Thinking of the past is like going through a time tunnel. We sit back
comfortably, eyes shut and let our minds wander to days gone by. But when it
comes to the first Gulf War, travelling through that tunnel takes on an
exceptionally fast pace and eventually leads us to an opening. The meaning is
clear. That war placed this country in one of the most complex situations
it had to face since it was founded. The event is not just a thing of the past;
it affects the present situation and will also impact our future.
January 15, 1991, the American ultimatum to Iraq ended, and within 36 hours, the
first missile launched from that country landed in Israel. For 35 days, the
Jewish state faced a war of attrition in which, by the end, it could count a
total of 17 assaults and 39 missiles. Since then, we have seen another war of
attrition in the form of an intifada and two mini-wars in Lebanon and
Gaza. All of these security challenges attest to the strategic change
that has taken place over the 20 years since Saddam Hussein attacked our
Israel’s security concept, as established by David Ben-Gurion,
maintained that because of its narrow size and its centralized population areas,
it could not afford to absorb military strikes on its territory and, where
possible, must take preventative action. At every opportunity, it must shift the
war promptly to enemy territory. This approach worked perfectly in 1967 and
partly in 1973, even though we did not strike preemptively for political
THIS APPROACH has become a thing of the past. Since the
first Gulf War, we have realized that the home front is no longer immune, not to
short-range missiles from Lebanon or Gaza, nor to long-range ones from Iraq or
This understanding was translated into practical terms with the
establishment of the Home Front Command, the development of defensive weapons
capable of intercepting rockets and missiles, like the Iron Dome and the Arrow,
and the setting of new operational priorities.
It is clear that in the
event of a future war, Israel would try to destroy any missiles or rockets
before they are sent.
The Arabs were quick to correct this by learning
the lessons of the first Gulf War. Now, the threat includes tens of thousands of
missiles and rockets aimed at every square centimeter of our territory. No piece
of land, from Eilat to Metulla, is not subject to this threat.
with time, the precision of these missiles and rockets improved, and they are
now able to strike strategic and tactical targets, and not just land
sporadically across the country.
As an aside, I will note that the Carmel
fires teach us that open areas are also not safe, and may indirectly threaten
the civilian population.
The first Gulf War not only changed our
perception of security but also affected our sense of it. During the war, I used
to speak directly to the public, rather like an intimate conversation. In
retrospect, it seems to me that I realized then that the term “national
security” – the security of the whole country – described the personal safety of
each citizen living in it.
People understood that they had to look out
for themselves, and that no barrier existed between them and the missiles save
for the house walls, the shelter they had built and their gas masks. Otherwise,
they were exposed.
The state has since been required to recast the
relationship between it and its citizens’ security. Is it really possible to
deploy an Iron Dome over the entire country? Or at the end of the day, is it
every person and family for itself ?
This was a conceptual revolution of thought
– completely opposed to what we were brought up to believe and, in a strange
way, it corresponds to the process this country has been through, from
nationalism and collectivism to privatization and individualism.
public understands now better than ever that the state cannot provide maximum
security. It learned this the hard way, for example during the Second Lebanon
War, while residents in the South experience this day and night. This is how an
asymmetric war manifests itself, whereby missiles and rockets are pitted against
our technological power.
This increases public distrust of the political
leadership, the security establishment and even the military, as more people
understand that security is a merely relative term.
THIS EQUATION also
added a new component to the mix – national cohesion. We need to believe we can
win, given the new circumstances. This faith has helped us in the past, and saw
us through military crises such as the Yom Kippur War. We can only win if we’re
socially and economically strong.
Things were not always this way. One of
the songs popular in the 1950s was “guns instead of socks, tanks instead of
Today, we must understand that a weakened society, one in which a
third live under the poverty line, where one in five families is in need of
welfare services, cannot bear the consequences of a war, especially given that
today’s conflicts tend to be lengthy and many of the casualties are civilians.
Our mental strength as individuals and as a society will only be realized if we
close the social gaps; if we succeed in rallying the different “tribes” here
around common values and ensure that our human, social and moral values are high
In past wars, a military victory was enough, and on that front
we were fortunate. Today’s wars, that have no beginning, no end and where
victory is relative, are waged on various fronts: the economic front, the
political front and even the public diplomacy front. A war plays out not only at
the point of physical contact between us and our enemies, our territory and
theirs, but has a global impact, in part because of the media.
war, rooted in the Gulf War, requires that we internalize the essential
difference between it and its predecessors. It’s not another war over territory;
it’s a war of public opinion and public consciousness at home and abroad. The
factors affecting this war are not exclusively under our control. We need a
comprehensive vision that would connect us and the rest of the world, and would
require the collective efforts of the country, the new nongovernmental actors
and each and every one of us. Communication on various levels, old and
new, is the main means of etching into our minds and the world’s the desired
result of this war.
Finally, a word about leadership: 20 years after the
war, the world around us has changed completely. All of us understand the
difference when we look in the mirror; we see that time has not stood still.
However, if there is one thing that has not changed since the first Gulf War,
it’s the need for a leadership that acts wisely, cautiously and responsibly. The
“gray-haired” leaders of those times – Yitzhak Shamir, Moshe Arens, Dan Shomron
and their colleagues – succeeded in seeing Israel in an international context
and concluded that any intervention in the war would only bring harm.
there’s something I wish today’s leaders would understand, it’s that Jewish
wisdom saved us from the Gulf War and provided us with political and security
achievements and a new status in international public opinion. I can only hope
that this good old Jewish wisdom will also guide us through future
challenges.The writer, a Kadima MK, was IDF spokesman during the first