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Two years ago, the North was a war zone. Fields and forests, homes and hospitals were set ablaze by Hizbullah missiles. But on Sunday afternoon, as a tireless patriot was laid to rest in the Jezreel Valley, the ground was not burning with missile fire, it was exploding with fecundity. It filled the air with the aroma of its promise of spring harvests.
A multitude of mourners from all over the country crowded into Moshav Moledet's small cemetery to pay their final respects to 53-year-old Tzafrir Ronen, who died of a heart attack on Friday night. The man they mourned had dedicated his life to defending the country. In recent years, Tzafrir spent nearly every waking moment fighting for its soul. He sought to educate his fellow Israelis about the threats facing the country generally, and specifically about the existential danger to its viability presented by the Left's defeatist and post-Zionist narrative.
For this son of the Jezreel Valley, who grew up with the land, that narrative - which argues that Israel has neither the ability nor the right to defeat its enemies and to settle its land - was the single greatest threat to the long-term well-being of the country. Over the years, as Tzafrir's frustration at the direction the country was taking grew, his message became angrier and more urgent. As each of his successive warnings - about the fraudulent Oslo peace process, the withdrawal from southern Lebanon, the criminalization of Jewish building in Judea and Samaria, the refusal to enforce laws in the Israeli Arab sector, the expulsion of the Jews from Gaza and northern Samaria and the establishment of the Hamas terror state in Gaza - were ignored by successive governments, by the media and, inevitably, by voters, Tzafrir, like so many others in his position felt he was shouting into the wind.
MARGINALIZING AND silencing voices like Tzafrir's is one of the Israeli Left's greatest achievements. By consistently ignoring or demonizing voices like Tzafrir's - who have been correct about every major strategic issue facing the country - while steadfastly legitimizing and lionizing men and women like Amos Oz, Shulamit Aloni, Yossi Beilin and Haim Ramon - who not only have been wrong about every major issue in the past generation, but have also often taken leading roles in our enemies' propaganda campaigns - the Left has managed to remove our most vibrant thinkers and bravest builders and fighters from the national debate.
But the hundreds who crowded into the cemetery on Sunday are proof that the Left's success has been far from complete. The mourners at his funeral included israelis from all walks of life - religious, secular, farmers, city-dwellers, Jews, non-Jews, new olim, and sabras. The fact that people from such diverse backgrounds and traditions have found the way to work with one another shows that in spite of the demonization of the Right, people are still interested in defending and building the country. They are still are drawn to voices in the wilderness, like Tzafrir's, which say that we must fight, and win, and that we deserve to win and should feel privileged to fight for what is right.
On the face of it, Tzafrir, his colleagues and friends could feel vindicated by the Olmert-Livni-Barak government's decision to launch Operation Cast Lead against Hamas's regime in Gaza. Since Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni first began advocating the surrender of Gaza in late 2003, Tzafrir and his colleagues were at the forefront of the protest movement against the giveaway. Not only did they argue that the forcible expulsion and destruction of communities in Gaza was a moral outrage, they warned that a withdrawal would transform Gaza into the jihadist hub it has become.
AND OF course, they were right. Far from bringing peace and stability, as they warned the likes of Olmert and Livni, withdrawal from Gaza started the countdown to the war we are now fighting. And as they warned would happen, withdrawal from Gaza allowed Hamas to become an Iranian proxy and build the Iranian-supplied army that now assaults the South with missiles and rockets.
Moreover, the international outcry which has greeted the IDF operation, and the tepid US support it has enjoyed, shows clearly that by "ending the occupation" of Gaza, (which actually ended with the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in 1994), Israel weakened rather than strengthened its international supporters. Today it is being condemned more harshly than it was in 2004 when the IDF nearly destroyed Hamas in Gaza by decapitating its leadership.
On the face of it, Tzafrir and his colleagues could pat themselves on the backs and say that by waging Operation Cast Lead, Livni and Olmert and the architect of unilateral surrenders of land to terrorists himself - Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who handed South Lebanon to Hizbullah in 2000 - have finally seen the light. They understand that terrorists have to be defeated and that the country is better off controlling hostile territories than allowing its enemies to control them.
