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Wednesday, January 2, 2013
Giora Eiland - Operation Pillar of Defense: Strategic Perspectives

In Operation Cast Lead, the real discussion about the operation’s goal began
only four days into the fighting.... In Operation Pillar of Defense, to the
credit of the political echelon, the main goal was clearly defined in
advance ...

Egyptians could build a barrier about four kilometers west of the Gaza Strip
with only a single transit point under tight security control.

Giora Eiland - Operation Pillar of Defense: Strategic Perspectives
In the Aftermath of Operation Pillar of Defense The Gaza Strip, November
Institute for National Security Studies
Memorandum 124

Given the short time that has passed since the conclusion of Operation
Pillar of Defense, it is appropriate to limit the focus of this analysis to
three issues: the definition of the operation’s goals, the use of military
force, and the crux of the understandings Israel reached with Hamas by the
end of the operation. The extent to which the goals were met and the extent
to which they are reflected politically in the understandings reached with
Hamas are the yardsticks for measuring the operation’s success.

The most important part of an operational plan is to define the operation’s
goal (or goals), the goal being the answer to the question, “What are we
trying to achieve?” or “Why are we embarking on this operation in the first
place?” The goal is meant to dictate the military mission (or missions), the
mission being the answer to the question, “What do we have to do in order to
achieve the goal (or goals)?” In turn, the mission is meant to dictate the
method, the method being the answer to the question, “How will we carry out
the mission (or missions)?”

An operation such as Pillar of Defense requires the political and senior
military echelons to define – in advance and in very specific terms – the
operation’s goals, as almost every use of force is derived from this
definition. Just as in Operation Cast Lead four years ago, there were three
possible definitions of the main goal of the operation.

The minimal goal was to attain deterrence, or in simpler language, to make
the enemy not want to shoot at us any more.

The second possible goal was to destroy the rocket-launching capabilities of
Hamas and the other organizations in the Gaza Strip. This is a more
ambitious goal because the desired outcome is not only to make the enemy not
want to shoot but also to render it incapable of shooting.

The third possible goal was more political: to topple the Hamas government,
thereby damaging not only current military capabilities but also future
capabilities and aspirations.

In Operation Cast Lead, the real discussion about the operation’s goal began
only four days into the fighting, resulting in a lack of clarity and the
operation’s extension beyond what was strictly necessary. Eventually, under
pressure from the defense minister, Israel’s decision makers decided on the
first of the possible goals. In Operation Pillar of Defense, to the credit
of the political echelon, the main goal was clearly defined in advance as
the minimal of the three goals, namely, achieving deterrence. It appears
that this was the best decision, but an assessment of the extent to which
this goal was reached will only be possible in several months.

Defining the operation’s goal modestly and minimally allowed the political
echelon a relatively large scope, both in terms of the mission assigned to
the military and in terms of the possibility of concluding the operation in
a short period of time. The use of ground forces for an extensive ground
operation was an option we were able to avoid as long as the goal of
achieving deterrence was met, but it would have been necessary had the goal
of the operation been defined more ambitiously.

The main problem with the operation was not in the decision to forego a
ground invasion but in the unexploited potential of the aerial attack. A
ground operation, despite all its advantages, entails three serious
drawbacks: it results in casualties among our troops; it creates friction
with the civilian population, resulting in many civilian casualties; and it
requires a relatively longer timeframe to achieve any outcome, thus
extending the duration of the operation.

For the type of operation chosen, the situational assessment was made under
the mistaken assumption that the only choice was between two types of
specific targets for attack: obvious military and, therefore, legitimate
targets such as rocket launchers, and any other target, which is civilian
and therefore out of bounds. In practice, there is a third type of target:
national infrastructures and strategic targets such as government buildings,
police stations, bridges, fuel depots, communications infrastructures, and
the like. These targets allow a state to continue fighting and are therefore
legitimate targets for attack.

