Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad. 
– Ancient proverb, misattributed to Euripides

Q: What is the difference between the State of Israel and a lunatic asylum?
A: In a lunatic asylum, the management is supposed to be sane.

– Popular joke

Any alien visitor from outer space, dispassionately observing events in the country, could well be excused for concluding – completely erroneously, of course – that successive governments, and particularly the current one, are not really concerned with the long-term survival of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

Indeed, it would be entirely understandable if our extraterrestrial traveler reached a seemingly far more plausible – but, of course, equally erroneous – conclusion that instead, they are far more focused on delaying its collapse long enough so that they do not have to bear the blame for that collapse.

‘Like a rudderless ship...’

As mistaken as our naive alien might be as to the true motivations of our esteemed elected leadership, it is becoming increasingly difficult to reconcile their actions, decisions and particularly their proposals for policy with prudent, provident regard for the future of the nation.

In past columns, I issued two severe indictments of this government’s policy.

In “The ruinous results of restraint” (July 10), I warned: “By adhering to a policy of avoiding confrontations which Israel can win, the government risks leading it into one in which it might lose”; and urged: “It is time for a bold new offensive – before we are overtaken by events.”

In “Like a rudderless ship in a stormy sea” (July 17), I remarked reproachfully that just as Hamas willfully exposes its citizens to deadly dangers in order to defend it against Israeli military attacks, so the Israeli government knowingly exposes its citizens to severe danger in order to prevent diplomatic attacks from the international community.”

Both these grim prognoses are being fulfilled with alarming accuracy and alacrity.

Indeed, during the first days of Operation Protective Edge, I was not aware of how depressingly apt the title “Like a rudderless ship in a stormy sea” would turn out to be.

For not only does Israel increasingly appear like a rudderless vessel adrift in ominously high seas, but the captain and crew are looking increasingly clueless – not only about what to do, but where to go.

A slow boat to nowhere?

The conduct of the war by Israel has been a dismal failure. Unless this is remedied, and remedied rapidly, failure will degenerate into a disastrous, disruptive debacle that will shake the foundations of the nation. The final ramifications of recent events have not yet been fully fathomed.

On the one hand, because of the operational restraint it opted for, Israel achieved no objective of any significance, nothing with any measure of assured durability. It clearly failed to impose a end to the rocket fire. It failed to disrupt the senior echelons of Hamas’s chain of command. It failed to cripple Hamas as a fighting force. Grave doubts remain as to how effectively the threat of tunnels has been eliminated...

On the other hand, Israel has reaped all the international condemnation it hoped to avoid by exercise of that operational restraint.

As restraint allowed the conflict to drag on for week after bloody week, the scenes of destruction in Gaza began to galvanize world opinion against Israel – or more precisely, gave anti-Israel activists time to galvanize it against Israel – reaching a vicious, rarely seen crescendo of hate not only against the Jewish state, but by association, against the Jews.

Summing up the gloomy balance of gains and losses for Israel, including the loss of dozens of IDF soldiers, Yediot Aharonot’s Ronen Bergman made this somewhat charitable assessment in a New York Times opinion piece this week: “For Israel, this round of fighting will probably end politically more or less at the point where it began but with significant damage to Israel’s deterrence.”

Deceptive optics of asymmetrical wars

The assessment is charitable because, while it is probable that Israel will emerge with “significant damage to its deterrence,” it is more than likely that the political status quo ante will not be preserved. Israel will suffer considerable political losses, which, of course, will be Hamas’s political gains.

It is of course easy to get misled by the deceptive optics of asymmetrical warfare.

In his op-ed, soberingly titled, “How Hamas Beat Israel in Gaza” (August 10), Bergman observes: “If body counts and destroyed weaponry are the main criteria for victory, Israel is the clear winner... But counting bodies is not the most important criterion in deciding who should be declared victorious. Much more important is comparing each side’s goals before the fighting and what they have achieved. Seen in this light, Hamas won.”

He explains: “Hamas started the war because it was in dire straits.... But soon enough Hamas was dictating the duration of the conflict.... Furthermore, it preserved its capability of firing rockets and missiles at most of Israel’s territory, despite the immense effort by the Israeli Air Force....”

He points out that, despite Israel’s efforts “to marginalize Hamas and empower the weakened Mr. Abbas, Hamas is, for the first time in its history, on the verge of being internationally recognized as an equal party in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.”

This raises chilling questions.

For if your adversary, and his demands, are on an equal footing with you – if all you seek is calm, while your adversary is committed to your total annihilation, what is a reasonable compromise? That he only annihilate half of you?

Something rotten in the State of Israel

But worse, much worse is likely to come unless the rudderless ship ceases to be a slow boat to nowhere (or even worse), and sets a new, resolute course toward a defined destination: Victory over the enemy and imposition of unconditional surrender.

Lamentably, the prospect of such corrective action seems increasingly remote in light of the deluge of depressing drivel, emanating from what is, increasingly inappropriately, designated Israel’s “leadership.”

Minister after minister appear before the press to present his/her personal prescription for the future, with each proposal more preposterous, puerile and perilous than the next.

