Israel 2012: Tactical brilliance, strategic imbecility
Into the Fray: If the current government does not have the diplomatic competence to create the conditions necessary to provide security for its citizens, it should admit it.
Iron Dome interception over Tel Aviv Photo: Screenshot Channel 10
The ultimate test of this agreement will be a test of blood.... If it becomes
clear that they [the Palestinians] cannot overcome terror, this will be a
temporary accord and... we will have no choice but to abrogate it. And if there
is no choice, the IDF will return to the places which it is about to leave in
the upcoming months. – Yossi Beilin, on the Oslo Accords, Ma’ariv, November 26,
Is it just me or is there something dreadfully wrong – almost
grotesquely absurd – with the government not only asking a member of the Muslim
Brotherhood to broker a deal for it in a conflict with... the Muslim
Brotherhood, but, incredibly, also to adjudicate in the case of alleged
Things can’t get any more topsy-turvy crazy than that, can they?
Hatters and March Hares
The dementia that has seized the policy- making process
in Israel, and the mindless prattle of the political pundits that accompanies
it, has become so pervasive that it is increasingly difficult to
Indeed, were the characters from Lewis Caroll’s fantasy Wonderland
to tumble down a rabbit hole into Israel, they would be likely to find the
events here so nonsensical and far-fetched, that they would make the Mad
Hatter’s head spin with bewilderment, and the eyes of the March Hare glaze over
True, Israel has made impressive – indeed in many
respects, unprecedented – advances over the years. In many – probably most –
areas it is on the cutting- edge of human endeavor. In terms of accomplishment
in science and technology, in medicine and agriculture, IT and genetics its
record of performance is virtually unsurpassed – especially if its minuscule
size and short history are taken into account.
Yet this impressive
accumulation of achievement has done little to secure Israel from existential
threats to its political and physical survival.
For the past few decades
– arguably from 1977, but inarguably from 1993 – successive governments have led
the country into increasingly perilous predicaments, which are inexorably
bringing its long-term durability into serious question.
leaders have been showered with international acclaim, and some even with a
Nobel Peace Prize.
There is good reason for the poor Hatter’s head to
spin and the luckless Hare’s eyes to glaze.
Googling the right to exist
To get an indication of just how acceptable it has become to debate Israel’s
very right to exist, try the following: Choose the name of any county, and run a
Google search to determine how many sites on the Web refer to its “right to
exist.” The results are stunning and revealing.
A search I conducted
hours before submission of this column yielded the following results: Only one
site deals with Somalia’s “right to exist,” while three deal with Mexico’s. A
search for “Greece’s right to exist” produced 171 hits. “Sweden’s right to
exists” came up with 183 hits, and Syria’s 1,700. Troubled Lebanon, torn by
ethnic conflict and internecine violence, came up with 25,400 sites – which
sounds rather a lot until you come to Israel.
For when the “right to
exist” of the Jewish state is googled – the only genuinely democratic state in
the region, the only state that practices religious tolerance and societal
pluralism, the only state that eschews gender apartheid and gay persecution – a
staggering 6,780,000 hits are obtained.
It is difficult to imagine any
starker and more compelling evidence of just how legitimate it has become to
discuss, and by implication, question, Israel’s legitimacy.
counterproductive This underscores not only how futile Israel’s policy of
territorial concession and political appeasement has been, but also how
counterproductive it has proved.
Time and time again, it has been
irrefutably shown that that no matter what Israel does – or refrains from doing
– harsh international condemnation persists unabated.
To no avail, Israel
• evacuated the Sinai peninsula;
• relinquished its oil resources and
forgone its strategic depth:
• allowed armed militias to deploy adjacent to its
capital and within mortar range of its parliament;
• razed Jewish towns and
villages in Gaza;
• uprooted Jewish graveyards; and
• laid waste settlements in
However, rather than elicit any gesture of goodwill or
reciprocity, each concession has merely caused the other side to ratchet up its
demands. Every concession made merely created the expectation of yet another
one; every withdrawal, the clamor for further retreat.
Yet despite the
accumulated weight of indisputable evidence, no elected leader has shown real
awareness of the need, much less the will, to terminate this self-defeating – and
self-destructive – downward spiral.
dramatic techno-tactical advances, ever since Menachem Begin frittered away the
strategic advantages and economic potential of Sinai in exchange for a few
decades of uneasy and prickly non-belligerency with Egypt, Israel has been in
For whatever the reasons, it has declined from being a
nation that within six days could rout three regular Arab armies (plus
reinforcements from numerous other countries), obliterate the enemy air power
and armor, and seize vast tracts of lands, to one that fails – repeatedly – to
silence bombardment of its civilian population by small, lightly armed irregular
militias, which have no air support (or even air-defense systems), armor or
In many ways, the emerging situation facing Israel today would have
been inconceivable at the times when the decisions that that precipitated it
Thus it is inconceivable that Menachem Begin would have
agreed to evacuate Sinai if he had envisaged that it would degenerate into a
lawless noman’s land, in the grip of Islamist warlords and ruthless criminal
gangs pressing up against Israel’s long southern border while an Islamist regime
was ensconced in Cairo. It is inconceivable that Yitzhak Rabin would have agreed
to the far-reaching concessions made in the Oslo process, had he foreseen the
kind of realities they would bring about.
