Whenever you try to appease terrorists, it only makes them more aggressive.
Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens confesses that he was wrong to promote Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza strip in 2005:
Sometimes it behooves even a pundit to acknowledge his mistakes. In 2004 as editor of the Jerusalem Post, and in 2006 in this column, I made the case that Israel was smart to withdraw its soldiers and settlers from the Gaza Strip. I was wrong.
My error was to confuse a good argument with good policy; to suppose that mere self-justification is a form of strategic prudence. It isn’t. Israel is obviously within its rights to defend itself now against a swarm of rockets and mortars from Gaza. But if it had maintained a military presence in the Strip, it would not now be living under this massive barrage.
Or, to put it another way: The diplomatic and public-relations benefit Israel derives from being able to defend itself from across a “border” and without having to get into an argument about settlements isn’t worth the price Israelis have had to pay in lives and terror.
That is not the way it seemed to me in 2004, when then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon decided to pull up stakes, reversing the very policy he had done so much to promote as a general and politician in the 1970s. Gaza, I argued, was vital neither to the Jewish state’s security nor to its identity. It was a drain on Israel’s moral, military, political and diplomatic resources. Getting out of the Strip meant shaving off nearly half of the Palestinian population (and the population with the highest birthrate), thereby largely solving Israel’s demographic challenge.
Withdrawal also meant putting the notion of land-for-peace to a real-world test. Would Gazans turn the Strip into a showcase Palestinian state, a Mediterranean Dubai, or into another Beirut circa 1982? If the former, then Israel could withdraw from the West Bank with some confidence. If the latter, it would put illusions to rest, both within Israel and throughout the Western world.
[...] Put simply, Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza yielded less security, greater diplomatic isolation, and a Palestinian regime even more radical and emboldened than it had been before. As strategic failures go, it was nearly perfect.
Now Israel has some difficult decisions to make. Will it try and maintain the current suicidal status quo? Or will it begin taking back territory needed to keep itself secure?
Terrorist militias serve an ideology, but function as a business. Al Qaeda, Hamas, Fatah or any other of the many groups blanketing the region, need money and weapons to be viable. They need state sponsors and the states that sponsor them want something in return. Terrorist groups find sponsors the way that Renaissance artists found patrons, they show off their skills and wait for someone to come calling with money and guns. And then they perform for their patrons.
Israel’s terrorist problem is unsolvable through any form of peace negotiations because there will always be sponsors. A terrorist group may sign a peace agreement, but then it quickly gets on the phone to its sponsors to assure them that it will go on committing acts of terror. Its militias are spun off into “separatist” or “splinter” groups that go on doing what they did before. And the group then asks its new friend American and Israeli friends for guns and money to fight these extremists. That way the terrorist groups get twice the money for terrorism and a farce of counter-terrorism.
Even if a terrorist leader is sincere, his movement is nothing but an umbrella group for terrorist militias. If the umbrella group stops funneling money from state sponsors to local militias, the militias go into business for themselves. And there is such a demand by sponsors for more and more “extreme” militias, that even the existing terrorist groups find themselves having to compete with newer and more violently Islamist militias.
Peace is useless and hopeless under these conditions. Fatah claimed that it could not control Hamas. Hamas claims it cannot control the men shooting rockets out of Gaza. The people shooting rockets out of Gaza will claim that they cannot control their fingers on the trigger. It’s plausible deniability all the way down when it’s convenient, but the real control is in the hands of regional regimes who feed coins into the slot and get out terrorism.
So what then is Israel fighting for? Peace with security. Which means slapping down Hamas hard enough that it will have to wait another 3-4 years before trying the same thing again, this time with bigger and better rockets. That was the policy six years ago and it’s the policy today.
[...] This is the status quo and it cannot be maintained indefinitely. The air raid sirens going off in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem warn that the war is heading into unsustainable territory. As Iran goes nuclear, Hizbullah is trying to become another Iran and Hamas is trying to become another Hizbullah. It is not a nuisance that can be ignored. Israel has no answer to the growing threat except to try and contain it through the same old methods that have now put Jerusalem and Tel Aviv into the line of fire.
Since 1992, Israel has been retreating and those retreats have replaced secure borders with borders of terror. Rather than reversing those withdrawals, the right has been satisfied with trying to stabilize them. But that has only created safe spaces for terror while setting the stage for the next round of retreats by the left which will create even broader territories of terror. These territories are staging areas for the next invasion, which will come not from Hamas, but a Muslim Brotherhood Egypt and an Islamist Turkey, once Israel has been sufficiently softened up.
The only way to end the threat of Hamas in Gaza is by retaking Gaza, but no such policy is on the table. Like America, Israel responds to terrorism not with the aim of achieving decisive victories, but with a policy of intimidating the terrorists into scaling down their attacks. This is a political policy of political generals and leads to terror becoming a permanent institution.
Israel has tried negotiating its way out of the terrorist trap. It has not tried fighting its way out. Israel has tried to escape the occupation, but in a region where you are either the occupier or the occupied, it may have no choice.
[...] Israel can retake Gaza once. Or it can retake Gaza every few years. It can have soldiers patrol Gaza or it can have rockets falling on Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The options are as unfortunate as they are clear. The only hope for peace lies in driving out the terrorist militias who have turned Gaza and the West Bank into their own Somalia and Afghanistan and reclaiming the territory. Because after this fight is through, the next generation of rockets will go on being built and smuggled. And they will not fall in empty fields.
There can be farms and greenhouses on the hilltops of Gaza. Or there can be rockets.