Israel’s Lessons From the Gaza Wars

Finally, everyone can breathe a sigh of relief. An open-ended truce has been reached between Hamas and the other groups fighting alongside it against Israel.The recent war, which lasted over 50 days, has ended for now. It was a brutal one, killing over 2,000 Palestinians and maiming 12,000 others while destroying over 11,000 dwellings.It hasn’t been easy on the Israeli side either. Seventy-one Israelis were killed, and everyday life was brought to a standstill in most of the areas hit by rockets launched from Gaza. Israel’s economy and its tourism sector were harmed, air traffic at its main airport was briefly halted, and it was criticized by the international community for its targeting of Palestinian civilians.This was the third war against Gaza since 2008. And it won’t be the last, unless the proper lessons are learned.The first is that Israel’s deterrence capabilities are limited. Israel has always sought to maintain its military-technological strength, and relies on the superiority of its military vis-à-vis the Palestinians and the Arab world as a whole. Because of its victories in previous conflicts, Israel has developed a sense of invincibility, particularly since it has one of the best-trained armies in the world.The latest war in Gaza has put an end to the myth of Israeli invincibility. A technologically-superior military force was not able to achieve victory over a resistance movement whose fighters number in the few thousands, and whose equipment barely registers when compared to Israel’s advanced arsenal.Israel claims that, despite the truly enormous scale of its destruction in Gaza, it was selective in its bombing due to the area’s population density. But that’s the point: Israel’s future wars with Palestinians are going to be in very densely populated areas. Since Palestinians have discovered that Israel is not able to bear the costs of a ground campaign in a densely populated area, they have now learned the limits of Israeli capabilities, and will exploit them in the future.Israel was unable to achieve the goals that it announced before the war. It was unable to disarm the various resistance movements and turn Gaza into a demilitarized zone, nor was it able to put an end to the tunnel system, or impose calm and guarantee the security of its own citizens. All that its vaunted military machine was able to achieve was “calm for calm.” Meanwhile, the Palestinians were able to achieve a balance of deterrence despite the chasm that separates their military strength from Israel’s.The second lesson is that Israel’s ongoing siege of Gaza can’t continue. It is neither possible nor acceptable that 1.8 million Palestinians continue to live in the world’s biggest open-air prison, and that they be required to surrender and acquiesce to the conditions of their detention. It is unacceptable that Palestinians living there are banned from travelling out of Gaza. How much longer will Israel continue to rule the lives of Palestinians and demand their compliance, branding all those who resist the state of siege and occupation terrorists?Continue reading the main storyContinue reading the main storyContinue reading the main storyGaza’s infrastructure has been destroyed. Its reconstruction will require not only a massive infusion of donor money, but also the free flow of construction and building materials. No real or effective reconstruction of Gaza could possibly happen if Israel keeps issuing lists of banned materials. Israel must see that lifting the siege on Gaza and allowing its reconstruction is not only a humanitarian imperative, but also a politically expedient action. Allowing the Palestinians in Gaza the hope of a decent life and a promising economy that will lift them out of poverty is Israel’s best way to achieve safety and security.The third lesson is that Israel’s relentless campaign to weaken the Palestinian Authority, its president and moderate Palestinians seeking a political settlement has always been misguided and will only breed disaster.This policy has blocked all the opportunities that Palestinians have had to end the occupation through negotiations and political settlements. When members of the Israeli cabinet claim that the Palestinian Authority’s president, Mahmoud Abbas, who is criticized for his dovishness in Palestinian circles, is not a possible partner for peace, they are essentially demanding a puppet, who completely submits to all Israeli demands.Power and the continued threat of force will not bring Israel security or peace. Nor will grabbing more West Bank land, as the Israeli government did last week. The road to peace is both clearly delineated and short: It is the public acceptance of the legitimate right of the Palestinians to end the occupation and establish a state.If Israel is unwilling or incapable of understanding that this is the only way to end the conflict, then the international community must take it upon itself to intervene and enforce the two-state solution. It can no longer be claimed that direct negotiations between two unequal partners, Israel the occupier and the Palestinians who live under its occupation, are the only way to achieve this. It hasn’t worked for over 20 years.The United States, as Israel’s main sponsor and protector, must redirect the course of the conflict from a state of constant war to a state of peace. But if it remains completely biased toward Israel, then the Palestinians must seek other international alternatives as Mr. Abbas has stated he plans to do.If the course is not set toward a solution, then we must all prepare for the inevitable next war.This article was originally published onnbsp;The New York Times.