November 14 marked the first anniversary of Operation Pillar of Defense, Israel’s eight-day assault on Gaza with the declared aim of ending rocket fire on Israeli towns.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu marked the occasion on November 12 with a visit to the desert headquarters of the Israel Defense Force’s Gaza Division and a speech to the troops. What he had to say will surprise you: The operation reduced rocket and mortar fire by 98%. “There is no doubt,” Netanyahu said, according to news reports, “that significant deterrence has been achieved.”
The provocation was substantial. A total of 1,035 rockets and mortar shells had been fired at Israel from Gaza by Hamas and other Islamist groups in the 10.5 months preceding the Israeli assault, January 1 through November 13, 2012.
Israel’s deterrent was in kind: eight days of heavy bombardment, hitting some 1,500 sites ranging from ammunition dumps and rocket launchers to government offices and apartment buildings. An estimated 175 Palestinians dead, of whom either 57 (by Israeli count) or 102 (by Palestinian count) were civilians. The cost to Israel: six dead, including four civilians killed by rocket fire.
The result: a full year afterward, from November 2012 to November 2013, in which Israel was targeted from Gaza by a grand total of 35 rockets.
For all practical purposes, Israel has eliminated the Gaza rocket problem. Hamas has not only stopped firing rockets — it’s aggressively sent its police after the jihadi radicals who want to keep up the barrage. Life in Israel’s southern towns and communities has largely returned to normal, at least for now.
How did Israel do it? On the surface, the solution looks simple. Punish them when they cross the line. Make the price of attacking Israel too high even to consider. Create deterrence, as Netanyahu describes it.
Indeed, that’s a big part of it. But it’s more complicated than that. Hamas had to be shown the benefits of compliance as well as the price of disturbance. Under the November 2012 Egyptian-brokered cease-fire that ended Pillar, Israel agreed to a significant easing of its economic blockade on Gaza. The number of trucks allowed to enter Gaza through the Kerem Shalom crossing was increased and the crossing’s hours of operation were extended.