During the first days of Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, Israel was rejoicing in Iron Dome’s capacity to castrate Hamas weaponry.
Politicians and reporters keep referring to the Iron Dome’s defensive capabilities and to the strategic advantage it has brought. As Hamas increases the reach of its rockets to Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Dimona, Hadera and Haifa – Iron Dome is the ultimate Israeli answer to the terrorist organization’s delusions of grandeur.
There is no doubt that Iron Dome has proven to be a strategic game-changer; Israel enjoys a protective shield that allows millions of civilians to maintain some semblance of normalcy in the midst of rocket attacks, and it has (so far) saved Israel from having to mount a ground invasion that might cost the lives of Israeli soldiers. Commentators have pointed out that Iron Dome has allowed Israel to be conservative in its choice of targets. Paradoxically, however, Iron Dome has also proven to be the great defender of Gaza, too.
It is the surprising savior of Hamas, and also the protector of the Gazan people from their fantasy-driven leadership.
A few weeks before launching Operation Protective Edge Israel was infested with calls for revenge over the kidnap and murder of three adolescents. Civilians, soldiers and Knesset members called on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to strike back at Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. They gave voice to very basic elements of Israeli culture – e.g., the fear of being taken advantage of or humiliated, and the need to stand defiantly against “the nations.”
Israelis reminded Netanyahu that Israel is often satisfied only “when the landlord [Israel] gets crazy.”
Given those cultural parameters, people expected Operation Protective Edge in Gaza to resemble previous Israeli campaigns in the Gaza Strip in terms of damage to Hamas. Many expressed their wish for the government to deliver a killing blow against Hamas, “to solve the problem once and for all.” But seven days into the campaign, and even after taking the gloves off to some degree, Israel is maintaining a consistent, reserved reaction.
Its operation in Gaza – measured fire from a distance at pre-decided targets – is seemingly surprising.
Because of this reserve, Netanyahu has been criticized for his supposedly unfitting reaction, and the government has been criticized for evading its supposed duty of exacting vengeance. Some politicians have even criticized IDF commanders for their “moderate” proposals for the campaign.
In fact, this new type of campaign reflects the entry of a game-changer to the Israeli-Palestinian arena.
The Gazans are now protected by a new weapon that Israeli culture has yet to reckon with – namely Israel’s own Iron Dome.
While Iron Dome frustrates Palestinian ambitions to destroy Israeli nuclear plants, oil refineries and airports, it moderates Israel’s retaliation, too. Iron Dome supplies the Gazans with immunity from Israeli vengeance, from the cultural imperative to “pour out thy wrath on Hamas.” Preoccupied with their own security, most Israelis – especially those seeking revenge – fail to appreciate that the Gazans and Hamas enjoy Iron Dome’s protection just as much as they do.
Iron Dome allows Israeli leaders to moderate the underlying cultural retaliatory attitude that otherwise characterizes Israeli actions; it allows Netanyahu to surprise an angry right-wing mob with calm and perseverance. As long as Israeli civilians are protected by Iron Dome, Gaza “enjoys” a reserved response from the Israeli army.
But there are more twists to the story, as Iron Dome also protects the Gazans from Hamas – which seeks an Israeli massacre in Gaza to fortify its culture of victimhood and its power in falsifying the Palestinian consciousness.
Without Iron Dome, Israeli culture would have demanded the IDF rain hellfire on the Palestinians.
With Iron Dome, both Israel and Hamas are allowed to maintain a modicum of civility – to exchange reserved blows while maintaining a kind of insane normalcy.
The author is the Louis and Ann Wolens Chair in Educational Research and director of the NCJW Research Institute for Innovation in Education Department of Sociology and Anthropology of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.