Yoni Ben-Menachem, an Israeli journalist and senior researcher at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, spoke to an August 30 Middle East Forum Webinar (video) about escalating violence emanating from Gaza and what Israel can do about it.
Ben-Menachem said that pthe Taliban takeover of Afghanistan has "alarming" implications for Israel because Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad are "encouraged by the victory." All of these terrorist organizations "share the same Islamic ideology of jihad and sumud [steadfastness]," he explained. "The lesson of Afghanistan is that they have to stay on the land and not give any inch ... [and with]stand Israeli pressures, and they will win in the end." Two months ago, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh met in Doha with Taliban leader Abdul Ghani Baradar, who praised Hamas's war with Israel.
As U.S. troops pulled out of Afghanistan in late August, Hamas and the other militant Islamic factions in Gaza staged violent rallies and border riots in hopes of pressuring Israel to relax its blockade of Gaza. Hamas demanded that Israel allow the "immediate transfer" of $30 million per month of purported humanitarian aid from Qatar (from which it takes a hefty "commission"), allow deliveries of construction materials to resume, and otherwise return to the status quo prior to Israel's May 2021 Guardian of the Walls operation against Hamas.
Israel has rejected such Hamas efforts to "impose new rules of game on Israel," while insisting that any new agreement provide for the return of four Israeli prisoners being held by Hamas. As Hamas has rejected Israel's terms, the situation has remained a dangerous stalemate.
Ben-Menachem emphasized that Israel must adopt a more robust response to the continuing Hamas threat. "I don't believe in this strategy of rounds of fighting in Gaza every few months or every year or two years," he said. "We need a strategic decision about the future of the Gaza Strip ... [a] new roadmap in Gaza and what to do with Gaza, then we'll know where we're heading. Right now, it's full confusion. We don't know what we're doing."
Instead of continuing the cycle of attacks and retaliation that has taken place for the past 14 years, Ben-Menachem urged the Israeli government to "reoccupy the Gaza Strip" long enough to destroy attack tunnels, rocket factories, and other terrorist infrastructure built up by Hamas since it took over the enclave in 2007. Whereas Hamas once had to smuggle rockets into Gaza through Sinai, it now has the technological know-how and facilities to manufacture "sophisticated" rockets in Gaza itself. After Israel cleans out the terror infrastructure, said Ben-Menachem, it should then deliver a "demilitarized" Gaza to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (aka Abu Mazen) under the supervision of international forces.
Israel should "reoccupy" Gaza, destroy terrorist infrastructure, and hand it over "demilitarized" to the PA.
However, Ben-Menachem does not believe the "fragile" Israeli government in power today would make such a move, which would require a "strong leader" and the "support of the U.S. administration." Israel's "political echelon" balks at taking bold actions, such as targeted assassinations of terrorist leaders, for fear that they will lead to escalation. Ben-Menachem does not see avoiding escalation as a viable strategy. "You cannot co-exist with Hamas."
Marilyn Stern is communications coordinator at the Middle East Forum.