BUT THIS is not the case. Olmert, Livni and Barak have made clear that they haven't changed their defeatist and post-Zionist view of Israel's prospects at all. Their current operation in Gaza is not aimed at defeating Hamas. They have uttered no call for victory. To the contrary, as Olmert made clear in his speech on Saturday evening, the goal of the current campaign is simply to "change the situation" in the South. The question is what "change" they have in mind.
For her part, Livni has called for installing the Fatah terror group in Gaza instead of Hamas. But Fatah has been rejected not only by Gazans, but by the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria as well. Bringing Fatah into Gaza would do nothing to stabilize the situation. It would simply be an invitation for Fatah to conduct war against Israel and seek an accommodation with Hamas and Iran.
Barak has claimed that we can no more negotiate a settlement with Hamas than the US can negotiate a settlement with al-Qaida. And this is true in principle. Just as al-Qaida will never live at peace with America, so Hamas will never accept peaceful coexistence with Israel. But Barak has never been one to abide by principles.
He didn't adhere to that principle six months ago when he convinced Livni and Olmert to accept a cease-fire that enabled Hamas to build its army and its missile arsenal without fear of IDF attack. And Barak did not adhere to this principle when as late as last Tuesday he was calling for a renewal of the failed, one-sided cease-fire.
THE FACT of the matter is that the change that the Olmert-Livni-Barak government seeks today has more to do with the public's perception of its competence than with any interest in changing the situation in Gaza in any fundamental way. During the Second Lebanon War, the government showed that it could not be trusted with the defense of the country and with the proper deployment of IDF soldiers. And in the aftermath of that war, the government lost its moral right to send its forces into battle.
Now it uses its campaign in Gaza as a means of winning back its moral authority. But the problem is that despite its protestations of cunning competence, the government's aims today are the same as they were in 2006. As was the case with Hizbullah, the Olmert-Livni-Barak government is signaling that it seeks a new negotiated settlement with Hamas. The hoped-for settlement, which has been telegraphed to the public through the pro-government media, will leave Hamas in power in Gaza. Although the government claims that the postwar Hamas will be more peaceful than the prewar Hamas, there is no reason to believe this will be the case.
Just as has been the case with Hizbullah since the government failed to destroy the terror army in 2006, so if Hamas remains in control of Gaza after the current war, no matter what its condition, it will be perceived as the winner.
HERE IT is important to make a sharp distinction between the IDF's clear military successes in Gaza and the political leadership's problematic management of this campaign. In the former case, it is inarguable that by destroying Hamas's military installations, killing its military commanders and incapacitating its weapons smuggling infrastructure, the IDF is weakening Hamas as a military organization. And this is a great and long-awaited achievement.
In contrast, the Olmert-Livni-Barak government's refusal to reconsider its defeatist political philosophy makes it apparent that in the longer term, any strategic advantage enjoyed from the IDF's success will be marginal. Like Hizbullah, Hamas - which enjoys Iranian and Syrian state sponsorship and authentic popularity throughout the Islamic world - does not have to defeat Israel to be perceived as the victor. It merely needs to survive. That is the great difference between jihadist organizations and Western democracies. And by surviving, it will expand its international cachet.
JUST AS the Bush administration seeks to accommodate Hizbullah by selling advanced weapons to the Lebanese government it dominates, so too, in the aftermath of the current campaign, Hamas will be accepted by the West.
Tzafrir Ronen, and his colleagues whose strategic wisdom caused them to be banished from the public square, can always depend on hapless, defeatist governments like that of Olmert,Livni, and Barak to remember them in times of crisis. Like a Swiss clock, whenever leaders who preach nothing but defeat and retreat to their countrymen find themselves in a position of having to fight our enemies, they know they can count on men like Tzafrir to fight for them. And to date, men like Tzafrir, who served in the IDF's elite combat units, and whose sons and daughters continue to bear the greatest burdens in our defense, have answered their calls without hesitation.
Looking at the faces of the mourners on Sunday afternoon and listening to the many eulogies of Tzafrir that repeatedly praised his Zionism, there was no room for doubt that again today these people will answer the call. But how long will this state of affairs continue? How long can failed and strategically blind politicians continue to expect the men and women they demonize to save the country after they fail, and then hand it back to them to endanger again?