Israel Faces a Problem: Capitulate to an Agreement or Launch Ground Op

This time we’ll begin with dry statistics: between midnight on Motzoei Shabbos and midnight on Sunday, terrorists sent 140 missiles from Gaza to Israel. More than 115 fell in open areas, while five fell in populated areas. Iron Dome intercepted nine missiles.

During those same hours, the IDF conducted air strikes on 50 terror targets throughout the Gaza Strip.

Since the ceasefire fell apart, the IDF has conducted strikes on 331 targets; some 35 terrorist have been liquidated. Most of the fire towards Israel has been in the form of mortars and not long- range missiles.

Hamas is now grabbing the Israeli bull by the horns. It knows that Iron Dome thwarts most of the long-range missiles, and therefore, it is ramping up the use of mortars. This is, first, because it has a lot of them, and second, because Israel has nothing to stop this kind of mortar fire. Third, using mortars basically pushes Israel into a corner. In order to stop Hamas from firing mortars, Israel will have no choice but to launch a ground operation. This “no choice” assumption was confirmed yesterday by a senior Air Force official, who said simply: aircraft cannot stop rocket fire. Only a ground operation will do it. If Israel does not want to use this option, it will have to settle for an agreement with Hamas, which means capitulation and meeting Hamas’ terms. It’s the choice between bad and worse.

Every day or two, the picture changes. What began as a good weekend, with a pinpoint operation that killed senior Hamas members, and which could have been even more successful had it continued along that path, has sputtered for some reason. The question is whether it is a lack of intelligence information, or because someone in the political echelons got cold feet and decided to reduce the use of this tool to a minimum, and to strike only at fourth-degree targets or lower.

And meanwhile, Hamas is driving thousands of Jews from their homes. Entire swaths of land are being abandoned, and instead of giving them a solution to the problem the IDF is still talking loudly about how it is ready…to provide assistance for those who are evacuating. This is a situation that blatantly erodes Israel’s power of deterrence and invites rocket fire from Lebanon and the Golan region. And let us not be surprised if one day in the near future, Hamas’ allies in Sinai start to fire rockets.

Those who vocally oppose a takeover of Gaza are right. But a ground operation does not necessarily mean capturing the Gaza Strip. The fact is that even when the IDF was only two or three kilometers deep into the Strip, it already was able to significantly mitigate the rocket fire into Israel, and reduced the mortar fire to nearly zero.

What does this say? That even a partial ground operation will at least resolve the worrisome problem of the mortars. The new school year is set to begin next week, but not a single council chairman or mayor will allow himself to open classrooms when mortar and rockets continue falling constantly.

The air strikes are accurate and effective. But they don’t provide an answer to the real problem that Israel faces, the continued mortar fire. This requires a more creative solution. On the ground. Perhaps with special forces. Perhaps limited numbers of forces have to take control over specific areas from where the mortar fire is coming. The IDF has highly emphasized reinforced rooms, protection and then the same reinforcement again. But these methods do not stop an enemy like Hamas. These terrorists need to be under a constant offense by Israel.

Another word about air strikes: let there be no mistake. The air force, with all its aircraft, does excellent work. But simply put, there are some things it wasn’t designed to do. For example, stopping mortar fire. Or short-range missiles.

The air force has been fighting nonstop since the beginning of this operation. The force continues to collect intelligence, conduct air strikes and attempts to strike at senior targets. Yesterday afternoon, the air force successfully targeted the Hamas terrorist in charge of transferring all funds, and slowly, it is closing the noose around more senior operatives. It’s safe to assume they will be liquidated if the fighting continues. The other side is primarily focusing on sending mortars, and very few rockets to medium and long-range targets. Together with the Gaza Brigade and the Southern Command, the air force is trying to maximize its capabilities in order to reduce the rocket and mortar fire and to implement a warning system that would provide civilians with a bit more time, as well as better protective systems.

But we have to understand where Hamas is firing its rockets and mortars from: hospitals, religious sites, schools and very densely populated neighborhoods, all areas that do not allow the air force to operate freely. In the past two days, the air force is working aggressively in any area where it can that will incur minimum civilian casualties.

The bank of targets is such that the air force can continue operating. The air force openly admits that it does not have the ability to stop rocket and mortar fire from the air; even from the ground it is impossible to bring it down to zero. Whenever there is such kind of trajectory fire, even when Israel will enter the Strip on the ground, there will always be rocket fire of some scope. The air force has made it clear that in this operation, missiles will be fired until the fighting ends.

The air force takes more risks today than it used to. It absorbs anti-aircraft missiles, of which some 10 have been fired since the beginning of the war. It has sent aircraft in at very low altitudes to be able to more accurately strike a target.

In conclusion, the air force has scored some significant points vis-à-vis targeted assassinations. It continues to target infrastructure installations, at a rate of dozens per day. Right now, it is focusing on the mission to target areas from where mortars are being fired, and locating senior operatives. Now Israel has to decide if it will augment the air forces’ abilities with ground forces to deal with the mortar threat. That decision will have to be made very quickly.