Weighing the Options

Am Yisrael, splintered and divided as it is, has discovered in recent days how capable it is of uniting in difficult moments of pain and national grief. One hundred thousand people came from all over the country to the levayah in Modiin; most did not know any of the victims or their families. They came to show solidarity with their anguish, and, with that, they broadcast to the government and the Israeli military and political leadership, that the nation is waiting for an unprecedented response to this barbaric act.

Without speaking, but with tears in their eyes, they seemed to stand there and say to the decision-makers that a weak response will invite more kidnappings.

The security cabinet convened last night for another meeting, after failing to reach any firm decisions on the reaction the night before. Last night, too, they argued and fought, raised their voice and threatened, but ultimately, the proponents of different plans of actions compromised. That is despite the fact that everyone knows very well that in every compromise there is a certain message that indicates that the spine of the decision-makers is hunched and lacks decisiveness.

The Prime Minister opened the discussion by saying to the other ministers that before they decide, they had to set the end goal that the decisions were meant to achieve. That statement, in and of itself,  neutralized many of the ministers’ proposals and invites foot-dragging. At such a time, when the deaths are so fresh, who can determine far-reaching goals? Furthermore, it is obvious that, before stating objectives, it is necessary to deal a deterrent blow to the murderous enemy that will make it clear that the people in Israel have run out of patience.

Does that say that the average Israeli in the street, or at home, wants Israel to take of its gloves and launch an all-out war in Yehudah, Shomron and Gaza, and wherever Hamas is? No.

Between doing nothing and radical operations that require an invasion of the Gaza Strip, there is a middle road. Every action needs to be done with forethought. Israel has to differentiate between its behavior in Yehudah and Shomron, where the security forces have almost complete control, and an operation in Gaza. There is nothing preventing the government from executing mass deportations of senior Hamas officials to Lebanon or Gaza. The government can easily circumvent legal obstacles that serve it when it wants them to, and which don’t exist when it doesn’t. This is an act that will benefit Israel, strengthen Abu Mazen (Abbas) and will be understood by the rest of the world, more than other options.

A decision to increase construction in Yehudah and Shomron as a response to the murders is also logical, but we have a question: has anyone carried out all the previous promises of construction? So why decide on new construction? Furthermore, the privileges of Hamas prisoners in Israeli prisons can be restricted drastically.

An operation in Gaza will ultimately happen, at one point or another. But it’s not certain that now is already the time, certainly not if there is no unanimous decision ahead of time to carry out the operation from beginning to end, without stopping it in the middle, and with one clear objective: to clean out the Strip. In the absence of such a decision, it’s not worth starting.

The price of a decision to launch an operation in the Gaza Strip is liable to be high, and it must be taken after extensive deliberation. The question is whether now, when Hamas is at such a nadir with the Egyptians, the Europeans and the Americans, when they are battered and downtrodden, is the ideal time to “clean out the stables” so to speak of missiles and weapons that have accumulated there, and which Hamas is liable to launch at Israel any time they please.

There are two fronts involved, and each one needs to be handled differently.

The murder of the three youths requires, according to all opinions, a suitable response. The security establishment presented a plan, which some people said was “a balanced, reasonable proposal that prevents deterioration into war,” while other ministers called it “nothing” and “very minor.”

And then came tonight’s cabinet meeting, in the wake of the huge levayos and the clashes that broke out in different areas around the country between Jews and Arabs. The unrest is simmering and the decisions that were made were to act, more than what the army wanted to do but less than what the radical ministers demanded.

Despite a compromise, any developments, such as massive rocket fire from Gaza, casualties, or a terror attack can change the whole picture. They can decide as much as they want to act with restraint towards the Strip, but ultimately, the developments there do not take Israeli planning into account.