We should not get confused about Operation Protective Edge. Nothing new is taking place in the Middle East; no dramatic change is going to occur, and no resolution is being achieved or agreement signed between the two parties.
As with the previous battles, the fighting is mostly the result of each side’s state of consciousness. Neither side is aiming to occupy land.
Hamas doesn’t really believe that by shooting rockets into Israel it will achieve a military feat. And the IDF and Israeli leaders do not really want to send ground forces into Gaza.
The Shin Bet knows that it would never be able to gain full control or be able to prevent attacks from Gaza and so the obvious conclusion is that this round of fighting will also end in a cease-fire in which each side will claim victory and show off to the world its impressive achievements.
The only problem is that in this match, there are no winners, only losers.
This ritual is once again repeating itself. All of these operations including Operation Cast Lead, Operation Pillar of Defense and the current Operation Protective Edge began with vigorous statements such as “This time we’re going to deliver the fatal blow to Hamas and its infrastructure.”
Each time we are told in victorious voices how all of the terrorist targets have been destroyed, and yet each time we continue to suffer from rocket barrages even after the operations are completed.
Nothing has changed. Hamas still controls Gaza. The Palestinians are still the ones who decide when to escalate activity and when it’s time to cool down. The rockets continue falling on Israeli land and population centers. Each side sends its smoothest talkers and smartest commentators to deal with the media.
Each one in turn rants and raves about the details and size of its military achievements. Both parties claim they achieved a smashing victory, the newspapers are full of graphs and statistics detailing each side’s achievements and its enemy’s failures.
Hamas announces that it plans to rain a barrage of rockets down on Tel Aviv and then boasts of its success, even though all of the rockets were intercepted and failed to cause any damage. The IDF chief of staff says he’s ready to carry out an invasion of Gaza and is merely waiting for cabinet approval (which he won’t receive now or for any future operation – at least not under the current administration).
So, how did we end up in this incessant and vicious cycle of violence again? I would like to suggest a few reasons: The Palestinians have an extremely weak and ineffective leadership, whereas Israeli leaders lack vision and backbone. Both sides suffer from diplomatic and political paralysis, and so Hamas’s obsessive fanaticism has been left to run rampant.
On both sides, stubborn nationalist parties are in control and their decisions are mainly based on fear of extremists within their own community.
This situation serves a number of purposes for both sides. First, there is nothing like a successful operation or a “justified” war to unite the people around a feeling of victimization.
There is nothing like military heroes to create a sense of solidarity and righteousness and heroism.
Second, a military operation allows us to forget our day-to-day problems. For a while, we’re allowed to refrain from thinking about our economic problems, high taxes and the high cost of living. For just a few moments we don’t need to worry about transportation disputes, government corruption or party politics.
We are given a short respite from the small, insignificant problems of our regular life.
It is in everyone’s interests that this crisis continue for a bit longer so we can all boast of our achievements and victories without having had to risk our soldiers’ lives. Both sides know that eventually we will reach a cease-fire without either side obtaining any real achievements, after which will follow a period of calm during which Hamas will replenish its rockets for the next round of fighting and the IDF can request budget increases without having to put up much of a fight.
If we don’t root out the real problem though, it will just be a matter of time until the next round of fighting begins. If we are interested in bringing about true change, a few conditions must be fulfilled: Both sides must put forward strong and courageous leaders.
There must be a strong and stable government that can prevent extremists from running the show and dictating events. These leaders and governments must be willing to make concessions and strike forcefully against terrorism on both sides. And last but not least, they must have vast military intelligence capabilities.
Israel has better military and intelligence capabilities than almost any other country. It is disciplined, and yet at the same time it is exceptionally adaptable. The sane majority prefers peace over the continuation of this war of attrition.
The only thing that we are missing now is a leadership that knows how to combine all of the above – to state our vision, prepare a longterm plan to achieve it and to make the difficult decisions necessary to reach it. When the other side realizes that we mean business, it will finally need to make the necessary adjustments.
The writer is a former brigadier-general who served as a division head in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).
Translated by Hannah Hochner.