Who would have believed only a month ago that within one week Hamas would have
succeeded in shooting rockets at Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Rishon Lezion, that a
bus would explode in Tel Aviv, that 1,500 missiles would be fired on southern
Israel, and that the reaction of our government would be to restrain our
military response and attacks on Gaza to airstrikes on Hamas strongholds?
Indeed, Operation Pillar of Defense was a rude awakening for many Israelis and a
difficult lesson about the limitations of power.
This “eight-day war”
began with full consensus and hubris throughout our society, with the majority
of the public backing the government’s military initiative to secure the
Yet the war ended with a deep break in self-perception about our
power, with serious doubts and concerns replacing national hubris and a certain
sense of realism replacing the illusion of omnipotence; very much the opposite
of the aftermath of the Six Day War.
The national consensus at the
beginning of Pillar of Defense was both a natural and traditional Israeli
reaction in cases of war, and a real agreement that the government had to put an
end to the ongoing rocket attacks on the South.
This consensus was
further enabled by the troika’s (Netanyahu, Barak and Liberman) limited
definition of the operation’s aims and by a sense of pride in the effective
Israel Air Force strike against the chief of staff of Hamas, Ahmed
Then, like in every war, one knows very little about how it ends.
Warfare is not conducted in a closed laboratory of army against army, but rather
is a much broader confrontation influenced by social motivation, international
players, world public opinion, modern media and a multitude of unforeseen
It is a confrontation not just of militaries, but also between
societies, with their relative ambitions and vulnerabilities. Above all, it is
ugly because innocent people get killed. And indeed, it turned ugly and messy
and ended in a sort of a draw, with both sides claiming victory and sensing
While the war was relatively short and not comprehensive,
there are extremely important general conclusions and lessons to be learned from
it. In our modern age, in which the poorest of societies can be armed with
ballistic missiles and communicate on the Internet, wars have become virtually
unwinnable, and surely not winnable in the way traditional wars were won – with
a triumphant side and a capitulating side.
The United States is not able
to bring the Taliban or al-Qaida to surrender, nor did we in Lebanon with
Hezbollah or in Gaza with Hamas. Operation Defensive Shield was a clear case in
point, despite the IDF being the best, biggest and most sophisticated army in
the region. The operation could have continued for another month, and the
outcome would have been the same or worse from our point of view.
equation that defines possible military victory and achievements, it is no
longer merely about how much infrastructure you destroy or how much territory
you conquer, but rather on the modern war scoreboard. One must also list the
motivation of each population to absorb suffering, the geopolitical position in
the region (in this case in relation to Egypt, Jordan and Turkey), the position
of the international community (mainly the US), the world media and public
opinion. Adding these scores, the results are different from just those
reflected by the military balance, which in this case is a draw at
In many ways, Hamas came out strengthened by the “eight-day war.”
Its popularity among Palestinians has increased, also in the West Bank and
vis-à-vis Fatah. It is now part of a Sunni coalition in its favor, which
includes Egypt, Turkey and Qatar.
Gaza has been visited, as if it were a
capital, by a series of foreign ministers, including those of the Arab League.
It has brought the American president to interfere with Israel and Egypt in
favor of a cease-fire and against an Israeli ground offensive. It did not falter
to Israel’s mighty army despite losing much of its long-and-short-range missile
arsenal and some of its terrorism leadership.
Israel’s leadership, before
and after our January 22 elections, must reflect these consequences and draw
strategic and immediate conclusions from this latest
• The most important strategic
conclusion from our point of view is related to the change in the significance
of warfare in this era. Our security predicaments, therefore, will not be
resolved by war, nor will our national security be strengthened by it.
Security can be fostered by the creation of regional and international
relations. The most important defense shield Hamas had during the recent
confrontation was the regional coalition, headed by Egypt, that came to its
defense. Israeli national security strategists need to think in terms of
coalition building, both regionally and internationally.
• Societies do
matter. On both sides of the confrontation, people proved to be resilient. We
may get rid of part of Hamas’s leadership, but not of the popular support among
Gazans for the organization they elected. Any change in relationships in the
region will in the future need the legitimacy of the people, especially in the
aftermath of the Arab Spring.