Thus, the Israeli error was twofold. First, Israel defined the enemy as a
terrorist organization, which in fact it is not. Gaza is de facto a state in
every sense, and it is therefore proper to deal with it as such. One of the
several reasons it should be regarded as a state is the consequent option of
inflicting damage to its national infrastructures during a military
confrontation. Second, there was an unfounded sense that expanding the
operation beyond aerial attacks against tactical targets could be effected
only by a ground offensive. This is simply not true. It was possible – and
it would have been correct – to expand the operation by massively attacking
all targets of infrastructure and governance in Gaza. It is a pity that this
approach was not adopted. Despite all the errors and failures that
characterized the Second Lebanon War, it entailed one particularly effective
mission – the massive attack on Hizbollah’s high command in Beirut, which
created the so-called Dahiya doctrine. The deterrence vis-à-vis Hizbollah
that has prevailed since then is largely attributable to the destruction of
the Dahiya suburb in southern Beirut.

The third issue concerns the ceasefire agreement and the understandings
achieved with Hamas and Egypt. Some say that Israel paid a steep price for
this agreement because it granted Hamas a great deal of international
legitimacy. But one could also argue that Israel paid no price whatsoever
and that, on the contrary, this outcome is in Israel’s interest, as the
world will now relate to Gaza as a state entity. Moreover, it is in Israel’s
interest that foreign parties visit Gaza and infuse it with capital and
generate an economic boom. Israel’s opposition a few weeks ago to the Emir
of Qatar’s visit to Gaza and his desire to invest some $400 million there
was something of a childish mistake. The more the Hamas government is
required to meet the standard of state-like responsibility and the more the
economic situation improves and construction of civilian infrastructures
increases, the more the government in Gaza will be restrained in attacking
Israel. All of the above assumes (in line with the conventional assumption
of the current Israeli government) that Israel’s interest vis-à-vis Gaza is
only one of security and that it translates into two goals: ensuring peace
and quiet over time and reducing as much as possible Hamas’s ability to
acquire rockets, especially long-range rockets.

The first of these goals will have been achieved if the deterrence proves to
be effective (it has already been said that the price Gaza paid was too low)
and if the government in Gaza will have something to lose should armed
conflict resume. The fact that Israel is not enamored of the Hamas
government or would prefer that a different entity controlled Gaza must not
be translated into political goals. Goals have to represent interests. A
real interest is not some ideal aspiration but rather something important
enough to be worth paying a price. According to this approach, the only
interests vis-à-vis Gaza for which it is worth paying a price are security

The second goal is more dependent on relations with Egypt and our ability
via the United States to influence Egypt to take steps it has so far
avoided. It must be clear to all that it is impossible to prevent the
smuggling from Egypt into the Gaza Strip if efforts at prevention begin and
end with the Philadelphi axis (the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt).
This is a very narrow expanse, with members of the same families living on
both sides of the borders, some in the Egyptian part of Rafiah and some in
the Palestinian part of Rafiah. It is impossible to prevent the existence of
smuggling tunnels connecting the two sides of the axis. Even when the IDF
was in control of the area (until 2005), it was only partly successful.

But there are two actions Egypt can take, the question of course being how
much it will want to do so. One is to take more effective action deep in the
Sinai Peninsula and even within Egypt itself. The second is tactically
simpler but politically more sensitive: the Egyptians could build a barrier
about four kilometers west of the Gaza Strip with only a single transit
point under tight security control. Any equipment headed for the security
zone would undergo strict inspection. As this area is a desert, an open and
unpopulated expanse, ensuring the effectiveness of the barrier would be
easy. Politically, the Philadelphi axis would remain the border between Gaza
and Egypt, but in terms of security a fairly simple but conceivably very
effective action would be taken (as no one would dig a four kilometer-long
tunnel). It is more a question of will than ability. Given that this is a
real Israeli interest, it would be appropriate to concede on other issues to
both Hamas and Egypt (including easing the naval blockade) in exchange for
more effective action on the arms smuggling front.

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