Illustrative image of a kite with a Molotov cocktail prepared to be flown by Palestinians during clashes with Israeli security forces on the Gaza Israeli border east of Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip on April 20, 2018. Photo Credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.
By: Taylor Clausen, Columnist
This week, Israelis will go to the polls to decide whether Benjamin Netanyahu will become the longest serving Prime Minster in the country’s history. Despite facing a number of corruption charges through an indictment by the Attorney General, a large part of the election discourse has focused on the increasingly dangerous security situation.[i] [ii] Over this past week alone, Israel has struck targets in Syria and Gaza, while calling up reserves, tanks, armored personnel carriers, and conducting urban combat drills along Gaza’s border aimed at Hamas.[iii] This is in response to Iranian-provided Fajr-5 rockets fired deep into central Israel as well as Tel Aviv, breaking the latest ceasefire and resulting in over 100 targets being struck by the Israeli Air Force.[iv] Many are now asking the same question that former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman raised last November through his resignation – has the current Israeli coalition lost control of the security situation?[v]
While the question is direct, the answer is unfortunately a convoluted one. Israel’s response to the barrage of rockets from Hamas has succeeded in preventing further escalation but failed to re-establish deterrence into the future. The upcoming election has heightened tensions on both sides calling for further escalation and restraint. Israeli voters are left with unsavory choices about how to respond with implications toward Israel’s way of war and equity within Israeli society.
Preventing Hamas from launching rockets into Israel has, in recent history, been achievable given the broad patterns of behavior loosely defined as Israel’s way of war. Given Israel’s geography and the geopolitical reality that it is surrounded by a number of adversaries, conflict is seen as a given rather than an oddity. Thus, deterrence against a threat such as Hamas is typically sought through a series of short operations (mostly targeted airstrikes) that seeks to punish the assailant and to dissuade further aggression.[vi] Therefore, the presence of conflict can be seen as establishing or re-establishing deterrence rather than as a failure of security policy, a uniquely Israeli concept.
This approach has only been half successful. Israel has prevented rocket barrages from escalating for the moment but has not prevented similar situations from occurring in the future. One reason for this is that since the Hamas organized riots along the border fence began a year ago, the implementation of cheap destructive measures have been massively successful in causing Israelis harm and headache. Fire kites, essentially a windblown kite with a Molotov cocktail attached to it, are responsible for thousands of acres of farmland being torched.[vii] A recent statistical review by Israel indicated that over 2000 incidents of violence have occurred since the riots began, including 1,233 rockets, 94 explosive devices, and 600 Molotov cocktails.[viii] Israel’s deterrence operations may be successful in preventing hostilities from state and non-state military forces, but violence initiated by riots is much harder to deter let alone stop all together. Hamas’ success in this area have left Israeli citizens vulnerable and have further complicated Israel’s prospects for restoring security.
While the vast majority of Israeli’s live in areas outside of the immediate range of the Qassam rockets, fire kites, and Molotov cocktails, those living in Sderot and Ashkelon face the brunt of Hamas’ actions. The population is utterly trauma stricken, with 40% of children in Sderot alone suffering from PTSD, a rate 3 to 4 times higher than the general population.[ix] Furthermore, residents in the border communities late in 2018 burned tires blocking roadways in an attempt to stop aid trucks from reaching Gaza as a protest against the latest ceasefire.[x] Historically, Israel’s strategy for deterrence worked because the entire population of Israel was spared from violence. This is no longer the case. For whoever leads Israel after the April 9th elections, this inequality in burden sharing poses a direct challenge to the way Israel has historically ensured its security, and will continue to pose an issue until the threat from Hamas ceases to exist. Since the later will likely continue long into the future, the ruling coalition has not lost control of the security situation so much as the enemy’s tactical innovation has undermined conventional responses. No matter who the voters choose today, the winner will have to address this precarious situation, and how they do so will have lasting effects for both Israel’s way of war and equity within Israeli society.
[i] Michele Chabin, “As Israeli Election Nears, Security Fears Loom Large,” Times of Israel, March 26, 2019, https://jewishweek.timesofisrael.com/as-israeli-election-nears-security-fears-loom-large/.
[ii] Revital Hovel, “Netanyahu to Be Charged With Bribery Pending Hearing,” Haaretz, February 28, 2019, https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/netanyahu-to-be-charged-with-bribery-pending-hearing-1.6961872.
[iii] Associated Press, “The Latest: Israel Military Beefs up Presence on Gaza Border,” Washington Post, accessed March 29, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/the-latest-netanyahu-prepared-to-take-more-action-in-gaza/2019/03/28/2308702c-5160-11e9-bdb7-44f948cc0605_story.html.
[iv] Yaniv Kubovich et al., “Israel Strikes 100 Targets in Gaza in Response to Rockets Fired at Tel Aviv,” Haaretz, March 15, 2019, https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/rocket-alerts-blare-in-tel-aviv-1.7022326.
[v] Ruth Eglash and Loveday Morris, “Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman Resigns over Hamas Truce – The Washington Post,” November 14, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/israels-hawkish-defense-minister-resigns-from-the-government-over-hamas-truce/2018/11/14/64dc2972-e7fb-11e8-a939-9469f1166f9d_story.html?utm_term=.89f81767c57a.
[vi] Mark Vinson, “An Israeli Approach to Deterring Terrorism,” Prism 5, no. 3 (2015): 61–75.
[vii] Aron Heller, “Burning Kites from Gaza Damage Israeli Farms, Wildlife,” AP NEWS, June 20, 2018, https://apnews.com/5394c3441a9f4e8db8f852f22b3416a0.
[viii] Associated Press and Times of Israel Staff, “Israel Says over 2,000 Violent Incidents Originated in Gaza in Past Year | The Times of Israel,” Times of Israel, March 27, 2019, https://www.timesofisrael.com/israel-says-over-2000-violent-incidents-originated-in-gaza-in-past-year/.
[ix] Hayah Goldlist-Eichler, “40% of Israeli Children in Gaza Border Town of Sderot Suffer from Anxiety, PTSD,” The Jerusalem Post, July 8, 2015, https://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/40-percent-of-Israeli-children-in-Gaza-border-town-of-Sderot-suffer-from-anxiety-PTSD-408306.
[x] Tamara Zieve, “Residents of Southern Israel Burn Tires, Protest Gaza Ceasefire with Hama – Arab-Israeli Conflict – Jerusalem Post,” The Jerusalem Post, November 13, 2018, https://www.jpost.com/Arab-Israeli-Conflict/Residents-of-south-protest-against-ceasefire-571838.