A brief prologue: I would consider myself remiss if, before broaching the topic of this week’s column, I did not pause to pay tribute to my friend Maurice Ostroff, who, sadly, passed away this week at the age of 90. His tireless and articulate efforts in defense of Israel (including his erudite Jerusalem Post blog) will be sorely missed, and his passing will leave the public discourse on Israel, and its international standing, decidedly diminished.
How do you manage in these conditions to create a situation in which those not involved in terror activities can continue with their lives? How can you not undermine the routine of life, while providing an effective response to the threat that emerges from individual attackers – knives, vehicle rammings, shootings? It is not organized; there is no organization, but it comes directly out of the civilian population. How can you, nevertheless, allow a sizable Arab civilian population in Judea and Samaria to live its life if it is not involved in terror activities?
…In this war which is predominantly a war of wills, of two societies with conflicting wills, a war in which endurance is more important than firepower, [the question is] which society will prevail?
– Defense Minister Moshe (Bogie) Ya’alon, Israel Democracy Institute, November 25
This is not an easy column for me to write.
Although I cannot claim to be a “bosom buddy” of Defense Minister Ya’alon, I have, over the last decade, maintained an amiable relationship with him, and spent a considerable number of hours discussing – more often than not in a like-minded manner – various issues on the national agenda.
Recently, however, I find myself increasingly at odds with several of his public pronouncements, and not infrequently at a loss to fathom the political rationale underlying the course they are intended to chart.
Despite my personal bias
I must confess to having a strong personal bias in favor of Ya’alon. In many ways, he is the epitome of an officer and a gentleman, a far more thoughtful politician than one normally encounters in the Israeli political system.
Indeed, I do not think I am being overly naïve in believing he is motivated more by his sincere perception of the national interest than of any narrow personal gain.
However, despite my esteem for the man and his impressive accomplishments, the issues at hand are so fateful that I feel compelled to overcome my personal reluctance to engage him critically in public, and take him to task for what I see as grave misperception of reality and of the policy required to contend with it.
It was a headline, “Ya’alon: We must let West Bank Arabs live as normal lives as possible” in last Thursday’s Jerusalem Post that provided the impetus for this column.
The report, by the Post’s Jeremy Sharon, referred to an address Ya’alon gave at the inauguration of a new program at the Israel Democracy Institute on “National Security and Democracy” in memory of the late IDF chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Amnon Lipkin-Shahak.
While not a verbatim quote of what Ya’alon actually said, the headline did encapsulate the substance of an important portion of his talk, which comprises the point of departure of the ensuing critique.
Keen sense of discomfort
Although I did not attend Ya’alon’s address, I did study the video recording closely. In many ways, it was an admirable rhetorical exercise, almost perfectly crafted to fit the audience and the occasion.
It painted a vivid picture of moral and operational dilemmas facing Israeli decision makers in waging what is termed an “asymmetrical war” with various Arab militias such as Hamas and Hezbollah. Ya’alon articulated how the desire to preserve Israel’s “core values” of humanism and democracy imposed restraints on the IDF, designed to avoid (or at least reduce) civilian casualties on the other side, and how this desire impacted decisions on what action should/ should not be undertaken.
In essence it was an impassioned call for restraint and “proportionate” response to individual acts of terror, while making strenuous efforts to keep the civilian population largely immune from the consequences of those “proportionate” responses.
I always feel a keen sense of discomfort in clashing with someone like Ya’alon for not being robust enough in addressing Arab aggression, especially in light of his vast combat experience and proven valor in battle.
However, I am utterly convinced that his prescription for restraint and proportionality is a counterproductive recipe that will almost certainly sustain the conflict, perpetuate the “cycles of violence” and result in mounting civilian casualties—on both sides.
Right diagnosis, wrong prescription
Perhaps one of the most disconcerting aspects of Ya’alon’s IDI address was the glaring disconnect in the logic of its purported rationale.
To affirm this rather harsh assessment, I invite readers to re-examine the introductory excerpts from his speech.
On the one hand, Ya’alon correctly diagnosed the conflict as a clash of collectives – “predominantly a war of wills, of two societies with conflicting wills” – in which the victor will be the side with the greater persistence, not superior martial prowess – “a war in which endurance is more important than fire-power.”
I concur entirely! Indeed, I have written, repeatedly, in much the same spirit.
Thus, in last week’s column, I observed “what is at hand is a clash of collectives, not malfeasance by individual Palestinian miscreants”; and in “Preserving the Jewish nation state” (Oct 29), I wrote: “... the major existential challenge to Israel’s existence as the Jewish nation-state is no longer repulsing invasion, but resisting attrition. The Arab stratagem is no longer the cataclysmic annihilation of the Jewish state, but the ongoing erosion of Jewish will….”
But then, on the other hand, Ya’alon urges – in my mind, inexplicably – that Israel should strive to preserve “the routine of life” for its inimical adversarial collective!‘Here’s the thing…’
So, here’s the thing, as the fictional sleuth Adrian Monk would say just before exposing a logical inconsistency: If the clash is essentially one between collectives, surely victory will require one collective breaking the will of the rival collective. Accordingly, ensuring that said rival can maintain its daily routine hardly seems the most promising stratagem to adopt in an effort to break its will and achieve victory.
