Gaza border standing in a field burning due to incendiary balloons flown from the Gaza Strip in early May(Photo: AFP)
The massive rocket fire directed at Israel during the fighting in Gaza in May and the rioting across Jerusalem and mixed Jewish and Arab cities did not bolt from the blue. They were all the result of a weak policy that invited such attacks.
Over the past decade, Israeli sovereignty over the southern Negev region and the northern Galilee region was eroded.
The government failed to protect the farmers who were terrorized by Bedouin criminals and end the rampant use of illegal arms often stolen from military bases by Arab crime gangs. It ignored repeated violations of building codes in Arab communities and neglected the fight against criminal extortion and violence on the streets of Arab cities and villages.
All those decisions resulted in the rioting that broke out across various mixed cities earlier this month when Jews and Arabs clashed in an eruption of racism and hate.
But the most outrageous blunder of all is the government’s failure to act as the Gaza ruling terror group Hamas built up its military capabilities, and its refusal to retort to repeated acts of aggression across the border. This has led to Israel losing its deterrence, igniting the recent fighting that kept Israelis under fire for 11 days.
Gaza factions felt so empowered by the government’s weakness that they even set an ultimatum for Israel as tensions ran high at the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem — either you withdraw your forces from al-Aqsa, or we start firing rockets at the capital.
And they kept their word. Over 4,000 rockets were launched from Gaza, first at Jerusalem and later at the country’s entire south and center, even targeting Tel Aviv.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu alone is responsible for the failed policies and their outcome.
The 2014 Gaza war brought three and a half years of quiet to the Gaza border region and Israel’s deterrence was restored. This period of calm allowed southern communities to thrive and grow.
But in 2018, Hamas launched its “March of Return”, sending civilians to the border fence to riot and wreak havoc on Israeli border communities using balloon-borne incendiary devices.
The response to Hamas’ renewed violence was weak. The government, with its decision to contain the aggression, indicated to the terrorists that its sovereignty could be compromised, its fields could be set ablaze and the safety of its population, as well as their property, were open to abuse. From there on, the inevitable escalation to massive rocket fire was only a matter of time.
Over the past few years, Israelis convinced themselves that rogue groups inside Gaza were responsible for the cross-border violence, or that rockets that were fired at communities along the border were a result of technical glitches caused by bad weather.
Israel insisted that the 2014 ceasefire agreement would hold and responded with miniature strikes on Hamas targets. The message that Hamas got from it was that it was free to continue with its attacks with impunity while Israel’s hands were tied.
We don’t learn.
After a temporary lull due to the coronavirus pandemic, the incendiary devices resumed, consuming hundreds of acres of Israeli farmland, and so did the sporadic rocket fire.
Israel’s policy of containing the violence was a national disgrace. A country that has no respect for its own sovereignty is sure to see rocket fire directed at its capital.
After the 11 days of fighting that ended last week, the government was right to agree to a ceasefire. Hamas had prepared itself for a fight but suffered a massive blow from Israeli strikes.
Israel managed to muster the support of the United States and many European nations for its military operations but was wrong in ending the fighting while coming at loggerheads with the Biden administration after the U.S. president called for a ceasefire.
American support is more crucial than any military achievement that could have been reached in a few more days of fighting.
But the government must now convince its allies that the new Israeli policy in the south is a strong response to any act of aggression from Hamas in the future, be it setting fire to fields or firing rockets at Tel Aviv.
Israel must protect its sovereignty at all costs and the Gaza factions must understand that the IDF will react with full force to any act of aggression committed against the cand its people.