From Deterrence Against Hamas by Dore Gold:
When Israel completed its disengagement from Gaza, many assumed that after the withdrawal, Israel would have far greater legitimacy to conduct deterrence operations there if Israeli territory would be attacked in the future. As a result, Israel would be able to create the same sort of deterrence that it had projected along Israel’s northern border against Hizballah. But Israeli deterrence against the Palestinians failed, and now there is a serious deterioration in the south. What happened?
Israel’s north has been relatively stable. Syria has come to understand that if Hizballah launches rockets against Israel, then the Israeli Air Force will attack Syria. As a result, Syria must restrain Hizballah and some kind of deterrence – even if fragile – exists.
Who is the Syria of the south? The fact is that there is no state that plays that role. Israel has a peace treaty with Egypt and Cairo has a far more complex relationship with Hamas than Damascus has with Hizballah.
What about deterring Hamas directly? Many politicians declared in 2005 that if after Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, Hamas even dares to fire a Kassam rocket, Israel will retaliate with enormous firepower.
The reality is that Israel is not about to erase whole civilian towns. Massive retaliation of that sort will have Israel sitting on the bench of the accused in the UN Security Council and begging President Bush for a U.S. veto, which he may not have the political capital to provide. More importantly, such action also violates the moral standards of the IDF and Israel as a whole since 1948.
There is a simple lesson from the Gaza experience: the formula of full withdrawal backed up by the threat of punishing deterrence operations simply doesn’t work. In the next stages, Israel must re-establish its doctrine of defensible borders, in accordance with its international legal rights under UN Security Council Resolution 242.
The writer is president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and served as Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations.