In the situation room of the Prime Minister’s Office, there are no doubt large clocks representing various time zones. I hope there are also three virtual clocks ticking at different speeds: the Israeli clock, the regional clock and the international clock. They should show that time is an elusive concept – a relative one, as we were taught by Albert Einstein – and a crucial factor in any decision regarding Operation Protective Edge.
Expressions such as “Time is not on our side” or “Time is running out” should, however, be measured not by their substance, but by who utters them.
IDF action is fast, but cautious. It can’t be dictated in advance.
It is different for the IAF. If pilots and others behind the air operation deviate for one second from the strict parameters set at the beginning of the operation, they might cause mass casualties, particularly among noncombatants. Some 35 percent (according to Israeli sources) to 70 percent (according to the UN) of victims in the Gaza Strip are innocent civilians. Unfortunately, air strikes conducted since the campaign began on July 8 hit hundreds of targets on the ground, but have yet to halt the rocket attacks and create deterrence. Israel must continue to exercise its air power to its full extent, but keep civilian deaths to a minimum.
The Israeli clock represents two sectors of activity: the home front and the front lines. On the question of whether we should have a ground assault, my answer is no. A ground operation would exact an intolerable casualty toll on both Israelis and Palestinians. The government is wise to avoid such a scenario, because its cost would be much greater than its benefit.
Our home front clock, on the other hand, should operate as slowly as necessary.
The public’s patience allows the country to absorb attacks on a scale the State of Israel has never known. Therefore, there is time for the government and the IDF to act according to circumstances.
This clock has the potential to save time if we preserve the reservoir of civilian strength. This is a direct result of the sensational success of the defense systems spearheaded by the Iron Dome. This rocket- interception apparatus has proved to be an iron barrier which frustrate Hamas rockets and prevents them from achieving even a minute share of their goals.
If the home front clock speeds up, for reasons that I can’t foresee now, it will impinge on the military clock and slow the offense.
Around us a regional clock spreads from the Gaza Strip through the Palestinian Authority, from Egypt and Jordan to other countries in the Middle East. They have a very slow clock resulting from the cultural differences between us and our neighbors. Our time is not their time.
As a Western, technological and rational society, we search for solutions to problems and believe that these can be implemented, but our neighbors, with whom are destined to live, think and act with completely opposite worldviews. For them, time is filled with options. They are prepared to wait, making for a frustrating collision of two cultures and civilizations.
In my opinion, the Palestinian leadership in Gaza sees the current conflict as a stepping stone to their ultimate goal of destroying the State of Israel. They are willing to pay a price, partly personal but mostly in the public domain, to achieve their objective. Two hundred victims mean nothing to them.
Egypt, Jordan and other countries in the region are actually working to stop violence, putting pressure on both Israel and Hamas. They understand that the continued fighting puts the security of their own countries at risk by adding to the turbulence. Israel must consider their positions, and coordinate actions with them.
Finally, we have to watch the international clock, which spans oceans and connects international organizations, countries and NGOs. This clock ticks very fast. The television coverage, on the one hand, and social networks, on the other, create massive pressure on public opinion as well as on international leaders. Our time has already expired on this clock.
Israel must do what best serves its interests.
Without international legitimacy, however, the situation could easily turn into international sanctions and harmful isolation. We must carefully consider what is said in this forum and check elapsed time on the international clock.
By this standard, it was good that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu agreed to the Egyptian-brokered cease-fire, renewing international legitimacy for a few more days.
The visits of several foreign ministers to Israel, along with accompanying media, builds understanding of the factors that led Israel into this military operation.
On the 10th day of Protective Edge, Israel has a team of experienced clock makers: Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and IDF Chief of Staff Lt.- Gen. Benny Gantz. They are directing the operation with determination and care, with idea on maintaining national consensus. I believe that this is the way to select the best option, which calls for dealing s a severe blow to Hamas followed by a long period of calm for Israel.
The writer, Dr. Nachman Shai, is a member of Knesset for the Labor Party, a member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and a former IDF spokesman.
This article was translated by Natan Galili.