His final address to the
Knesset, in which he conveyed his vision of the permanent solution with the
Palestinians, would be dismissed as unrealistic extremism, were it adopted today
by any incumbent politician.
But as the status quo deteriorated, Israel’s
leaders resigned themselves to the new circumstances, and merely braced for the
next deterioration – until it has become almost impossible to imagine different
realities or even different trends in realities, certainly none reminiscent of
pre-Oslo or pre-Camp David conditions.
After all, for most Israelis,
these former realities are not even a distant memory.
For if we assume
that a person’s political awareness begins to emerge at the age of 15, then
about 60 percent of today’s population is too young to have any meaningful
experience of pre- Oslowian conditions. In the case of pre- Camp David
conditions, the figure is over 80 percent.
They were, for all intents and
purposes, born into a syndrome which takes the notion of Israeli concessions and
capitulation, of retreat and restraint, as an inevitable given, a natural
element of the way things are meant to be.
Terrifying, tragic trajectory
It is against the backdrop of resignation and acquiescence that the terrible,
tragic trajectory in which events are moving should be viewed.
terrorist organizations have enhanced their capacities beyond all recognition.
The performance of their high trajectory weaponry has increased dramatically.
Originally, the range of the Palestinian rockets was barely 5 km.; and the
explosive charge they carried weighed about 5 kg. Today their missiles have a
range of 75 km. and a warhead of 90 kg.
If any intrepid pundit had, not
too long ago, dared to predict that greater Tel Aviv and Jerusalem would be in
danger from missiles launched from Gaza, he would have been dismissed with
disdain and ridicule. Yet incredibly, now that the unthinkable has occurred,
rather than remove the source of threat, the government is hoping to placate it
via mediation by a distinctly adversarial mediator.
There is no reason to
believe that, as time goes by, the impressive development of Palestinian
capabilities will not continue. Ranges will increase, war heads will be
enlarged, precision improved, stockpiles augmented. More and more Israelis will
be at risk.
Coordination with other groups – such as Hezbollah in the
north, or Salafists in Sinai – may well be enhanced, stretching the capabilities
of Israel’s anti-missile defenses beyond their capacities.
It is in the context of these (and other) potential dangers that the
decision to curtail Operation Pillar of Defense seems so inadequate and
inappropriate. And the wording of the cease-fire agreement gives great cause for
It might be possible to imagine a document that is vaguer, open
to greater conflicting and fractious interpretation, riddled with greater and
more numerous holes – but that would be very difficult.
gives cause for concern not only because of what it includes, but because of
what it doesn’t.
In it, Israel undertakes to “stop the targeting of
individuals” and agrees to the “opening the crossings and facilitating the
movements of people and transfer of goods and refraining from restricting
residents’ free movements and targeting residents in border areas”; however,
there appears to be no mention of any prohibition on the importation of weaponry
into Gaza to prevent the replenishment (or enhancement) of stocks depleted or
destroyed in the fighting.
It seems the Hamas and other Palestinian
factions, who are allegedly party to the agreement, are free to re-arm, regroup
and rebuild at will.
None of this augurs well for the South – and beyond
– especially since any alleged breaches of the agreement are to be dealt with by
a less-than-amicable regime in Egypt.
Danger of depopulation
wildly optimistic can hold out any hope that this agreement will bring the
required stability to southern Israel.
No matter how effective the Iron
Dome is, people will not endure indefinitely having to scurry to shelter, to
abort commercial activities and to suffer material, economic and emotional
If there is no hope that such dangers will not continue to hover
over their heads, they will eventually seek alternative places to live and raise
Southern Israel will begin to depopulate and the Negev
will be denuded of its Jewish presence, while Gaza-sourced rocket attacks on
Eilat could turn the city into a ghost town.
After all, Scandinavian
tourists are not the residents of Sderot.
Even if an Iron Dome battery is
deployed near Eilat, it is unlikely to be a great draw for tourists – unless the
plan is to attract extreme thrill-seekers, who are hardly numerous enough to
provide acceptable levels of occupancy in the city’s hotels.
capital has been shelled from Gaza. It is difficult to know what more is needed
to press home that a ground operation is not only necessary, but
The past few days have shown conclusively that Israel cannot
effectively diminish Palestinian will to attack through standoff punitive
It can only protect its citizens by physically eliminating the
Palestinian ability to attack. It can only defend its civilian population from
Palestinian assaults by taking – and keeping – control of the territory from
which they are launched.
It is unclear what the
Netanyahu government is waiting for.
For Gaza to develop an effective
air-defense system? Don’t dismiss the possibility.
After all, no one
thought their missiles could reach Gush Dan.
Yes, of course there were
political pressures to refrain from a ground assault, but leaders are elected to
resist pressure, not to submit to it; to sidestep it, not to succumb to it; to
divert it, not to yield to it.
If the current government does not have
the diplomatic competence to create the conditions necessary to provide security
for its citizens, it should admit it.
Political correctness cannot be
allowed to prevent the pursuit of strategic imperatives.
overcomes this obstacle it will continue to resemble a luxurious mansion
equipped with all the modern comforts and the latest accessories – but with
fundamentally flawed foundations that gravely imperil the whole
Martin Sherman (www.martinsherman.net) is the founder
and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.