Indeed, if anything, it would seem the exigencies for a collective victory over an adversarial collective would dictate the diametrically opposite endeavor – disrupt the daily routine of the adversary. For as I noted last week: “Misdeeds perpetrated in the name of the Palestinian collective must carry a price, which the collective pays – for if not, it will have no incentive to curb them”, and lamented “Sadly, judging from recent statements from official government and military sources, this almost self-evident truth seems to have eluded Israel’s senior decision-makers.”
It is for these reasons that I have repeatedly called for Israel to relate to the Palestinian collective in precisely the manner in which it defines itself – an implacable enemy – and to undertake policy that reflects this irrefutable truth by denying it the provision of merchandise and services that allow it to maintain its daily routine of unfading and undisguised Judeophobic enmity.Palestinian ‘normal’
Indeed, it would be a grave error to conceptually decouple the animosity of individual Palestinian-Arab terrorists, who actively express that animosity, from that of the Palestinian- Arab collective that passively harbors it, for the two nourish each other.
Two recent opinion polls, using large samples, conducted by Palestinian organizations, shed sobering light on what opinions are held by the Palestinian public.
In a poll conducted in mid-September by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, headed by the reputable Dr. Khalil Shikaki, participants were asked the following question: “There is a proposal that after the establishment of an independent Palestinian state and the settlement of all issues in dispute, including the refugees and Jerusalem issues, there will be a mutual recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people and Palestine as the state of the Palestinian people. Do you agree or disagree to this proposal?” Some 58 percent of those polled disagreed while only 39.6% agreed.
With regard to the “vaunted” Saudi peace plan (a.k.a. Arab Peace Initiative), so fervently embraced by the Israeli Left, the question was: “According to the Saudi plan, Israel will retreat from all territories occupied in 1967… and a Palestinian state will be established. The refugee problem will be resolved… in a just and agreed upon manner and in accordance with UN resolution 194 which allows return of refugees to Israel and compensation. In return, all Arab states will recognize Israel and its right to secure borders, will sign peace treaties with her and establish normal diplomatic relations. Do you agree or disagree to this plan?” Some 48.6% rejected the plan, while only 43% endorsed it.More on Palestinian “normal”
Arutz 7 (November 28) reported on a new public opinion poll, conducted by Watan Research Center among Arab residents of Judea, Samaria and Gaza in mid- November.
It found that an overwhelming majority supports continuing the ongoing terror attacks.
A full 72% expressed support for continuing the current “Al-Quds (Jerusalem) Intifada,” while 44% favored an armed intifada terror war and 48% indicated that the long-term goal should be the destruction of Israel.
Accordingly, whether or not all Arab demands – borders, Jerusalem, refugees – are met, a clear plurality of the Palestinian public would obdurately refuse recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jews, while a massive majority endorse the current homicidal rampage against Jewish civilians – and merciless slaughter of women, children and the elderly.
What conceivable interest, never mind moral obligation, does Israel have to sustain the social and economic “routine” of such an inimical collective, so overwhelmingly devoted to our demise? Unless policy makers can rid themselves of the crippling constraints of prevailing political correctness and the misleading and misguided conventional “wisdom” it begets, the chances of Israel prevailing in the “war of collective wills” look increasingly bleak.Ya’alon, quo vadis?
There is something, however, that makes Ya’alon’s recent political pronouncements even more puzzling – indeed, perturbing.
For several years Ya’alon, together with an impressive line-up of former generals and senior diplomats, was involved in a project conducted under the auspices of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, headed by Dore Gold, former UN ambassador, and today director-general of the Foreign Ministry.
The study focused on the issue of what Israel’s minimum security requirements were for defensible borders and a viable peace.
Ya’alon authored a 10-page introduction of an impressive monograph, well over 100 pages, excoriating the land-for-peace paradigm. The conclusions were that Israel must retain control of both the western and eastern slopes of the Judea-Samaria highlands, the Jordan Valley, as well as the airspace and electromagnetic spectrum over the entire area of Judea and Samaria.
I, of course, warmly endorse the findings of the study, but find myself compelled to ask: What are the political implications of these prescriptions for minimal Israeli security, and what “routine” does Ya’alon envisage for the recalcitrant Arab population in these areas, under such overwhelming Israeli dominance? Does he believe that there is any conceivable Arab partner, who would countenance any such dominance as “routine’? I know Ya’alon as a man of intellect, integrity and courage. As such I hope he will pick up the gauntlet, address these troubling questions and provide answers that many would be eager to receive.
A brief epilogue
– from last week’s column to this week’s New York Times
: In last week’s column I argued that the brutality of the “Palestinian cause” should not be attributed to the relatively recent ascendance of radical Islam, but predated it considerably. As if to corroborate this, the NYT
(December 1) published hitherto-withheld details of the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, revealing the gory story of torture, mutilation and castration, perpetrated almost a half-century ago by Palestinian terrorists (with the apparent involvement of designated “moderate” Mahmoud Abbas).
For those of strong stomach—see “Long-Hidden Details Reveal Cruelty of 1972 Munich Attackers” by Sam Borden.Martin Sherman (www.martinsherman.org) is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies. (www.strategic-israel.org)