Gaza is a real problem for Israel. Short term, Israel hasn’t had a completely satisfactory answer for how to handle the deliberately provocative demonstrations. It has had to maintain security with tear gas and snipers, even while striving to keep the number of casualties down. Hamas has deliberately pushed up the death toll and scored a few propaganda points. What follows are some suggestions for what to do about Gaza. Apologies are offered in advance to those who find this exercise presumptuous even if all the suggestions are meant as helpful and positive.
The larger contextual imperative is that Israel needs to think of how to turn the tables and gain both a battlefield victory and a political victory in this new phase of its struggle with Hamas. It is critical that Israel try to gain the initiative, that it not allow Hamas “free shots”. The Israeli position needs to be seen as more than one of explaining why it is not to blame for civilian deaths. This implies it needs to consider pre-emptive actions and not just fighting battles at the fences and it also needs to launch a much more vigorous publicity campaign to counter Hamas propaganda.
From a tactical perspective Israel should consider taking actions inside Gaza in advance of an anticipated border attack. These would include dropping tear gas on assembly areas, blowing up buses, dropping spikes and tacks on highways leading to the border, jamming and cutting off internet connections hours before and during protests, and curtailing fuel supplies a few days before the planned border demonstration.
Another idea is that Israel should consider mounting a sporadic low-level campaign of shelling and bombing militant organization camps, headquarters, and storage facilities inside Gaza. These actions would be taken not just in response to missile attacks but also to signal displeasure at an upcoming border demonstration. A twilight war of assassinations and car bombs against Hamas officials should also be begun. Waging such a twilight war will put pressure on Hamas and may induce it to call a halt to its provocative border actions. If the border becomes less volatile, Israel could in return quietly declare a cease-fire.
More passive-defense options should be examined. Israel might build larger and more impenetrable aboveground anti-personnel barriers, including moats and possible even minefields. This will take time and money to be effective.
Beyond punitive and protective actions, Israel may want to consider positive inducements: a carrot-and-stick approach. Several tangible improvements could be offered to the people of Gaza so they realize what they are losing by continuing the border attacks. Israel could publicize proposed investments in desalination plants, new sewage treatment plants, more electric power lines, airports, seaport docks, and so on. However Israel needs to take a hard line: no improvement projects that benefit Hamas or those behind the border attacks. It cannot reward its foes with a “win” claiming their actions have led to betterments for the people of Gaza. Peace first or at least a cease-fire and calm on the border: then economic development initiatives.
Whether or not these specific ideas should be implemented, a larger debate on new options and alternatives is useful. Israel may have done the best it can dealing with Hamas in Gaza, but the results have not been ideal. Israel cannot let the fence be breached, nor let “peaceful” demonstrators throw Molotov cocktails and stones at border security personnel. On the other hand it doesn’t want to fall into the trap Hamas has placed and create “martyrs” for the Hamas cause. Perhaps better answers can be found to the question: What to do about Gaza?