A Hamas-related “military unit” called “Sons of al-Zawari” has been responsible for launching countless incendiary and explosive kites and balloons across the border into Israel for more than a year. Recently they even threatened to fill the condoms they use for balloons (apparently they are made of strong latex, so they are less likely to break prematurely) with a payload of some kind of poisonous or carcinogenic material.
Mohammed al-Zawari, in case you are interested, was a Tunisian engineer who developed drones for Hamas; he was assassinated in 2016, probably by the Mossad.
Although it is not so newsworthy outside of Israel, Arabs from Gaza continue to start fires and try to kill people in southern Israel with these devices. Israel responds in various ways, like reducing the size of the area in the Mediterranean in which Gazans are allowed to fish (really). They have also “attacked” the groups launching the devices with drones – but news reports never say that any of their members are killed, so I presume they fire low-yield weapons near, but not directly at, the terrorists.
The “disturbances” at the border fence wax and wane, but they never stop. Every once in a while someone is shot trying to harm Israeli soldiers on the other side, or planting explosives to create a breach in the fence that would allow a large number of terrorists to cross over and attack local civilians. Israel is building a massive barrier, both above and below the ground, to protect local communities against attacks via tunnels dug under the fence, and from shooting – in a recent case, a man was killed when his car was hit by an anti-tank rocket fired from Gaza. This barrier will cost billions, but will not stop the balloons or kites, nor will it prevent rocket attacks as we experienced this May. Recently, Israeli officials said that Hamas has already replenished its stock of rockets after the recent violence.
In a sense, Hamas is already engaged in chemical and biological warfare against Israel. The border demonstrations often involve burning tires, with the smoke darkening the skies over Israeli communities, some of which are only a few hundred meters from the fence. Even more seriously, for years, raw sewage from Gaza has been dumped in the sea and into streams that flow in southern Israel. Garbage is dumped and burned near the border. The Hamas government has received much assistance from international donors to solve its pollution problems, including the World Bank financing a large treatment plant in northern Gaza, which, due to a lack of electricity and other problems, never became operational.
Of course the population of Gaza suffers far more than that of Israel from the air and water pollution. But Hamas has always allocated available resources primarily to its war effort, following the First Principle of Palestinism, which is that it’s always preferable to hurt Jews than to help Arabs (although, to be fair, they have built luxurious residences for their leaders).
The Israeli government has come up with various reasons (perhaps ‘excuses’ is better) for why the mighty Jewish state can’t stop the torture of the residents of the southern part of the country: Israel does not want to occupy and become responsible for Gaza; there is a more serious threat from Hezbollah and Iran in the North; among the balloon launchers and fence busters are “children;” and, an attempt to overthrow Hamas would result in numerous civilian casualties in Gaza – something that the “international community” would not permit.
The “solution” from our “hardline, right-wing” government – just ask the NY Times how “hardline” it is – is to find technological answers to all the threats: we’ll shoot down the rockets with Iron Dome or similar systems, we’ll finish the expensive over- and underground barrier, and we’ll put out the fires started by the incendiary balloons before they get too big. Then, when the Gazans understand that we won’t allow them to hurt us, someone (preferably not us) will provide the cash to solve their economic and ecological problems, and we can live peacefully side by side.
This is a recipe for failure, and it is already failing. With every Iron Dome launch costing the equivalent of tens of thousands of dollars, and with Hamas and Islamic Jihad improving both the number of rockets they can fire in a short period of time and their accuracy, the task of intercepting them all becomes more challenging and more expensive. During the last exchanges of fire in May, several rockets did get through and resulted in a number of deaths. The trend is against us: it is easier and cheaper for them to improve their offensive systems than for us to strengthen our defensive ones.
Although various high-tech solutions to the low-tech balloons have been proposed, they are still setting damaging fires on a daily basis. While attempts to bribe the Hamas regime have from time to time reduced the number of balloons launched or the number of demonstrators at the fence, extortion has a way of becoming more expensive and less effective as time goes by. And we have no solution to the ecological crisis that Hamas is creating for its own population and for our common neighborhood as long as Hamas remains in power.
One goal of Hamas is to cause Israeli residents of the area to abandon it. So far, because of economic incentives to live there, the high cost of housing in other places, and apparently a strong feeling of community, this has not happened. But don’t kid yourself – if there is a successful penetration of the border in which there are significant casualties among Israelis, or if there are extended periods during which people must stay in shelters, there may be a point at which many of them ask themselves whether the disadvantages of living there don’t outweigh the advantages.
What we are doing is a combination of holding the line and kicking the can down the road, to violently mix metaphors. These are by definition temporary solutions. What is a permanent solution?
We could win a war with Gaza, and probably suffer relatively few casualties of our own, as long as we actually apply the “principle of proportionality” in the Law of War as it is intended. If the enemy is using otherwise protected targets like mosques, hospitals, schools, and civilian structures for military purposes, then we are permitted to attack as long as the collateral damage is proportional to the military advantage of doing so. In other words, if Hamas has located its main command and control center in the basement of a hospital in Gaza City, then we can bomb it, if doing so is an important enough military objective – which it certainly would be. We are permitted to fight against child soldiers, and human shields that are injured or killed are the responsibility of Hamas.
Part of winning such a war would include targeted killings of the upper echelons of Hamas and Islamic Jihad leadership. They are war criminals, responsible for the deaths of numerous Israelis, and they maintain a dictatorial and oppressive regime over their own population. They are our deadly enemies and even if their military capabilities were destroyed, would manage an insurgency against us. Killing them would send a message to their successors that they are personally responsible for events.
At this point, the hard part begins. We have eliminated the regime – who will be the new regime? Probably the civilian infrastructure will have collapsed. It is already collapsing economically and ecologically, public health is a disaster, and drug abuse is rampant. The educational system is a training camp for jihadists.
Should we dump it in the lap of the UN? If they agreed, they would be ineffective at best. At worst, they would invite operatives from hostile countries who would establish a beachhead. I am sure Erdoğan would love to help!
I think there is only one acceptable long-term solution: to depopulate Gaza. That is, to provide an exit for most of the Gazan population to emigrate to various parts of the world, including but not limited to Arab countries, Europe, Australia, and North and South America. Emigration would be financed by the UN with funds normally provided to Gaza by UNRWA. If cooperation of host nations could be arranged, this would probably cost less in the long run than continuing the international support for Gaza as at present. There would probably have to be a temporary Israeli administration set up to assure security during the process. At some point, Israel would officially annex the territory, and the remaining population – who would be vetted to ensure that they didn’t present a risk of terrorism – would be offered Israeli citizenship in a way similar to what was done in Jerusalem.
It’s doubtful that there would be many votes for this idea in the UN, if it were put to a vote. But there are probably two groups of people that would love it: Israelis, especially those that live in the southern part of the country – and Gazans.