Israel stunned the world in the Six Day War when it not only survived what looked like certain decimation – if not annihilation – but, despite fighting the combined armies of the Arab world, swept into Sinai, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights, liberated and reunified Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and reached the outskirts of Damascus.
Israel’s spectacular success in June 1967 – made all the greater because it was so unexpected – has been studied in military academies around the world ever since.
This week’s mini-war – the two-day Rocket War – is noteworthy for different reasons. Israel, the undisputed regional military and technological giant, to a certain extent became the victim of its own success. With the relative protection afforded by the Iron Dome and other anti-rocket defense systems, Israel withstood a barrage of close to 500 rockets and mortars within 25 hours, fired by a terrorist organization which controls Gaza with an iron fist and Sharia law. Most of the world barely noticed. Or shrugged. Or, predictably, called for restraint – though I’m not the first person to wonder what the Western powers would do were just one rocket to fall on their sovereign territory.
The same people who less than a month earlier recognized that the massacre in a Pittsburgh synagogue was an atrocious act of antisemitism, for some reason did not perceive hundreds of rockets being launched on Israeli communities as anything to get upset about.
The intense (but thankfully brief) escalation of attacks from Gaza took most Israelis by surprise. That doesn’t mean that leadership was completely unprepared for it. Amid the intense sadness at the loss of the IDF officer who is only being identified as Lt.-Col. M. from a community in Israel, I could find a little solace. All those who eulogized him called him a hero. Reading between the lines, it seems Lt.-Col. M. was killed when special forces were on an operation in Gaza. Whatever he and his brave comrades were doing there, it’s clear that Israel and the IDF are preparing for the next, inevitable, war with Gaza.
In the incident in which Lt.-Col. M. was killed, Israeli forces returned fire and killed seven Palestinians – including Nur Barakeh, a Hamas military commander. At that point it would have been naive to have expected Hamas not to respond in some way. There has been much discussion, however, about whether when Hamas launched the Kornet rocket that hit an Israeli bus that had been carrying 50 soldiers, they deliberately waited until it was empty. (One soldier was seriously wounded.) Had so many soldiers been killed, Israel would have had to respond with full force.
The only fatality from the Hamas barrage on southern Israel was a Palestinian man who was in an Ashkelon residential building when it was hit. As Deputy Minister Michael Oren put it: “The murder of a Palestinian worker from Halhoul who... only wanted to make a living, is a tangible fact that Hamas terrorism... does not distinguish between Israelis and Palestinians.”
That Hamas didn’t increase its range to hit Tel Aviv is possibly a sign that it was not looking to escalate and turn the incident into a full-blown war. But those saying that the “peace is fragile” are ignoring the fact that the current reality is not real peace at all.
Last week, schoolchildren from the South marched to Jerusalem using the slogan “Let us grow up in peace and quiet” to draw attention to their plight. The suffering and trauma of the Israeli children, unlike that of their Palestinian peers, is largely ignored by the international media.
The absurdity of the current situation in Gaza became even more apparent on November 9, the day after the youth ended their march.
Pictures of suitcases stuffed with dollars brought into Gaza by a Qatari envoy, via an Israeli crossing, were published by the Kan broadcasting authority. The $15 million in cash was intended for Hamas to pay salaries, although it will be hard to track where all the banknotes actually end up. No wonder many Israelis, including politicians from both Left and Right, likened it to Mafia-style “protection money.”
Given that 400-plus rockets are not cheap, it’s obvious that despite the much-talked-about “humanitarian disaster” in Gaza, Hamas does have funds. It simply prefers to spend its ill-gained money on lining its leaders’ pockets and trying to hurt Israel.
The distribution of the cash from Qatar was also criticized by the Palestinian Authority based in Ramallah, which has been withholding funds to try to depose its arch-enemy, Hamas, and regain control over the Gaza Strip.
If the millions of dollars were meant to buy quiet, the attempt failed miserably. On Friday, a Palestinian was killed after he threw an explosive charge at IDF forces on the border and two more were arrested for cutting the fence and entering Israel; later an infiltrator was arrested after setting a greenhouse on fire in Moshav Netiv Ha’asara.
Such an infiltrator could also reach and ignite local homes, kindergartens or schools. He could also attack – or abduct – a soldier or civilian.
Even after the ceasefire was reached on November 13, Palestinians continued to try to cross the border fence and Hamas announced that the cessation of hostilities does not include its “March of Return” activities or the “fire intifada,” which has taken an economic, environmental and emotional toll on the South.
Israelis reacted to the mini-war as they usually do, with resilience mixed with humor. Wags on social media passed around jokes and memes; some recycled from the past wars and operations with Gaza, others a sign of the times. The measles outbreak and vaccination opponents appeared in this ostensible Home Front Command reminder: “In the event of a siren, head for the nearest shelter. Anti-vaxxers are requested to congregate in open spaces in order to be protected naturally from the rockets.”
But Israelis should not have to rely on resilience and luck.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who rushed home from Paris where he was participating in the events marking the centenary of the end of War World I, faces the devil of a dilemma.
As the ceasefire was announced, residents in Sderot held a protest calling for more aggressive Israeli action in Gaza that might create a longer period of quiet. On the other hand, all Israelis are very aware of the potential costs of war – particularly if forces on the ground are sent into Gaza’s crowded neighborhoods.
Did the precise targeting of some 150 buildings in Gaza show moral restraint and provide a sufficient warning to the Hamas (and Islamic Jihad) leadership, most of whom went literally underground for the duration of the round of hostilities? Or was it perceived as being weak; a sign that Israel will do a lot to avoid war?
When Avigdor Liberman resigned as defense minister on November 14, he described the government’s agreement to the ceasefire as a “surrender to terror” and cited the $15m. transferred to Hamas as “an impossible situation,” especially as Israel demands that the PA end its “pay for slay” support of terrorists and their families.
Hamas immediately claimed Liberman’s resignation as another victory.
For Israelis, the latest round of violence is more proof – as if more were needed – that providing terrorists with money does not buy quiet. Providing terrorists with territory, as Israel did in the complete withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, is even worse. Any future proposed “peace plan” needs to take that into account.
Israel has lost two precious commodities: deterrence and the sense of security. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist – or even a political scientist – to know that, sadly, the next round of hostilities is not a distant threat.
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