Three years may have passed since the end of Operation Cast Lead, when Israeli forces entered Gaza to conduct a limited counterterror campaign, but that hasn't stopped Palestinian terrorists from transforming southern Israel into a shooting gallery.
Though you would never know it from much of the mainstream press, the thugs of Hamas and Islamic Jihad have been turning up the heat, firing an increasing number of rockets and projectiles at Israeli cities, towns and villages.
This mounting threat can no longer be ignored, and it is time for Israel to launch a wide-scale military offensive in Gaza to remove the danger once and for all.
Consider the following:
In December 2011, Gaza-based Palestinian terrorists unleashed more than 40 rockets and shells into southern Israel, hitting Netivot and areas around Ashkelon and Beersheba. That averages out to more than one explosive projectile fired every day. And since the start of the year, dozens more have been launched against the Jewish state.
Indeed, just this past weekend, there was a spurt of attacks. On Friday, a Palestinian rocket struck south of Ashkelon. On Saturday morning, three Grad rockets launched from Gaza hit near Beersheba, and two Kassams were fired into Israel on Sunday night. This was followed by another incident Tuesday evening, when Palestinian terrorists fired a mortar shell which landed in the Eshkol Regional Council.
This is simply intolerable and cannot be allowed to continue. Hamas and its comrades are waging an ongoing rocket war against Israel, one which threatens the safety and livelihood of hundreds of thousands of innocent Israelis. Fortunately, the terrorists' aim is as misguided as their ideology, and no one has been hurt in the recent attacks. But it is only a matter of time before one of their missiles hits a school, a bus or an apartment building. This cannot be allowed to happen. Instead of waiting for tragedy to strike, Israel should take the initiative and forestall such an eventuality by taking the battle to the enemy.
After all, as various senior IDF officers have been warning, it is not a question of if, but when Israel will have to go back in to Gaza, where Hamas has been arming itself to the teeth. Speaking at the Herzliya Conference earlier this month, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz labeled Gaza one of "the largest ammunition and weapon 'storage facilities' I know of." Various reports have indicated that the terror group now has well over 5,000 rockets in its arsenal, including some with a potential range of 75 kilometers that are based on technology supplied by Iran. This means that Hamas could potentially hit Tel Aviv.
The Hamas arsenal is not merely a tactical nuisance. It poses a strategic threat which must be eliminated. A December 2011 study by Uzi Rubin of Bar-Ilan University's Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies concluded that the rocket threat from Gaza has become "a significant threat to Israeli population centers, national infrastructure and central military installations."
"The threat," it noted, "initially affecting about 50,000 Israeli citizens in the Gaza envelope communities, has increased more than 20-fold and now threatens more than one million civilians in southern and central Israel. It is no longer mere harassment, but a strategic threat capable of inflicting severe civilian casualties and paralyzing Israel's economy."
Clearly, Hamas is not an organization one can reason with. Its avowed ideological aim is the destruction of Israel, and no amount of pressure, diplomacy or negotiation will persuade it to begin acting in a civilized manner. Whether we like it or not, military force is the only way to disarm and deter them. But unlike previous attempts, this time Israel must ensure that it gets the job done by toppling the Hamas regime, destroying the terrorist infrastructure and reasserting complete military control over the area.
A government's primary responsibility is to ensure the safety and security of its citizens. This takes precedence over all else. On January 17, 2009, when then-prime minister Ehud Olmert declared a cease-fire and called off Operation Cast Lead, he confidently asserted that Israel's objectives had been "fully achieved" and that Hamas had suffered "a heavy blow which will harm its ability to rule and its military capabilities for some time." That proved to be wishful thinking and as a result, the residents of Israel's south have been forced to pay a heavy price in the intervening years. They should not be allowed to live under the shadow of Hamas rockets any longer. Short-term measures simply will no longer do.
Will there be an international outcry if Israel enters Gaza? Of course. Whenever Israel takes action to defend itself, no matter how justified it might be, the halls of the United Nations resound with condemnation and criticism. But it is better to be accused unfairly than fired upon indiscriminately. So let's put a permanent end to Hamas' reign of terror, and restore to southern Israel the basic security it deserves.