As the war in Gaza between Israel and Hamas appears to be winding down after more than three weeks of bloodshed, it is time to confront a painful and inconvenient truth.
Though hardly anyone has had the courage to admit as much publicly, the fact is that Operation Protective Edge should never have needed to have been fought.
All the destruction and loss of life, all the economic disruption and diplomatic fallout of recent events did not have to come to pass. Simply put, this conflict is a direct result of the grave and unnecessary strategic errors that Israel made nearly a decade ago, chief among them the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005.
Indeed, don't think for a minute that Operation Protective Edge began on July 17, when Israeli ground forces entered the Strip, or that it commenced on July 8, when Israel's air force launched its offensive in response to Hamas rocket fire. The groundwork for this bloody clash was laid precisely nine years ago this week, on the tenth day of the Hebrew month of Av, when Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon's government began dismantling Gaza's Jewish communities as part of the so-called disengagement plan.
Despite countless warnings at the time that the Gaza pullout would bring disaster, Sharon pressed ahead, demolishing more than 20 flourishing Jewish communities and withdrawing the IDF from the Strip. This foolhardy move paved the way for the Hamas takeover of Gaza in 2007, a turning point that has had calamitous consequences for Israel ever since.
Had Israel not uprooted thousands of Jews from their homes, had the government not pulled the army out of Gaza, Hamas would never have been able to seize control over the area, transforming it into a platform for unprecedented terrorist attacks. Thus, through its own reckless actions, the Sharon government helped to create the monster that is now using Gaza to fire rockets at Tel Aviv and to build dozens of underground tunnels.
Frankly, it is chilling to look back and peruse the statements made by various Israeli leaders at the time and to see just how short-sighted and wrong they were about the ramifications of a Gaza retreat. Then-prime minister Sharon, in a meeting with American Jewish leaders in Washington on April 13, 2005, insisted that Israel's withdrawal from Gaza would "reduce terror and give Israeli citizens the maximum level of security.
It will increase security for the residents of Israel and relieve the pressure on the IDF and security forces."
Tell that to the millions of Israelis who have been running to bomb shelters in recent weeks as air raid sirens wail eerily in the background.
On June 9, 2005, vice premier Ehud Olmert told an American audience in New York that leaving Gaza "will bring more security, greater safety, much more prosperity, and a lot of joy for all the people that live in the Middle East."
Not a single one of those forecasts has come close to being true.
Similarly, then-defense minister Shaul Mofaz opined that, "The level of terrorism will drop after the disengagement and after pragmatic Arab forces take control."
And in an address to the Knesset in October 2004, MK Meir Sheetrit derided claims that a Gaza withdrawal would pose "a threat to the communities in the Negev," stating, "I have never heard such a ridiculous claim."
And just who, in retrospect, looks ridiculous now? Prior to the Gaza retreat, there were plenty of warnings that it would endanger the South and place millions of people within range of jihadist rockets in Gaza, but no one wanted to listen.
Here is just one of many examples. On January 11, 2005, seven months before the pullout, Col. Uzi Buchbinder, head of civil defense in the IDF's Home Front Command, told the Knesset Interior Committee that the disengagement plan, if implemented, would expose 46 towns and cities in the Negev to Kassam rocket fire.
At the same hearing, Col. (res.) Mordechai Yogev presented a report cautioning that "the withdrawal of the IDF from the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria will bring numerous large population centers and communities within the range of Kassam rockets and mortar shells." And that, of course, is precisely what happened.
Since the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, Palestinian terrorists have fired over 14,000 rockets at the Jewish state, which averages out to more than four rockets a day, every day, for nearly a decade.
And since the Hamas takeover in 2007, Israel has had to launch three military campaigns to contain the violence: Operation Cast Lead in December 2008, Operation Pillar of Defense in October 2012, and now Operation Protective Edge.
But in effect, this has all been one long battle, the Gush Katif War, a conflict that was sparked by Israel's own self-inflicted wound of retreat and expulsion.
The lesson of all this is simple and clear: uprooting Jews from their homes and turning over territory to the Palestinians only serves to pour fuel on the fire burning in the hearts of our enemies.
As Interior Minister Gideon Sa'ar pointed out in a speech this past Sunday night at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem, "Wherever there is no Jewish settlement, the IDF will not be found.
And wherever the IDF will not be found, terrorism will enter the fray. It follows, then, that a blow to Jewish settlement is a blow to security.... Terrorism did not evaporate after the withdrawal – it grew stronger."
How and when the Gush Katif War will end is anybody's guess. But it is worth recalling that when over 100,000 people protested against the Gaza withdrawal outside the Knesset on January 29, 2005, vice prime minister Shimon Peres ridiculed the gathering, labeling it a "rally of shlemazels."
As the country has learned the hard way in the intervening decade, the real shlemazels are not those who warned about the dangers of retreat, but those who stubbornly ignored them.