• Technology matters. Our military
superiority remains, even with the changing nature of warfare, of utmost
importance, especially in the field of high technology. The perception
that the IDF can, by technological means, reach virtually any target in the
region and find the best means of defense is important to our national security
and deterrence. This was mostly expressed by the colossal success of the
Iron Dome system, for which former defense minister Amir Peretz, hardly a
defense expert, deserves much credit.
• Taking into account the growing
irrelevance of warfare, the prime importance of regional and international
coalitions, the great relevance of constituencies in decision-making – the main
conclusion is that our future security and well-being will depend on our ability
to negotiate with our neighbors and enemies, as well as with our friends in the
international community, and to create coalitions of common
interest. Even US security depends on coalition building, not to mention,
• The Gaza War has proven that Barack Obama
is back in town. The re-elected American president, on a first visit to
Asia, was on the phone with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu at least 10 times within three days, and sent Secretary of
State Hillary Clinton to Jerusalem, Ramallah and Cairo to ensure the
For our current government, as well as for the next one, this
is the opportunity to coordinate with Washington to agree on a common strategy
for Middle East peace and security. This must relate to keeping our qualitative
technological edge (such as more financing for the Iron Dome), to enhancing the
anti-Iran coalition with the tightening of crippling sanctions on Tehran and to
a new road-map for negotiations with the PA of Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas). This
intense Presidential involvement in the recent conflict is a function of
American strategic interests to forge a pragmatic, stable coalition in the
Middle East in order to counter the spread of Islamic fundamentalism, terrorism
and the development of nuclear arms.
Gaza (a fraction of a percentage of
the total Middle East) was important, because the Palestinian- Israeli conflict
is of prime importance to the region and its constituencies. Such a coalition of
stability and pragmatism is also critically important to us, and therefore it’s
time for Jerusalem and Washington to coordinate a broader strategy for the
region, while finally giving up on the escapism from the Palestinian
• It’s time to talk, as we now understand that force will not
resolve very much. And the talking must be conducted with the one moderate and
pragmatic leader on the Palestinian scene – Abu Mazen, who, in his regional
isolation, has sought solace at the United Nations with a futile, symbolic
resolution to recognize Palestine as a non-member state.
will come out of it for the Palestinians, nor is there any danger for us in this
Yet our government will probably react with hysteria, looking to
further weaken the moderates in Palestine, shortly after strengthening the
Instead, we should take Abu Mazen up on his offer to
negotiate (with the non-UN member Palestine), as equals, for permanent status.
This can happen mainly after our elections, with a coalition that can launch
such negotiations. Whether we like it or not, we will have to negotiate our
security, while maintaining our strength.
• In parallel to the
Palestinian negotiations and the coordination with the second Obama
administration, we should work on being part of a regional coalition that could
include Egypt, Jordan and Turkey. As the Muslim world is basically split between
relatively pragmatic Sunnis and fundamentalist Shi’a (with Tehran as its
headquarters), we need to foster a rapprochement with the pragmatists, none of
whom are great lovers of Zion, yet are interested in stability and in a peaceful
solution to the Palestinian issue.
The peace treaties with Egypt and
Jordan are pillars of our national security, and an improved relationship with
Ankara would be instrumental in relation to Iran and the post- Assad Syria.
Again, it’s about strategic policy-making and negotiations.
• This brings
the regional and Palestinian peace process to the forefront. We must convince
the Palestinians of our intentions, as they have to convince us. Right now there
are two schools in Palestine, those who negotiated with us – Fatah and the West
Bank – and those who have fought us through terror – Hamas and Gaza. The
Palestinian people ask themselves who gained more through these two different
The answer to them seems clear – in Gaza, Israel withdrew to
the 1967 lines and evacuated all the settlements. In the West Bank we are in
control of more than 60 percent of the territory and have a presence of 300,000
With Hamas we negotiate (which on tactical issues may be the
right thing to do), with Fatah we do not. To Hamas, we release prisoners, to
Fatah we do not.
This equation has to change immediately and
dramatically, in our self-interest.
Just as the last one was, wars are
terrible and have become fairly superfluous. Yet they can change basic concepts
about national security, as happened to us in 1967, to Egypt in 1973 and
hopefully now to us again in 2012.
The writer is president of the Peres
Center for Peace and served as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords.