(photo credit: AP [file])
It is perhaps unsurprising that the nation is scandalized by revelations that Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz took a moment as war was breaking out in Lebanon to sell his stock portfolio. Yet at a time in which our soldiers are still in the field, and so many larger questions loom both about the war and challenges in its aftermath, this flap should not be allowed to capture the national agenda.
Among these concerns is that we as a nation - including the political echelon, successive chiefs of IDF staff, and we in the media - fell asleep on the watch for six years as Hizbullah built an army and arsenal on our border. It is not too soon to ask whether we are not doing the same thing again, this time on the southern front.
Hamas seems inspired to apply Hizbullah's tactics to the Gaza Strip. Israel and the international community have clearly not done enough to prevent Hamas from obtaining the sort of arsenal we just fought a very costly war, in blood and money, to only partially destroy.
Prior to the Katyusha, Fajr and Zelzal rocket attacks from Lebanon, southern Israeli towns suffered barrages of hundreds, if not thousands, of Kassams fired at them from the northern suburbs of Gaza City. Inspired by the casualties, damage and fear that Hizbullah's rockets caused, Hamas has said that it will step up its attacks by launching even more Kassams and longer-range Grad rockets at southern cities such as Ashkelon and Sderot. "The southern Lebanon scenario," as MK Avigdor Lieberman said in addressing this threat, "must be prevented from being repeated in southern Israel."
Currently, Hamas is in a less comfortable position vis- -vis Israel than Hizbullah was a month ago. Confined to a smaller and more congested area makes it more difficult to carry out the kind of guerrilla operations that Hizbullah had perfected in the hills of southern Lebanon. The border fence along the sandy Gaza Strip is also much shorter and better patrolled by the IDF than the long, rocky border with Lebanon, reducing the possibility of surprise raids on Israeli military positions.
Again, though, complacency over security along Gaza would be a deadly error. Israel must act decisively to ensure that firing rockets at the South carries a price sufficiently high that Palestinian terrorists choose not to pay it. And commanders must see that their troops along the Gaza border are more alert than ever to the possibility of guerrilla raids - either across the fence or, via tunnels, under it.
But Israel cannot only rely on deterrence, as the Lebanon war demonstrated. We also must ensure that Hamas does not gain the capability of holding a massive missile threat over us.
Israel, however, must not bear sole responsibility for security in the region. Just as Syria was responsible for the armament of Hizbullah via its border with Lebanon, there is a foreign power that is allowing the stockpiling of arms in the Gaza Strip. Though Egypt presumably is not actively arming Hamas the way Syria armed Hizbullah, Egypt bears no less responsibility if its border is the conduit of such weaponry.
It is apparent that Hamas is amassing huge stores of rockets, anti-tank missiles and light arms, and it is just as apparent that these weapons are not reaching the terrorist group by air or the sea, which Israel controls. That leaves Gaza's border with Egypt - a border far too porous for a country that has a peace agreement with Israel and that receives more than $2 billion per year in American aid meant to bring stability to the Middle East.
The war in Lebanon proves that capabilities, not just deterrence, matters and that allowing radical terrorist organizations to obtain sophisticated weaponry starts the countdown to the next war.
It is not too much to ask that Egypt honor its obligation to Israel to prevent arms from flowing through its border to the Palestinians. Nor is it too much to ask that the US condition its generous aid to the Egyptian government on its faithful performance of this duty.