Late winter 2000, the second intifada was at its height. Shin Bet Chief Avi Dichter and I were meeting a senior US senator in a luxurious Jerusalem hotel, discussing the grim situation. Suddenly the distinguished visitor asked, “Why don’t you just drop a napalm bomb on Nablus? It’s what we did in Vietnam, and it worked perfectly.”
We stared at him. Dichter smiled and replied, “That’s the difference between a state and a superpower. A superpower does what it wants without having to account for it. A state does what the superpower tells it to.”
In fact, since the establishment of the state, the government of Israel has been doing whatever suits the US, and we are still doing it, but with two differences: In those days American interests conformed with those of Israel and the Israeli government was brave enough to make some of its own difficult decisions independently.
Since then, several things have changed: The US administration has become weaker internal and vis-à-vis the rest of the world. and it prioritizes its own security, especially, its economic interests over those of its closest allies like Israel. The US administration has been taken over by talentless movie stars and senators without leadership experience despite their sparkling smiles. Israel refined the “system” to enable mediocre functionaries to be elected to the Knesset. They participate in the most crucial decision-making processes only because of their dubious ties with vote contractors and powerful union heads. A situation has evolved whereby we now have a weak state and a slack, vulnerable democracy that relies on and is dominated by a weak “superpower.” The latter allows Qatar to continue funding Hamas, Turkey to lead the new Nazis and Russia to take control of European democracies. Barack Obama’s current call for a cease-fire is the smallest surprise to emerge from his administration.
As I wrote before, this battle. like its predecessors, is about public awareness. Neither side is interested in capturing territories, Hamas does not really believe that its rockets provide it with a military advantage. The IDF and the Israeli leadership is not interested in reoccupying the Gaza Strip. The Shin Bet is unable to obtain control and solve problems under these circumstances. The necessary conclusion must be that this round of fighting, too, will end in some kind of cease-fire, where each side claims victory and impressive achievements, trying to score points with its own people and the world. The trouble is that, in this tournament, there are no wins, only loss and culpability.
This ritual has repeated itself in each of Israel’s recent incursions in the Gaza Strip. Operation Rainbow (2004), Operation Days of Repentance (2004), Operation First Rain (2005), Operation Blue Skies (2005-06), Operation Autumn Clouds (2006), Operation Warm Winter (2008), Operation Cast Lead (2009), Operation Pillar of Defense (2012), and, last but not least, the current Operation Protective Edge. They all started with belligerent prophesies of our obliterating Hamas, and ended with declarations of us having dealt a mortal blow to their infrastructure and leadership. Every time we were told that hundreds of terrorist targets were destroyed, although we continued to suffer rocket attacks inside Israeli territory during and after the operations. Nothing changed. Hamas continues to rule in the Gaza Strip; the Palestinians determine when they will escalate and when they will relax things; rockets continue to threaten all territories inside Israel, and the only people who remain working around the clock are spokespersons and “people-in-the-know.”
So what can be done? Well, for a start, it would be desirable for this nation to be led by a cadre of competent leaders, people with the courage and vision and leadership ability to persevere for a long time. Here is what they need to do: 1. We need to sober up and change the electoral system to achieve this. We need to elect the kind of government that members of the old system fear.
2. We must make heroic decisions to give Israeli interests priority over the whims and whimsies of the United Nations, the Americans, the Europeans, the Turks and all the others.
3. We must understand there is no one to talk to on the other side currently. Right now, political negotiations and political achievements are the best that can happen. An Islamic, extremist, terrorist organization such as Hamas, following the rules of the Muslim Brotherhood and calling for the destruction of Israel, will never be a partner in such negotiations. The ostensibly natural partner, Abu Mazen (Mahmud Abbas), is incapable of making a decision and leading his people to a fitting agreement.
4. We must take responsibility for the country’s security, enable the IDF to do what it does best without stopping, provide the Shin Bet with all necessary tools and freedom to act in the territories and Gaza so they can collect information and thwart Hamas.
5. We must determine the timetable and extent of the activity and refuse to be dragged behind Hamas and its idiosyncrasies.
6. The prime minister and his representatives must face every news network worldwide, the UN General Assembly and Security Council and all the parliaments in the world and be brave enough to present the facts about what Israel is doing.
7. Israel must be prepared to hold serious political negotiations with anyone on the Palestinian side willing to negotiate seriously and agree to concessions rather bowing to extremists.
8. Israel’s government must build a detailed, long-term strategic plan for dealing with the Palestinians, Israeli Arabs, religion, transport, internal security, economy, etc. instead of improvising and ad-libbing.
This conflict is not going to be solved soon. Hamas won’t disappear, and its desire to annihilate Israel won’t end. Someone has to enlighten the world about who manages this little neighborhood. If you exist in a jungle, facing a tribe of barbarians, and use only a pair of tweezers and a book of instructions, you’re never going to win. It’s not a matter of moving Right or Left, nor is it a matter of submitting to international diplomacy. It’s a matter of survival. If you are strong, determined and have a vision, you will win. At the moment we are displaying weakness, lack of initiative. resolve, courage, vision and long-term planning. It is not good, but it can be changed.
The writer is a former brigadier-general who served as a division head in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).
Translated from Hebrew by Ora Cummings.