With strikes targeting rockets and tunnels, the Israeli tactic of ‘mowing the grass’ returns to Gaza

Flames and smoke rise during Israeli airstrikes on May 11 in the southern Gaza Strip. (Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters)

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the date that Hamas won Palestinian elections and later seized control in Gaza. It has been corrected to show that these events took place in 2006 and 2007, respectively.

For more than a decade, when analysts described the strategy utilized by Israel against Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip, they’ve used a metaphor: With their displays of overwhelming military strength, Israeli forces were “mowing the grass.”

The phrase implies the Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip and their supply of crude but effective homemade weapons are like weeds that need to be cut back.

Such tactics have faced significant criticism from international human rights groups, often due to the disproportionate number of deaths caused by Israeli forces, compared to those caused by Palestinian militants during conflict.

As Israel this week launched devastating airstrikes aimed at Gaza militants and massed forces near the enclave’s borders in response to rockets fired from Gaza — citing a familiar mention of new rocket technology, Hamas tunnels and civilian deaths despite warnings — the long-term benefits of the “mow the grass” strategy have come under question.

Zehava Galon, a former lawmaker with the leftist Meretz party, wrote for Haaretz that the strategy results in “perpetual war” that forgets “human beings are also able to talk, not only to carry a club.”

But while many liberals suggest a new effort to find peace through negotiations is what’s needed, some conservatives say that only military action will resolve the situation.

“Just like mowing your front lawn, this is constant, hard work,” David M. Weinberg of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security wrote for the Jerusalem Post this week. “If you fail to do so, weeds grow wild and snakes begin to slither around in the brush.”

Israel has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Gaza and Palestinian militants have fired rocket salvos in the most intense fighting in years. (Video: Jason Aldag/The Washington Post)