Politics & Policy

Break It Off?

Was disengagement from Gaza a mistake?

The disengagement was a strategic mistake of the first order. It brought about the Hamas victory. It emboldened terror groups. It has fueled the Palestinian struggle for years. It created a feeling among Iranians, the Muslim Brotherhood, and al-Qaeda that Israel can be beaten, that Israel is a society of spider webs as [Hezbollah leader Hassan] Nasrallah said or a rotten tree as [Iranian president Mahmoud] Ahmadinejab said. And therefore the disengagement not only harmed us badly, but also harmed America’s strategic war on terror in the region. It created a feeling among Muslim extremists that as [they] defeated the Soviets in Afghanistan, as [they] defeated us in Gaza and will defeat us in Tel Aviv. As such, they destabilized a superpower, the will destabilize the West by defeating Israel.

There is novelty in General Yaalon’s bluntness, but the reasoning he describes is not new. Serious scholars have long argued that terrorism is best understood in terms of its strategic function. The motivations of individual terrorists — especially those of the suicide variety — may be inscrutable, but the strategic goals of their handlers is quite comprehensible. Most terrorists don’t act alone. Whatever his background and circumstances, he was likely recruited, indoctrinated, and deployed by some organization with a political agenda. In the current crisis in Gaza, both with respect to the kidnapping of Cpl. Shalit and the Qassam attacks, that organization has a name: Hamas. Even if one accepts the widely propagated view that terrorists are driven by an irrational despair to lash out, it does not follow that this holds true for those (the Hamas leadership) who direct them. The masterminds of terror have strategic aims; they are subject to deterrence if the cost of their operations redounds on them in the form of unsustainable damage. Most importantly, those who “run” the bombers have names — including Ismail Haniya and Khaled Mashal — and return addresses.

If disengagement is the bittersweet price that a democratic and Jewish Israel must pay to retain those characteristics, then disengagement must be preserved. But for this to be possible, disengagement cannot be a one-way street. There must be clear incentives for positive behavior and consequences for irresponsibility. The consequences of terror must be so terrible as to frighten the terror masters. If Hamas doesn’t get this, Gaza must be firmly reoccupied. Otherwise, we are all sold short.

– Michael I. Krauss is professor of law at George Mason University School of Law. J. Peter Pham is director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University. Both are adjunct fellows of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy.

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