Apparently oblivious of Albert Einstein’s designation of incessant repetition of failed efforts as indicative of insanity, each member in this disheartening procession offers up his/her own rehashed melange of measures that were tried in the past and seen to fail, resoundingly and repeatedly.

Reluctant to recognize that what happened in recent weeks has definitively demonstrated that the two-state principle is not viable if a semblance of security for Israel is to be preserved, they desperately try to breathe life into the grotesque, zombie-like remains of that nefarious notion.

Typically, these harebrained and hazardous suggestions comprise little more than a vague, ill-defined wishlist of measures, with no stipulation of any process that would demonstrate how or why what was once hopelessly ineffective will, miraculously, become effective.

The substantive quality of these purported political blueprints is so shockingly poor that it is deeply disconcerting to think that the individuals who authored them, apparently in all seriousness, are at the nation’s helm, charged with guiding it through the menacing crises it will soon be called on to face.

Leaders living in a parallel universe?

Unsurprisingly, two of the loopiest “plans” (for want of a better word) came from Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Finance Minister Yair Lapid, both of whom have demonstrated conclusively that they have no grasp of political realties in the region. Indeed they have both proved so out of touch they might well be inhabiting some parallel universe.

Livni, for example, extols her role in authoring UN Security Council Resolution 1701 at the end of the 2006 Second Lebanon War, a measure which transformed south Lebanon from a formidable Hezbollah arsenal with thousands of missiles aimed at sites in Israel into an immensely more formidable Hezbollah arsenal with tens of thousands of immensely more formidable missiles aimed at sites in Israel. Way to go, Tzipi! Given the massive rearmament of Hezbollah since the passage of 1701, it is difficult to know whether to laugh or cry when reading the portion which calls for “... the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon, so that... there will be no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than that of the Lebanese state.”

We all know how splendidly that worked out.

‘Disengagement, our last chance for normal life’

Lapid has openly admitted that he mendaciously manipulated his widely read Friday Yediot Aharonot column (see “Bennett’s buddy” – February 21, 2013) to advance unilateral disengagement from Gaza.

That article became the launching pad for his political career. In it, he vigorously assailed opponents of evacuation, warning them that their opposition was likely to have deeply divisive repercussions on society.

In light of events, it is staggering to read what he wrote then and realize that someone with such flawed judgment carries such heavy responsibility for the future of the nation today.

In a piece titled, “To: The Opponents of disengagement,” on June 24, 2005, he blustered with typically misplaced bravado: “Have you thought what will happen if you succeed [in preventing disengagement]. Don’t you understand that if... [disengagement does not happen] we will disengage from you. We will say, “Your God is not our God, your land is not our land.” Do you suppose we will simply give up what we see as our only chance for a normal life? Have you any idea how you will live in a country in which most of its inhabitants feel they have to sacrifice their lives – day after day, terror attack after terror attack – for you?” Disengagement, “our only chance for a normal life.” Really. It would be intriguing to see you try to sell that today to the residents of Nahal Oz, Nirim and other communities along the Gaza border, who have been forced to evacuate their homes because of the ravages wrought by disengagement.

Tired, worn-out formulae

Desperate to avoid acknowledging that the only viable alternative consistent with Israel’s security and the ability to sustain a Jewish population in the Negev is for the IDF to overrun Gaza, capture it, kill senior leaders and begin relocating the non-belligerent population, within the framework of a generously funded international humanitarian initiative, Livni, Lapid, and other members of the Israeli government persist in regurgitating failed formulas of the past.

Typically these formulae entail elements such as more financial aid to Gaza, strengthening Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas), convening yet another international conference, strengthening Abu Mazen, demilitarizing Gaza, strengthening Abu Mazen, handing over the border crossings to the PA, strengthening Abu Mazen, fostering regional cooperation... and, oh yes, strengthening Abu Mazen.

None of these, of course, will be anything but ineffectual – as they were in the past.

Gaza has received huge amounts of foreign aid and the elected government channeled it into tunnels and rockets. Gaza is already supposed to be demilitarized, as stipulated in the Oslo Accords (just as Hezbollah was supposed to disarm as per Resolution 1701); the PA was deployed in Gaza and was summarily ejected by Hamas; regional cooperation was proposed – before the Arab Spring shattered the region – under Shimon Peres’s “New Middle East” vision and laughed out of town at Casablanca...

As for Abu Mazen, everybody’s new “security blanket,” he was, of course, in control of Gaza until he was unceremoniously booted out by Hamas. Indeed, he has only maintained his current (unelected) hold over the “West Bank” because of the presence of the IDF, without which he would, in all likelihood, be unceremoniously booted out (or worse) there as well...

Which part of ‘They want to kill us’ don’t they get?


How long can Israeli leaders continue to advocate fatally failed formulas before we begin to question their soundness of mind and good intentions?

One can only wonder which part of the simple truth “They want to kill us – not because of what we do but because of what we are” – is difficult for them to grasp and why they have so much difficulty formulating policy that reflects the truth.

Martin Sherman (www.martinsherman.org) is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.(www.strategic-israel.org)

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