Israel's unilateral disengagement from Gaza in 2005 kindled buoyant predictions of its bright future. Some even envisaged a "Singapore of the Middle East," hoping that Gaza's coastline alone with massive international aid and a desire for self-betterment would steer it toward a prosperous, independent existence. Then that would culminate in a comprehensive peace agreement with Israel.
Nothing of the sort happened. As Hamas, an Islamist terrorist organization, gained control of Gaza in the summer of 2007, the Singapore dream gave way to a Somali-Iranian mutation. In 2009, Hamas began implementing the strategy of its Lebanese counterpart, Hezbollah, making massive rocket and missile attacks on Israel's population centers the cornerstone of its attempt to eliminate the Jewish State.
For its part, Israel's leadership absorbed the countless rocket and missile attacks and contained their devastating impact through a string of defensive measures, notably the development of the Iron Dome anti-missile system. In other words, Israelis did not attempt to neutralize, let alone eliminate, the threat (quite contrary to pre-withdrawal warnings that all future terror attacks would be met with unforgiving retaliation). The political-military-media elite seemed to view the thousands of missiles raining down on Israel as a preordained calamity that could not be eradicated, only mitigated and protected against.
As a result, Israel's four wars against Hamas (2008-09, 2012, 2014, 2021) all ended inconclusively with the latter quickly replenishing its losses after hostilities ended. Since the May 2021 war ("Operation Guardian of the Walls"), an effective status quo has ensued whereby Israel acquiesces not only to Hamas's continued rule of Gaza, its partial reconstruction, and build-up of its rocket and missile arsenal, but even to its new self-proclaimed role as "defender of Jerusalem."
The transformation of the home front (particularly the "Gaza envelope area," as the localities around the Strip are known) into the new military frontline has undermined Israel's sovereignty and the personal security of its citizens. It has also damaged its status as a regional power and eroded its deterrent posture. To make matters worse, Hamas's strength grew even as Israel became increasingly desperate to reach a long-term arrangement with it. That explains why Israel engaged in virtuoso, pinpoint military tactical attacks instead of a comprehensive strategy that would ensure the security of its citizens.
As the range of rockets and missiles increases and the technology of destructive unmanned aerial devices becomes widely accessible, the ability of the few to threaten the many, anywhere and anytime, grows. Eventually, the astounding growth in the scope, range, and accuracy of Hamas's rockets and missiles will leave Israel no choice but to make the dismantling of this deadly arsenal its goal. Jerusalem even articulated this objective at the end of the 2014 war, only to ignore it altogether in 2021. Israel must now return to this goal, not least since Hamas's disarmament was already envisaged by the Oslo accords in 1993. The terror group must be made to choose between keeping its regime or its rockets.
Some doubt the possibility of disarming Hamas, thinking this either not feasible or that it would exact an intolerable cost to Israel. This recalls the debate among the Israeli leadership on the eve of Operation Defensive Shield in April 2002 when widespread skepticism existed regarding Israel's ability to regain control over large swathes of the West Bank in order to destroy the Palestinian Authority's terrorist infrastructure. Yet Operation Defensive Shield achieved this goal at a much lower human cost than initially feared. And it did so despite this operation being implemented too late and only when a rapidly rising death toll forced the issue and broke the mental gridlock that had paralyzed the political, military, and media leaderships.
In a similar vein, the Gaza quagmire will not be resolved through further inconclusive rounds of hostility. To create a new reality, Israel must adopt a new policy that conditions Gaza's reconstruction on the dismantling of Hamas's rocket and missile arsenal. The dangerous rocket and missile threat to Israel's civilian population violates the essence of international law and must be ended.
Israel has often proved to be a canary in the mine, and its current woes may thus become others' problems. Europe, for example, may soon face a similar threat of rocket and missile attacks from ungovernable regions of North Africa.
Demilitarization should become the overriding goal of Israel's military strategy vis-à-vis Gaza. The most powerful army in the Middle East must immediately remove the threat from a far weaker terrorist organization and achieve a decisive victory after fifteen years of inconclusive fighting.
Zvi Hauser was deputy speaker of the Knesset and co-chairman of the Israel Victory Caucus in 2021-22.