People stand near near rubble of damaged buildings in the northern Aleppo countryside in Syria in December 2016.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The latest news from Aleppo, and the ongoing bloodletting in Syria, has highlighted the tangible nightmare of Israelis.
If Arabs massacre Arabs, if Muslims kill Muslims, how would they behave towards Jews? Imagine if the same coalition of Syrian, Iranian and Hezbollah-armed groups had entered Tel Aviv, rather than Aleppo, what would have been the fate of the civilian population in Israel’s main commercial center? The same question could be advanced with regard to Islamic State, al-Qaida and other armed forces currently involved in the Syrian conflict. Could you just fathom the scenario of disciples belonging to those organization entering the streets of Tel Aviv? To be sure, Israeli civilians have been subjected to indiscriminate attacks from Arab terrorists since 1948. Thousands of civilians have been killed or injured in such attacks. Compared to an Aleppo-like onslaught, those terrorist attacks would pale into insignificance.
For Israelis, Aleppo is not just a heart-breaking story of human suffering, but a mirror-image of their worst fears. In a sense, Aleppo accounts for Israel’s constant vigilance and explains the essence of its national security strategy. For Aleppo is not only the headline of yesterday’s newspaper, but the warning sign of tomorrow’s menace.
The distance between Aleppo and Tel Aviv could be well-nigh insignificant were it not for Israel’s singular military and technological prowess.
Without Israel’s resourceful and creative security forces and adaptive diplomatic posture, Aleppo would be just across the street.
Indeed, the Syrian conflict has witnessed an Israeli policy that has, so far, succeeded in combining in a subtle manner deterrence and restraint. This is one of the most difficult challenges in shaping a national security strategy: how do you manage to deter while displaying restraint? Aleppo, as an example, demonstrates that wishing to live in peace is hardly enough in a region in which your very existence is put into question, and the lives of your citizens depends on keeping Aleppo as far as possible from your borders.
Let’s be candid about it: Aleppo doesn’t happen in Tel Aviv not because there are no candidates willing, but because there are no victims ready for it to happen.
In this context, it is important to bear in mind that, whereas Israelis used to yearn for peace since their country’s inception, now they seek security.
Peace as an aspiration of full reconciliation has been substituted for a tangible reality of relative security. Aleppo has only reinforced that.
Living in a dynamic parliamentary democracy, Israelis express views ranging from the most dovish to the most hawkish. Increasingly, though, the debate has shifted from the way peace should look like to the way Israel as a nation should look like. In the context of this lively debate, Israelis have coalesced into a shared security paradigm, entailing a combined strategy of deterrence and restraint, which adapts itself to changing circumstances.
That’s why Israel does not try to keep Aleppo as far as possible from its towns and cities either by seeking peace or by pursuing an actively aggressive policy.
Neither strategy by itself is deemed to be effective.
To depict an Aleppo-like scenario as applied to Tel Aviv is paradoxically as real as one can imagine, for the intent and motivation exist. It is only the potential victim that precludes it from taking place. Israel’s enemies have shown no mercy to their own fellow brothers and sisters, whether it be in Syria, in Iraq or in Gaza. Why would they be any more merciful with the Israeli Jews or, for that matter, with the Arab citizens of Israel? When Israelis watch the scenes of murder, brutality and destruction in Aleppo, they see the same forces doing much worse – if that were possible – to them.
If you really wish to understand the fears Israelis harbor and the hopes they entertain, don’t look any further from Tel Aviv than Aleppo.The writer is a professor in the Political Science department of Tel Aviv University.