Commentary Magazine


Topic: Pillar of Defense

The Gaza Disengagement in Hindsight

Bret Stephens had a thought-provoking column Tuesday in the Wall Street Journal in which he recanted his previous support for the Gaza pullout. It made me wonder whether I too was wrong to support Sharon’s disengagement in 2005.

Like Bret, I went back to look at what I wrote at the time. In August 2005 I published an article in the Los Angeles Times entitled, “Hamastan? Gaza Pullout Worth the Risk.” As the title implies, I freely acknowledged that Gaza would likely become a breeding ground of terrorism, possibly even of international terrorism. But I nevertheless argued that “on balance” the pullout was worth the risk because it would allow Israel “to regain the initiative — moral and political,” and that “if the Palestinians fire rockets from Gaza, Israel will be free to mount a military response — more free, in fact, when the threat comes from a sovereign Palestinian state than when it emanates from Israeli-occupied territory.”

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Bret Stephens had a thought-provoking column Tuesday in the Wall Street Journal in which he recanted his previous support for the Gaza pullout. It made me wonder whether I too was wrong to support Sharon’s disengagement in 2005.

Like Bret, I went back to look at what I wrote at the time. In August 2005 I published an article in the Los Angeles Times entitled, “Hamastan? Gaza Pullout Worth the Risk.” As the title implies, I freely acknowledged that Gaza would likely become a breeding ground of terrorism, possibly even of international terrorism. But I nevertheless argued that “on balance” the pullout was worth the risk because it would allow Israel “to regain the initiative — moral and political,” and that “if the Palestinians fire rockets from Gaza, Israel will be free to mount a military response — more free, in fact, when the threat comes from a sovereign Palestinian state than when it emanates from Israeli-occupied territory.”

Obviously I overestimated the extent to which Israel would get credit for its risky pullout. I overestimated, too, the willingness of the international community to support the Jewish state’s attempts to defend itself from terror. Much of the world continues to view Gaza as quasi-occupied territory because of Israel’s attempts to stop the importation of heavy weapons, and it continues to criticize Israel for supposedly “disproportionate” responses to terror. Such, at least, were the cries heard during Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009; and they will likely grow louder the longer the current operation continues.

I still think Israel was right to withdraw settlers whose presence in Gaza contributed nothing to Israeli security and who cost a great deal to defend. But in hindsight it’s obvious Israel has paid a heavy price for withdrawing its security forces; if the IDF were present on the ground in Gaza, Hamas would not be able to fire as many rockets as it currently does.

Does this mean that Israel should reoccupy Gaza? Yes–if it wants to end the Hamas rocket threat for good. But I very much doubt Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will do so because such a move would not be supported by most Israelis. Israeli public opinion backed the partial reoccupation of the West Bank in 2002–Operation Defensive Shield–because hundreds of Israelis were being killed in suicide bomber attacks. Today’s rocket attacks, while just as terrifying, are thankfully taking a much lower casualty toll, thus sapping Israelis’ willingness to undertake an operation that would undoubtedly lead to the loss of some soldiers and that would expose their nation to even more international opprobrium. Harsh as it may sound, the situation in Gaza likely will have to get worse than it is today for any Israeli political leader to order security forces back for more than a temporary incursion.

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