Question asked of Jerusalem Post columnists: "As Kassam rockets continue to pound Sderot, Minister Haim Ramon has suggested responding to the salvos by cutting off vital infrastructure such as water, electricity and gasoline to Gaza for a specific time frame, while the 'price' of such measures will be 'determined by Hamas and its actions'. What is your opinion of this proposition?" For all replies, see "Burning Issues #34: Cut Gaza's power?"
Believing that if you don't win a war, you lose it, I have long encouraged the Israeli government to take more assertive measures in response to attacks.
In a Jerusalem Post piece six years ago, Preventing war: Israel's options I called for shutting off utilities to the Palestinian Authority as well as a host of other measures, such as permitting no transportation in the PA of people or goods beyond basic necessities, implementing the death penalty against murderers, and razing villages from which attacks are launched.
Then and now, such responses have two benefits: First, they send a strong deterrent signal "Hit us and we will hit you back much harder" thereby reducing the number of attacks in the short term. Second, they impress Palestinians with the Israeli will to survive, and so bring closer their eventual acceptance of the Jewish state.
As for the inevitable objection that tough measures will generate ill-will toward Israel, the reply is easy: back when the IDF did deploy deterrent tactics, the country enjoyed a much higher standing internationally. Since 1993, its weakness has earned it not just scorn but also heightened hostility.
For now, however, a deterrent policy remains remote, as Prime Minister Olmert is said to oppose the shutting off of utilities as "collective punishment." And so will the Palestinian assaults continue.
Sep. 20, 2007 update: Apparently, the report about Olmert opposing this option was wrong. From today's Independent:
Israel's security cabinet has declared the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by Hamas, to be "hostile territory" and formally endorsed a policy of cutting fuel and electricity supplies to the Strip in response to continued rocket attacks by Palestinian militants. … A statement issued by the Israeli Prime Minister's office after yesterday's meeting, said: "Hamas is a terrorist organisation that has taken control of the Gaza Strip and turned it into hostile territory. This organisation engages in hostile activity against the state of Israel and its citizens, and bears responsibility for this activity ... Additional sanctions will be placed on the Hamas regime in order to restrict the passage of various goods to the Gaza Strip and reduce the supply of fuel and electricity." The decision is another step in a process which began last month when the Israeli cabinet decided against a full-scale military invasion of Gaza but to examine ways of cutting utility supplies. The cabinet decided yesterday against cutting water supplies.
Jan. 6, 2008 update: Kanan Obeid, chairman of Gaza's energy authority says that the Israelis have begun to cut in half their fuel supplies to Gaza's only electric plant, some four months after the idea was first seriously bruited. Given that all of Gaza's fuel come from Israel and that Israeli military strikes have knocked out a number of electrical transformers, Gaza has only 35 percent of the power needed. The reduction in fuel is expected to create electrical blackouts for eight hours per day. Vital goods and services, however, will continue to be supplied. David Baker, an Israeli government spokesman, said they are "geared to exerting pressure on the terrorists to cease" launching rockets.