As I write, Hamas and company are firing dozens of rockets (hundreds, by press time) . It claims that it will stop only when we stop our attacks in Gaza and lift our “blockade.” Hamas is crazed with the idea that Islam will sweep us away, but its leaders are not stupid. The real reason for their war is our arrest of its leaders and destruction of much of their infrastructure in the West Bank. They are also intent on showing that they attack Israel while Mahmoud Abbas shamelessly cooperates with Israel. The blockade claim is as much aimed against Egypt as against Israel.
In attacking us, therefore, they are declaring war on the Palestine Authority, as well as on Egypt, which has throttled the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas by any other name. They will lose this war. Tragically, they will have pinned down hundreds of thousands of Israelis in a dreadful situation and in danger of their lives, for which the innocent children in Gaza and their parents may pay with their lives.
Did our leaders foresee that we were putting Hamas in a no-choice scenario in the way we handled the kidnappings of our three students? If so, it was a calculated decision, part of a general plan to weaken – we cannot eliminate – Hamas. That would be a legitimate decision, even though some might argue that force alone will not change the basic reality. If, however, the government and the army did not plan this, how did we get where we are? Since I am not privy to more inside information than our prattling ministers leak, I will phrase my ideas as questions. The answers should come later from in-depth, retroactive evaluation by military and civilian research groups.
WHY, IF the security services and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu knew on day one, or at latest two, that the three Jewish boys had been shot, WHY did the government encourage such media frenzy? WHY did our prime minister run from TV channel to channel? WHY did Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet keep an open line for days, which kept already pained millions at a hysterical pitch? WHY, once the PM was informed that Hamas headquarters had not ordered the rogue, ill-trained, and panicky two or more murderers, WHY did he hammer home “HAMAS, HAMAS, HAMAS,” which only made Hamas more popular in Gaza and the West Bank? WHY, if this was a rogue group, blame the Shin Bet for a failure? After all, if it had been ordered by Hamas-Gaza, one of our intelligence branches would have known.
WHY, when President Abbas extended condolences, and full security coordination, WHY did our government not welcome this in a dignified and respectful manner? WHY, if we were exploiting the timing of the tragic murders to weaken Hamas’s West Bank capacities, and to rearrest released terrorists, WHY did we not recognize that a major gesture had been made toward us by a beleaguered and already weakened Arab leader in Arabic in Riyadh and Ramallah? WHY, with the known capabilities of the Shin Bet and the IDF intelligence branch, WHY were our young soldiers ordered to enter and search hundreds of homes? Of course we had to search for the killers, but we should have let the intelligence people lead it: a pin-pointed operation of brains not brawn. Certainly, we and the cooperating PA security knew where almost every single wanted Hamas operative would be.
WHY did the senior IDF officers not anticipate that many of our angry, young soldiers – sometimes exposed to hatred of Arabs in their own homes, or by their young officers – would enter these homes not only to search but to vent anger? Do you and I want our children or grandchildren to inspire fear in a child’s eyes and instill a memory which can only lead to one result? WHY does the IDF not launch a training program in case units need to search civilian homes in the future? I HAVE exhausted you with such heavy questions, and perhaps angered those who believe we are and always have been perfect. Think not, dear reader, that I am a bleeding heart. I am a political realist with a bit more experience than those who will attack me tomorrow. I have always believed that to survive in this crazy Middle East, we need strength and the sense to use it wisely.
Taking the use of power as a given, at the right time and place, and thinking in strategic terms, did our leaders not know that Israeli Arabs would demonstrate against our massive, heavy-handed action in the West Bank, especially during summer and Ramadan? One of our best intelligence operatives used to spend hours thinking himself into our opponents’ probable positions. I am sure that today we have better tools to do that. Did we not anticipate that many Israel Arabs would feel that we are injuring their brethren? Did we not realize that the Islamist Movement’s northern branch would organize demonstrations? Did we not expect most Arab MKs, who do not bother with their constituents’ needs, but loudly echo anti-Israel propaganda, to incite demonstrations, riots?
This was a failure in strategic thinking. We held back our armed response to Hamas, and thus demonstrated weakness. (No one of course could have foreseen the ugly murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir, which of was another cause for rioting.) Netanyahu acted correctly in restraining the headline- seeking members of his government and of his right-wing bloc. We could not strike Gaza until the situation within Israel had cooled off, and only if Hamas rockets continued and their attacks accelerated.
And finally, if the kidnapping of the three students was a signal to implement a prepared plan against Hamas, were the vote-pandering super-hawks not privy to it? And if it was not planned, then do we perhaps perceive a series of errors? Meanwhile, the three Jewish boys whose fate set this entire chain of events into motion must not be forgotten. Not should the aberrant mad murder of a young Arab boy be forgotten, a warning to all of us. More killing is ahead. More fear and prayers in the fortified rooms of Israel. More success by Iron Dome. More disdain for those who accuse us of “over-reacting.”
We grit our teeth and hope for the best. And for safety for all. For all our children. For Gaza’s children too....
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if wishes would sometimes come true?
Avraham Avi-hai, who filled senior positions in the offices of Prime Ministers David Ben-Gurion and Levi Eshkol, holds advanced degrees in history/political science. He served as member of the World Zionist-Jewish Agency Executive for a decade in his capacity as world chairman of Keren Hayesod-UIA.