Aargh: A word that proclaims sorrow, annoyance, anger, depression, hopelessness – The Urban Dictionary.
Watching the morning newscasts and the spectacle of Israelis scuttling to shelter from incoming projectiles, launched by implacable enemies, from areas voluntarily ceded them by a democratically elected government, which reneged on an election pledge not to do so, it was difficult not to succumb to the urge to yell: Aargh!!! For the sorrow, anger and hopelessness was almost overwhelming.
But worse – much worse – was to come.
As I was writing these very lines, news came in of three Israelis killed by a rocket strike on Kiryat Malachi – in Hebrew, “The City of Angels,” founded in 1951 to replace a tent city housing (Jewish) refugees from Arab countries, and named in honor of the Los Angeles Jewish community, which helped to establish and develop it.
Predictable and predicted
Almost unbearably frustrating and infuriating is the fact that what is happing in Gaza now, what has happened repeatedly in the past, and will almost inevitably happen again – repeatedly – was entirely predictable, and widely predicted.
How then are we to avoid the deeply regrettable conclusion that anyone associated with the precipitation of the current situation in the South – whether he/she endorsed the policies that created it, or refrained from preventing it – have shown their judgment and political foresight to be so flawed that they are unfit to lead the nation.
It is difficult to conceive of any other sphere of activity in which such clear and catastrophic failure would be tolerated, and those responsible for it – either because of their actions in promoting it, or inaction in preventing it – would be allowed to continue to function in positions of leadership.
For more than two decades I have warned – time and time again – of the inevitable disaster, both military and diplomatic, that abandoning Gaza would wreak upon the country and its citizens.
Allow me to reiterate some of what has already appeared, because the ongoing events underscore how tragically valid the warnings were then, and how intensely pertinent the prescriptions are today.
Not a matter of hindsight
Current recriminations against the decisions taken – and not taken – by successive Israeli administrations are not a matter of hindsight.
In an op-ed piece titled “Hamas next to Ashkelon” written on August 30, 1993 –just prior to the Oslo Accords and almost a decade before the disengagement – in the Hebrew daily Hadashot (a tabloid then put out by the Haaretz Group), I warned: “The chances that the declining PLO will be able to honor any agreement over time, even if it wanted to, are low. It is obvious that in the intra-Palestinian struggle, it has no chance against the Islamic organizations, which reject any recognition of Israel, and certainly any agreement with it.
The groups are gaining in strength because of ongoing developments in the Arab world, irrespective of [any concessions made to the PLO].”
I cautioned: “The inevitable result of the [emerging Oslo] agreement will be that any territory ceded to the PLO in exchange for pledges to prevent terror and formal recognition of Israel, will be transferred to elements that do not intend to honor the agreement and, in fact, openly declare they will repudiate it... Accordingly, because of short-term considerations, the government of Israel is preparing the ground work for the establishment of forward bases for Hamas and Islamic Jihad on the approaches to Ashkelon.”
Fearful of the resulting political- diplomatic impasse Israel would find itself in, I posed the rhetorical question: “Will it be possible to conduct an operation similar to Operation Accountability [launched in the preceding July against Hezbollah in South Lebanon by the Rabin government, and displacing – intentionally – large populations northward, in the hope of pressuring the Lebanese government to reign in the terror organization] and cause thousands of civilians to flee?” “After all,” I pointed out, “Egypt is not Lebanon...”
This was not the first warning I issued. A year previously (August 4, 1992) I published a Hebrew opinion piece, “The problems will only get worse,” in Davar, the then-official news organ of the Labor Party, in which I diagnosed the detrimental consequences a unilateral evacuation of Gaza would produce.
An English-language version of the article, “Why we can’t dump Gaza,” appeared in The Jerusalem Post on December 9, 1992.
In it, I cautioned: “... the inevitable implications of [unilateral] Israeli withdrawal can be ignored only at great peril to Israelis and Arabs alike... A unilateral withdrawal from Gaza will do nothing to ease the socio-economic plight of the local inhabitants, nor will it reduce the politico-security problems of Israel; rather it will likely exacerbate them further.”
I warned that much like nature, politics abhors a vacuum: “... in the ensuing vacuum [following the IDF pull-out], the most radical and violent elements in Gaza would undoubtedly seize power... all more moderate elements would be speedily eliminated either politically – or physically...”
And indeed they were.
Since a withdrawal would oblige Israel to seal the borders with Gaza, I expressed concern as to the consequences, both military and diplomatic: “The frustration and despair [of the local population] will manifest themselves in hostile action against Israel as the perceived cause of their privation; our southern settlements and towns will be the targets of frequent attacks, which will compel Israel to retaliate.
“But how and against whom? Without a military presence in the region, the IDF will not be able to identify and apprehend those responsible for firing.”
Thus, a Cast Lead/Pillar of Defense-type operation would become unavoidable. But, again I cautioned: “Air strikes or artillery shelling on civilian population centers would cause heavy casualties among the dense, destitute masses in whose midst the attackers conceal themselves.”
I raised the question: “How would world opinion react”? Richard Goldstone gave us the answer in 2009. Can we realistically expect anything much different in 2012?
Smuggling via the sea and Sinai
I drew attention to the specter of smuggling, noting that Israel “would have no control over smugglers wishing to enter from the west [via the sea] and from the south [Sinai].”
The massive movement of civilian merchandise and military hardware through the highly developed tunnel network in southern Gaza (well over a 1,000 tunnels by some recent estimates) dramatically validate the latter concern.
Moreover, despite some interceptions of weapon-laden vessels (e.g. Karine A in January 2002), the marine theater is still one of grave concern for Israel.
With Sinai now a lawless noman’s- land, illicit trafficking – via both maritime and land routes (or a combination) – are an ever-increasing menace.
Finally, I expressed fears as to the impact actions, which the IDF will be compelled to undertake, would have on relations with Cairo, warning that these measures “would significantly increase the chances of clashes with Egypt, seriously endangering the fragile peace...”
The Gaza-sourced cross-border terror attack in August 2011 and the ensuing lethal encounter near Eilat between IDF and Egyptians soldiers that precipitated a major diplomatic row, and this week’s recall of the Egyptian ambassador by Mohamed Morsi, underscore that this fear was well-founded, and may be the harbinger of more – and more serious – repercussions.
Indeed, as I write these lines, news reports are coming in of demonstrations in Cairo calling for the bombing of Tel Aviv, the termination of the “humiliating” Camp David agreements, and the “opening of the doors for jihad.”
Fortunately, this has not become an overwhelming pressure on the Egyptian regime. At least, not yet.
Sharon, the soothsayer?
But mine were not the only warnings issued at the time.
None other than Ariel Sharon expressed almost identical sentiments.
In an article published on June 12, 1992, in Ma’ariv, defiantly titled “We cannot flee terror,” he vehemently repudiated any notion of withdrawal from Gaza and castigated Yitzhak Rabin for doing so as minister of defense in 1970.
“Fortunately,” Sharon remarked, “we returned to the correct policy before the Gaza Strip exploded like a festering abscess, which could have poisoned the entire surroundings.”
And almost incredibly, in light of his later policies, he cautioned presciently: “If now we once more fall into the same mistake, the price will be much heavier than before – because now the terrorists and the means they have at their disposal are different and more dangerous than before.” And indeed they are!
Sharon continued his warning: “If we abandon Gaza, it will be taken over by the terror organizations.” And indeed it was! And he forecast: “Palestine Square [in Gaza City] will become a launching site for rockets aimed at... Ashkelon.”
And indeed it did! He asked, rhetorically, as did I, hinting at the inevitability of the kind of operations like the 2008 Cast Lead or the current Pillar of Defense: “And what will the IDF do then? Will it once again recapture Gaza? Shell and bomb the towns and refugee camps...?” Sharon concluded with an eminently sensible prescription, which he was to forsake so dramatically and inexplicably 13 years later: “We all aspire to a political settlement, but we will not reach it by way of surrender but only after crushing terrorism, and we can only eliminate terrorism if we control its bases, and fight its gangs there and destroy them.”
But soon dementia seized the Israeli political system.
All caution was thrown to the wind. Baseless optimism and unfounded hopes triumphed over sober analysis and accumulated experience.
Thus, fresh from his Nobel Peace award ceremony, Yitzhak Rabin brusquely dismissed the possibilities of any of the dangers previously foreseen.
His contemptuous rejection in a July 24, 1995, radio interview has proved so erroneous it is almost too embarrassing to cite: With disdain he declared: “The nightmare stories of the Likud are well known. After all, they promised Katyusha rockets from Gaza as well. For a year, Gaza has been largely under the rule of the Palestinian Authority.
There has not been a single Katyusha rocket. Nor will there be any...”
Ten years later, Ariel Sharon – and the Likud – were swaying to a different tune. In a Knesset address on October 25, 2004, a “Rabinesque” Sharon made the no less embarrassingly erroneous prognosis: “I am firmly convinced and truly believe that this disengagement... will be appreciated by those near and far, reduce animosity, break through boycotts and sieges, and advance us along the path of peace with the Palestinians and our other neighbors.”
The Knesset approved the disengagement plan by a substantial margin, 67-45. With the exception of minister-without- portfolio Uzi Landau, all Likud ministers –including Binyamin Netanyahu – supported it, despite being elected on a platform that urged voters to oppose an almost identical proposal put forward by Labor chairman Amram Mitzna, who was overwhelmingly defeated at the polls. Many of them would probably like to purge their absurd statement of support for the idea from the historical record.
Since that day of ignominy, when so many preferred their positions of privilege and power over their political principles, the South has lived in terror.
But for the grace of God
The ongoing saga in the Negev proves that Israel’s citizens cannot place their trust in their leaders. The very people who are now charged with confronting the perilous situation are largely responsible for creating it – with their eyes wide open.
It is even more frightening to realize that it is not due to any far-sighted wisdom on their part, but to the grace of God – or dumb luck – that al-Qaida affiliates are not deployed today on the Golan Heights, or that the Islamists are not in control of the highlands overlooking Israel’s urban sprawl on the Coastal Plain. Only foolish and fortuitous Arab intransigence has prevented the fate of Sderot from becoming the fate of the residents of Greater Tel Aviv and the Galilee.
After all, today’s leaders repeatedly have declared their willingness to cede these territories to the murderous Bashar Assad and to the unrepresentative Mahmoud Abbas – with no way to ensure that they too will not fall into the hands of radical successors.
The policy of yielding land to the Arabs in the hope of peace – or even non-belligerent stability – has failed miserably wherever it has been applied, albeit at different rates, in Gaza, Judea/Samaria, Lebanon and Sinai. Any territory transferred to them invariably becomes a base to attack Israel.
Any future policy initiatives based on this dangerous delusion are no longer acceptable.
Jews must no longer be made to cower in bomb shelters while their hate-filled enemies shower explosive projectiles down on them at will.
If the current leadership cannot address this issue adequately, one that can must be found.
Martin Sherman (www.martinsherman.net) is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.