In early 2006, shortly before the outbreak of the Second Lebanon War, an Israeli intelligence officer predicted the future. “Missile war will replace terrorist war,” he told me when I spoke with him at the Ministry of Defense.
He was right. Just a few months later, Hezbollah launched thousands of Katyusha rockets into Northern Israel and forced hundreds of thousands of civilians to flee south toward Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. South Lebanon was punished much more thoroughly than Northern Israel, but the Palestinians in Gaza nevertheless took Hezbollah’s Baghdad Bob–style boasts of “divine victory” seriously. Hamas ramped up its own rocket war until fed-up Israelis gave Gaza the South Lebanon treatment this past December and January.
Hamas is a bit slower to learn than was Hezbollah, but seven long months after the conclusion of Operation Cast Lead, the rockets out of Gaza have finally stopped. Israelis will no longer put up with indiscriminate attacks on their houses and schools. Many Palestinians in Gaza have likewise had their fill of Hamas’s self-destructive campaign of “resistance.”
The New York Times reports that Hamas has decided to wage a “culture war” instead of a rocket war because, as one leader put it, “the fighters needed a break and the people needed a break.”
Movies, plays, art exhibitions, and poems are Hamas’s new weapons. Hamas supporters, though, aren’t the only Palestinians in Gaza using art as a weapon. Said al-Bettar skewers Hamas every night at Gaza City’s Shawa cultural center in his popular play The Women of Gaza and the Patience of Job. “We were the victims of a big lie,” he says about the doctrine of armed “resistance.”
The Israeli intelligence official I spoke to deserves some credit for predicting the replacement of terrorist war with missile war. Hamas and Islamic Jihad had already fired rockets at Israel, but they hadn’t fired many, and neither the recent Gaza war nor the Second Lebanon War had yet started.
Since then a pattern has emerged that should be obvious to anybody with eyes to see, whether they’re an intelligence official or not. After Israeli soldiers withdraw from occupied territory, Israeli civilians are shot at with rockets from inside that territory. Another pattern has just been made clear. After Israelis shoot back, the rockets stop flying.
It has been years since Hezbollah has dared to fire rockets at Israel or start anything else on the border. Hamas no longer dares to fire rockets at Israel either.
Israelis remain under pressure to withdraw from the West Bank. They almost certainly will withdraw from most of the West Bank eventually. Few, though, are in the mood to do so right now since they were shot at from Gaza and Lebanon after they withdrew from those places. They see the pattern even if others don’t.
It’s possible, of course, that West Bank Palestinians will never fire a significant number of rockets, if any, at Israel. They seem more sensible in general than Gazans. Hamas leaders in Gaza also talk to Hamas leaders in Ramallah, Nablus, and Hebron. I think it’s safe to say that the West Bank isn’t hearing any “divine victory” nonsense from Gaza right now.
Then again, Gazans proved themselves incapable of learning from Hezbollah’s mistakes. And the New York Times says Hamas wants to acquire longer-range missiles. So who knows?
This much, though, is all but certain: if a rocket war erupts between Israel and the West Bank, Israelis will respond as they did in Gaza and Lebanon. The jury is still out on whether the Arab world has learned the recent relevant lessons, but there shouldn’t be any doubt that Israelis have. Rocket war doesn’t work, but the military solution to rocket war does.