women at hawara 298.
(photo credit: AP [file])
The mantra "there is no military solution to terrorism" is so rarely challenged these days that it was shocking to see the following commentary last Wednesday on the front page of Haaretz, a leading bastion of the "no military solution" theory.
"It's common to claim it is impossible to defeat terrorism," the analysis stated. But in the seven years since the intifada began, "the IDF and Shin Bet have come as close as possible to achieving victory. Since the beginning of the year, two soldiers (one each in the West Bank and Gaza) and six civilians (three in a suicide bombing in Eilat, two from Kassam rockets in Sderot and one who was stabbed to death in Gush Etzion) have been killed by terrorism. This is a very small number, considering the number of attempted attacks, and also compared to the high point of the intifada, when 450 Israelis were killed in 2002. The last suicide bombing in central Israel occurred 18 months ago, in April 2006.
"The formula that produced this achievement is known," it continued: aggressive intelligence gathering, the security fence and "the IDF's complete freedom of action in West Bank cities."
If this is not victory, it is a close enough approximation that most Israelis would happily settle for it. That is why the June Peace Index poll found Jewish Israelis overwhelmingly opposed to security concessions to the Palestinian Authority, with 79 percent against arming the PA, 71 percent against removing checkpoints and 54 percent against releasing prisoners: Few Israelis want to scrap measures that have reduced Israeli fatalities from 450 to eight over the last five years.
It also helps explain the stunning reversal in Israeli attitudes toward Sderot revealed by August's Peace Index poll. According to that poll, fully 69 percent of Jewish Israelis now support an extensive ground operation in Gaza to stop the Kassam fire at southern Israel - whereas last December, 57 percent opposed such an operation. Moreover, this support crossed party lines: Even among people who voted for the leftist Labor and Meretz parties, 64 and 67 percent, respectively, favored a major military operation in Gaza.
CLEARLY, THIS reversal occurred partly because in the interim, all other options had been exhausted. The December poll came a month after Hamas declared a cease-fire in Gaza, and while the truce had not fully taken hold, many still hoped that it would. By August, those hopes had died: Not only were rockets fired at Sderot almost daily during the "cease-fire," but in May, Hamas trumpeted its contempt for the truce by claiming credit for over 100 Kassam launches in a single week. Additionally, in December, Mahmoud Abbas was nominally in control of Gaza, and many still hoped that he would take action to stop the rocket fire. By August, Hamas was in full control.
The fact that Israel first sought nonmilitary solutions in Gaza resembles its behavior during the first 18 months of the intifada: It signed cease-fires (which instantly collapsed), declined to respond even to major suicide bombings inside Israel (Dolphinarium and Sbarro), and generally sought to get the Palestinian security services to reassert control. But as the casualty toll, especially inside Israel, mounted, it became clear that salvation would not come from the PA. So in March 2002, Israel reconquered the West Bank in Operation Defensive Shield - and Israeli fatalities dropped dramatically, that year and every year thereafter.
HOWEVER, there is one crucial difference between the intifada's early years and the recent Israeli quest for a nonmilitary solution in Gaza: While Israelis would always prefer to avoid risking soldiers' lives, they now know, as they did not in 2002, that the military option works. After all, not a single Kassam has been fired at Israel from the West Bank. Hence Israelis are not awaiting leadership from above; they are backing military action even as the politicians still vehemently reject it.
Given this growing recognition among the Israeli public, it is bizarre to hear senior politicians and military officers still parroting the "no military solution to terror" mantra. But at least these officials understand that in practice, Israel's defensive measures in the West Bank work, and therefore, ending them would be a bad idea (not to mention unpopular with the voters).
International agencies and diplomats, in contrast, have not even gotten that far. Any of them could, if they took five minutes to examine the data, realize that Israel's military measures in the West Bank have dramatically reduced Israeli fatalities, especially inside Israel, since 2002; yet they persist in declaring that these measures are unnecessary and must be scrapped. Thus Condoleezza Rice uses her every visit to pressure Israel on this issue, while the World Bank once again demanded last week that Israel remove West Bank checkpoints, open its border with Gaza and restore freedom of movement between Gaza and the West Bank.
Or perhaps this is feigned ignorance, meant to cover a willingness to sacrifice Israeli lives in order to demonstrate "progress" in the peace process. The World Bank report, for instance, coyly stated that "the costs are subjective to each side and are beyond the scope of this report" - thereby sparing it the need to acknowledge that the likely cost is Israeli lives - but "all parties will need to expend more resources and assume more risks than they have done in the past."
Is it really unaware of what those carefully unstated risks are? Either way, however, this willful blindness perpetuates the conflict by ensuring that a key obstacle to resolving it - Palestinian terror - remains unaddressed. In 1993, many Israelis hoped that a peace agreement would end terror. Fourteen years later, after having suffered more fatalities from Palestinian terror post-Oslo than during the entire preceding 45 years, most Israelis have concluded that the allegedly nonexistent military solution does a much better job of protecting their lives. And until there is concrete evidence of Palestinian willingness and ability to do the job as well or better, there will be no Israeli majority for any deal with the PA.