Among the more noteworthy aspects of the missile barrage against Israel on our Independence Day is that Hamas not only took credit for it, but probably exaggerated the size of the attack. Hamas officials have reportedly claimed responsibility for firing some or all of 28 Kassam rockets and 61 mortar shells, while the IDF estimates that 10 Kassam rockets and 20 mortars fell on Israeli territory.
The IDF believes that Hamas was following Hizbullah's playbook, which means that the missile attacks were a diversion from an attempted kidnapping operation, which was detected and foiled by IDF action. In addition, Hamas spokesmen have said that the cease fire that was declared in December 2006 is now over, though Palestinian groups have fired some 200 rockets against Israel while it was ostensibly in effect.
On Wednesday, the cabinet decided against launching a major ground operation in Gaza. This is a wise decision for the moment, despite the fact that Hamas continues to steadily prepare for war by smuggling weaponry and building a large Hizbullah-style bunker system. It is wise because there are four steps that should be taken before launching such an operation.
The first step is to end the policy of military restraint that has been in place since the supposed cease fire began. This means greatly increasing the military pressure on Hamas by attacking known terrorists, their infrastructure and their operational leadership. As expected, Hamas has taken advantage of a period of much reduced IDF pressure to build up its terrorist capabilities. It makes no sense to continue giving Hamas such breathing room, now that its attacks have officially resumed. There should be no unilateral Israeli cease fire.
Second, Israel should consider non-violent sanctions against the Palestinian Authority. When an Israel Electric Company worker was shot by a Gazan sniper while fixing power lines on the Israeli side of the border, IEC workers shut down power to Gaza. This unofficial sanction was quickly lifted. But why do attacks on the citizens of Sderot and other towns deserve a lesser response than an attack on an IEC worker? If Israelis must run for their lives to bomb shelters, why should Palestinians enjoy an uninterrupted supply of Israeli electricity?
Third, the pro forma protest that Israel has issued to the UN is not enough. Israel should be forcefully demanding, and using all its diplomatic resources to obtain an emergency session of the UN Security Council to condemn the unprovoked aggression by the Palestinian Authority against Israeli territory and citizens. The UN is already on record demanding the unconditional release of an Israeli soldier in Hamas's hands. How can the UN be silent when Hamas not only refuses to release Gilad Schalit, but is attacking Israel and attempting to capture more soldiers? Where is it written that the UN must only leap into action when Israel is forced to respond, not when Israel is attacked? If Israel does not bother to seriously seek UN action when it should, we undermine our correct contention that we are subject to a double standard. Why, after all, should the UN act in defense of a country that barely objects to being attacked?
Fourth, Israel must launch a campaign to compel Egypt to carry out its most basic responsibility as a sovereign nation that claims to seek peace: stopping the flow of weapons across its own border to Hamas. The UN has just belatedly voted to investigate Syrian support for Hizbullah, which is a violation of Security Council Resolution 1701. Everyone knows that Syria is a rogue regime that supports terrorism with impunity against Israel and in Lebanon and Iraq. Egypt, by contrast, is supposed to be at peace with Israel and aspires to the image of a constructive regional player. Yet Egyptian negligence and Syrian malfeasance lead to the same result: terrorist groups arming to the hilt in preparation for precipitating the next war.
If there is another war soon, the first question the subsequent commission of inquiry will ask is: Why did the government not put more pressure on Egypt to prevent Hamas from arming? It is late, but not too late, to ask this question now, and more importantly, to answer it with appropriate action.