Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is too weak to regain control over Gaza, leaving Israel with the option of either recapturing part of the Strip or learning to live with a low-level war of attrition, a former Israeli national security adviser said on Sunday.
Speaking to journalists at the Jerusalem Press Club, Maj. General (res.) Yaakov Amidror, who served as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s top security adviser until November 2013, said that given the ongoing rocket and mortar fire from Gaza into Israel and the seeming deadlock in negotiations on a ceasefire in Cairo, the Israeli cabinet will need to decide “within days” whether to reoccupy parts of the Gaza Strip, including Gaza City, that were transferred to Palestinian control as part of the Oslo peace process 20 years ago.
“The reoccupation of Gaza is on the table now more than ever before,” Amidror said, adding that public opinion in Israel is also ripe for a protracted land operation to restore complete quiet in Israel, the high cost in life both in Gaza and Israel not withstanding.
“The price which the Israeli public is willing to pay is much higher than it was in previous operations in Lebanon and Gaza,” he said.
The former security official’s comments seemed to echo those of Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman — who on Sunday spoke again of the need to topple Hamas in Gaza — more than those of his former boss Netanyahu, who seemed reluctant to reengage in a land offensive in Gaza.
“The operation will continue until its goal is met: the restoration of quiet for a long period,” Netanyahu said at the start of the cabinet meeting Sunday, stopping short of advocating Hamas’s collapse.
If ceasefire negotiations failed, Amidror said, Israel could engage in a war of attrition with Hamas, continuing airstrikes against strategic areas and targeted killings of terror operatives. That, however, would not stop the steady firing of rockets and mortar shells into southern Israel.
Alternatively, Israel could retake large areas within Gaza where rocket launchers exist, and stop the fire through “boots on the ground.”
“You can’t do this from the air,” he said. “Everyone knows they’re launching [rockets] from the center of Gaza City, so we’ll have to go into the center of Gaza City.”
Asked whether Abbas’s Palestinian Authority could regain control over the Gaza Strip — control it had lost during a bloody coup staged by Hamas in June 2007 — Amidror was skeptical. PA forces could possibly return to the Rafah crossing, as Egypt demands, but not assert full powers over the entire Strip, he said.
“I don’t see Abu Mazen (Abbas) retaking control of Gaza. His system there is very weak,” he said. In fact, the Palestinian Authority continues to function in the West Bank only due to effective Israeli security control on the ground, where “90 percent of the arrests are carried out by Israel.”
“The PA is alive because we arrest Hamas [members] and prevent them from growing stronger [in the West Bank],” Amidror said. “This is something we can’t do in Gaza.”
Referring to the threat of tunnels, Amidror said that Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon spoke of the need to destroy offensive tunnels leading into Israel “from the first or second day of the operation,” but had no international or domestic legitimacy to launch a land incursion in Gaza before Hamas violated ceasefire initiatives multiple times.
“They waited until the last ceasefire was broken [by Hamas] to go in,” he said.
In order for Gaza to prosper, Israel should allow the export of locally produced commodities to the West Bank and overseas to the level it was immediately following the Israeli disengagement from Gaza in 2005, Amidror opined.
“It’s in the interest of Israel that the economic situation in Gaza becomes much better,” he said. “It’s in our interest that Gaza flourishes.”