Reports emerged on Wednesday of a Hamas rocket, fired into Israel that landed within 2 kilometres or so of Israel’s Ben Gurion International airport. This prompted a US Federal Aviation Association (FAA) ban on American based airlines flying to the airport just outside of Tel Aviv as well as the cancellation of flights by other international airlines. Air traffic to and from Israel was reduced almost exclusively to El-Al flights, which continued operating – leaving thousands of travellers stranded. While the FAA ban was lifted today, the closure has both immediate and longer-term implications.
Ben Gurion is Israel’s largest and most important airport – handling nearly all international travel to and from Israel. The targeting of a civilian airport is an alarming reminder – especially in the wake of the tragic shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 – of the danger posed by irresponsible military forces’ possession of deadly weapons.
Despite the targeting of civilian airports constituting a war crime, it is no surprise that Hamas has launched rockets at Ben Gurion. The militant group has stated openly that it was going to target the airport, as it views all Israeli institutions – military or civilian – as “legitimate targets”. Luckily almost all of these rockets launched toward the airport have been shot down by Israel’s Iron Dome defence system.
The presence of an entity on its border that has no qualms about firing upon civilians and civilian institutions is an alarming reality for Israel. The constant rocket attacks aimed at Israeli cities and population centres already weighed heavily on Israel’s strategic thinking. However, the success of Hamas in forcing flights to be diverted from an Israeli airport will have further-reaching consequences for Israel’s precarious strategic and defence situation – both in the short and long term.
In the short term, the cancellation of flights to Israel due to rocket fire represents a new kind of disruption to the Israeli routine and underscores the necessity of dismantling Hamas’ rocket launching capabilities. Hamas has claimed this development as a “great victory” and will hope that the flight cancellations are perpetuated.
In the long term strategic figuring for Israel, the targeting of Ben Gurion airport is of significant consequence. In a piece published by the Gatestone Institute and Ha’aretz, prominent Harvard Law professor and commentator Alan Dershowitz dissected these implications.
Dershowitz noted that not only does such a development have security ramifications but also economic ones. Israel relies heavily on tourism with the industry comprising about 6% of Israel’s GDP. Ben Gurion also serves as Israel’s portal to the world – allowing the country to be a hub of international business and foreign investment.
The prospect of sustained threats on Israel’s airport and civilian planes “cannot possibly be tolerated by a democratic country that relies so heavily on tourism and international travel . . . Every country in the world would do everything in its power to keep open its airports, the lifelines to its economic viability,” said Dershowitz.
He also examined the most significant implication of such a development – the barrier it represents in regards to the successful implementation of a two-state solution. The presence of an entity such as Hamas, dedicated to violence and destruction of Israel, stands as a near immovable barrier to establishing a two-state solution that assures Israeli civilians security and an end to the conflict.
“Even more importantly, Hamas’ actions in essentially closing down international air traffic into Israel, considerably reduces the prospect of any two-state solution. Israel will now be more reluctant than ever to give up military control over the West Bank, which is even closer to Ben-Gurion Airport than is Gaza . . .
It was precisely one of the goals of the Hamas rocket and tunnel assaults to scuttle any two-state agreement between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. The Hamas Charter categorically rejects the two-state solution, as does the military wing of Hamas. In this tragic respect, Hamas has already succeeded. By aiming its rockets in the direction of Ben-Gurion Airport, Hamas may well have scuttled any realistic prospects for a two-state solution. It cannot be allowed to succeed.”
It is clear that an entity such as Hamas, whose raison d’etre is Israel’s destruction, is antithetical to a negotiated two-state solution. If Israel is to once again evacuate land either unilaterally as it did in Gaza, or as a concession in a future peace deal, it must have assurances that Hamas or another similar entity will not arise on its borders and that Israel has a right to defend itself against attacks from such elements.
The reactions from much of the Western world to Operation Protective Edge and Israel’s previous operations against Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip have done little to convince Israelis that further territorial concessions would provide Israelis with international legitimacy or security. The prospects of both enhanced security and legitimacy were the central arguments of Israeli prime ministers who made territorial concessions in an attempt for peace.
The withdrawal from Gaza has brought Israel neither security nor legitimacy in the eyes of the West. Such a reality discourages Israel from making the painful compromises necessary for further withdrawal. Evelyn Gordon examined this reality in an article in Commentary Magazine entitled, “How the West Helps Hamas Thwart Future Israeli Pullouts”. She argues that lack of support for Israel’s right to use force against Hamas in Gaza is making it harder for Israel to contemplate withdrawal from the West Bank, writing:
“Several commentators have already noted that foreign airlines’ suspension of flights to Israel due to Hamas rocket fire may mean Israel will “never-ever hand land to Palestinians ever again,” as Shmuel Rosner put it on Twitter; Israel can’t afford to have its sole air bridge to the world be at the mercy of a terrorist organization’s whims. But blaming Hamas alone for such a development would be unfair, because the problem isn’t just that Israel evacuated every last inch of Gaza and got 13,000 rockets (and counting) fired at its territory in exchange. It’s that after evacuating Gaza and getting 13,000 rockets in exchange, Israel discovered it still had zero support from the West for any military steps sufficient to actually suppress this rocket fire.”
Additionally, the use of a tactic of targeting civilian airports and planes is not only a problem for Israel; it has repercussions for the world at large. The world’s response to such a development will send a message to other groups who employ similar tactics as Hamas. Expounding on this point, Dershowitz concludes by asserting:
“The international community, which has a significant stake in protecting international air traffic from terrorist rocket attacks, must support Israel’s efforts to stop these attacks-permanently. If Hamas is allowed to shut down Israel’s major airport, every terrorist group in the world will begin to target airports throughout the world. The shooting down of the Malaysian airliner over the Ukraine will be but one of many such tragedies, if Hamas is allowed to succeed. An attack on the safety on [sic] Israel’s airport is an attack on the safety of all international aviation. Israel is the canary in the mine. What Hamas has done to Israeli aviation is a warning to the world. In its efforts to prevent Hamas from firing rockets at Ben Gurion Airport, Israel is fighting for the entire civilized world against those who would shoot down civilian airliners. The world should support Israel in this noble fight.”