David and Max, allow me to jump into this discussion and share a couple of thoughts on the Gaza disengagement: Israel’s great mistake, in my view, was not in disengaging from Gaza–a territory of comparatively little historic significance to the Jewish people–but in neglecting to implement what should have been viewed as the second phase of the disengagement, namely the establishment of a new security paradigm regarding attacks emanating from Gaza. It is certainly true that Hamas, not to mention all of the other terror and Islamist groups in the region who were paying attention, took from Israel’s withdrawal a reinforcement of the conviction that western nations are weak, that they quickly tire of war, that their technological supremacy is worthless without the will among their people and leaders to fight until death or victory. This conviction remains a premise of Islamic movements from al-Qaeda to the Iranian Revolution.
Israel could have disengaged from Gaza in such a manner that would have gone a long way toward disabusing Hamas and its supporters from Gaza to Tehran of the idea that Israel was leaving under duress, or that its departure from Gaza indicated a flagging level of resolve. And the way to do that would have been to to lay out, in clear public statements, that Israel would treat any act of terrorism arising out of Gaza as an act of war by Hamas, the price for which would be paid first by the Hamas political and terror leadership (which itself is largely a distinction without a difference). There was an opportunity at hand, in other words, to stop treating Hamas like a terror group and to start treating it like a government — a turning of the asymmetrical warfare tables.
But Israel did not set any such boundaries: During and after the disengagement, rocket fire from Gaza continued, and even worsened, and still Israel did nothing. Gilad Shalit was abducted, and Israel barely responded. The message was thus conveyed to Israel’s enemies that, indeed, the Jews were tired of fighting and were hoping that if they ignored Gaza, Gaza would ignore them.
It is astonishing to think about the fact that it has taken Israel over two years to finally mount any kind of sustained military counterattack against Hamas and Islamic Jihad–and even today, only a few weeks into that campaign, high-level members of the Hamas political leadership have not been targeted. The problem with the Gaza disengagement, in my view, is not so much that it happened, but that Israel refused to leverage its departure by establishing new boundaries for the new Gaza. Fortunately, it is not entirely too late to set those boundaries. Israel could start by including members of the Hamas political leadership on its targeted killings list, and go about eliminating them until the rocket fire ceases.