Swords of Iron

Stuck between a rock and a hard place, what is Israel to do?

To strike or to go in? The IDF has a difficult decision to make

Almost three days after the Hamas invasion and massacre, the country is still faced with only bad options. On the one hand, there is little question that it will need to launch a large-scale ground offensive into the Gaza Strip – not to exact revenge as some in the media like to claim, but to do something far more basic: protect Israel.

With the border still breached, Hamas continues to retain the ability to send forces into Israel. The IDF needs to take the fight into the Gaza Strip and set up a new line of contact inside Palestinian territory that will keep Hamas at bay and deny it an entryway into Israel.

At the same time, though, any ground offensive inside one of the most densely populated areas in the world will, unfortunately, come at a price.

Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad have had years to prepare for Israeli troops, digging tunnels, assembling powerful improvised explosive devices, and booby-trapping homes and hothouses. Israel will have to enter Gaza carefully, and there can be confidence that they will know what to do: The commanders who are now leading the divisions and Southern Command were the ones who led battalions back in 2014, the last time the IDF put boots on the ground inside Gaza. That war ended with 67 soldiers killed, hundreds more wounded, and two soldiers’ bodies held by Hamas until today.

The other alternative is not to go inside and to continue to try and surgically strike at Hamas infrastructure from the air, as it has done in previous operations, and suffice with that. The advantage here is that it would prevent further casualties among the soldiers.

But when looking at the options, the second one is not really viable. Israel must go into Gaza for two primary reasons.

The first is that it needs to defend Israel and push the line of contact into enemy territory. Israel’s entire national defense doctrine has always been based on the understanding that due to the lack of strategic depth, the IDF needs to fight its wars inside enemy territory and not inside Israel. What happened on Saturday was proof of why that doctrine is still valid.

The whole world is watching
The second reason is because the entire region – and the whole world – is watching. It is true that a ground offensive that sees more casualties and destruction of infrastructure could push Hassan Nasrallah and Hezbollah to enter the fray, but the alternative – not going in – would be interpreted as a sign of weakness, and Israel cannot afford to appear weak any longer. If it is weak, Hezbollah and Iran will think they, too, can take on Israel. That is not an option.

Ultimately, that is the lesson from what has happened in Israel since Saturday: Policies of containment, appeasement, and belief in myths, such as that economic incentives will prevent a conflict, are no longer valid. They have all been shattered.

Israel has one option right now, and that is to lead by strength.

Published by Jerusalem Post

Yaakov Katz is a senior fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute and a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.