In August 2005, the Israeli occupation forces withdrew from the Gaza Strip in a unilateral disengagement plan announced by the then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Although there is much to be said about the reasons for the evacuation of settlers and soldiers alike — the efforts of the Palestinian resistance, for which Israel paid a high price, or purely for self-interest in ridding itself of the burden of occupation — there remain many harsh consequences for the Israelis, not least because Gaza is still a major headache.
Many generals in the Israeli army admit that withdrawing from Gaza represented a real retreat in the face of the resistance, demonstrating that the military deterrent was weakened. The Palestinians had dared to challenge the state which had maintained its deterrent superiority over regular armies in the region for over half a century.
The evidence for this is that thirteen years since the disengagement from Gaza, Israel has not enjoyed peace. On the contrary, its soldiers have been held hostage — Gilad Shalit, for example, and now Shaul Aron and Hadar Golden — and its citizens in the settler town of Sderot are “terrorised” by rockets fired from Gaza in response to artillery fire hitting the Palestinians in Beit Hanoun. A vicious pattern of Israeli violence has been met with violence.
There is a growing sense among Israelis that the problems of Gaza have been replaced by the problems of Gaza’s borders; they don’t enjoy any real peace or security either. Hence, the accurate assessment of the disengagement can only be one of Israel fleeing and succumbing to the will of the Palestinian resistance.
Israelis who share this opinion confirm that the idea of evacuating settlers and soldiers from Gaza failed because it did not stem from any deep strategic analysis; it came out of a political and personal crisis for Sharon in light of the growing security problems that he faced. Those who led on the withdrawal had no strategic, security, political or historical background. They were simply slick consultants and all they did was to put Israel inside a fictitious security bubble that is far from the reality on the ground; they achieved this with media trickery which is now becoming clear.
Israeli opponents of the withdrawal from Gaza are counting their country’s mistakes, which include the loss of all of the property that Israel accumulated during the war years; the election victory of Hamas; and fuel for the Palestinian struggle for many years. The withdrawal also led to a belief amongst Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims that Israel can be defeated because it is like a castle built of sand.
Furthermore, not only has Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza damaged its own reputation and carried a heavy price for the people of Israel, but it has also had a negative effect on America’s “anti-terrorism” agenda in the region. The feeling among many Islamists is that they defeated the Soviets in Afghanistan; they defeated the Israelis in Gaza; and they will defeat Israel in the occupied West Bank and Tel Aviv too.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.