The Gazan kite offensive and the arc of human progress

Israel continues to become more innovative, powerful and wealthy. Simultaneously, the Palestinians slide evermore backward and grow weaker as an outcome of its military innovation.

By DAN FEFERMAN
June 24, 2018 21:07
A DRONE FLOWN by IDF soldiers trying to intercept Palestinian kites and balloons loaded with flammab

A DRONE FLOWN by IDF soldiers trying to intercept Palestinian kites and balloons loaded with flammable materials, is pictured near Kissufim Tuesday.. (photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)

 
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A recent episode of Israel’s political satire show Eretz Nehederet (It’s a Wonderful Land) featured a comedic and tragically accurate representation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The skit featured two militants in a bare-bones “Hamas weapons laboratory” (“the only room with working electricity”) coming up with new methods to attack Israel – starting with the flaming kites in use now that are scorching thousands of acres of Israeli farmland.

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Meanwhile, in Israel, a senior military officer presents new technological innovations designed to neutralize these threats.

As the skit progresses, the militants develop increasingly primitive, ridiculous and less harmful ways to attack to which Israel has no solution; balls of mud, spit wads, etc. while Israel develops increasingly technologically advanced and ludicrous defensive measures.

This exchange sheds light on a tragic irony of the conflict. Israel continues to become more innovative, powerful and wealthy.

Simultaneously, the Palestinians slide evermore backward and grow weaker as an outcome of their military innovation. This inverse relationship links directly to conflicting values on each side of the fence. Israel seeks to save lives – both Israeli and Palestinian; the Palestinian side seems interested in harming Israelis and seeking vengeance and honor it will never get.

The story of technological innovation in human history is often linked to warfare and conflict. Israel’s growth as a global military and tech power stems, in no small part, from its short and tumultuous history of having to find qualitative military advantages against an often numerically superior enemy. As Israel is today far stronger than its enemies, it is driven instead by a sensitivity to the loss of life and aversion to war that characterizes liberal democracies – including loss of civilian life on the enemy side. It is also driven by that enemy’s relentless pursuit of vulnerable points and a twisted degree of creativity to that end.



Conversely, Palestinian military creativity (and terrorism often employs creativity) continues to flourish in an inversely primitive direction – to its own detriment. Rather than serve as an engine for development, the Palestinians – Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza, in this case – continue to develop ever more creative ways to harm Israel. To be sure, Hamas also relies on Israeli reticence to carpet-bomb Gaza, which would kill thousands, despite its PR efforts to the contrary. Such tactics against Russia or China, or even the US, would be doubtless be met with many megatons of explosives and the resulting destruction.

Due to the border fence, Palestinians “innovated” the introduction of rockets and mortars in the early 2000s, followed later by underground terror tunnels. They also forced Israel to invest, with congressional support, billions of dollars over the years in developing anti-missile and anti-tunnel capabilities. With large-scale suicide bombings largely thwarted by sophisticated Israeli intelligence gathering (including one aborted incident this week intended to kill dozens in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv), the Palestinians switched to encouraging individual low-tech terrorist attacks that harm or kill a few at most.

As Israel’s methods grow more hi-tech and expensive, the Palestinians regress – flaming kites are low tech, but effective. While these have not yet killed any Israelis, they have caused considerable damage and affected the lives of civilians in southern Israel. Soon enough , Israel will find a technological solution to these kites (likely specially equipped drones), no doubt expensive, and the Palestinians will find new and lower-tech but effective ways to hit Israel.

The skit ends with a jab at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, suggesting that a political solution would be more effective and less costly, with his impersonator nervously rejecting such ideas and gladly throwing more cash at expensive technological fixes. No doubt, there are things Israel can do or do better on the political and economic sides to alleviate some of the pressure in Gaza.

Unlike the West Bank, which the Israeli right claims is Israel’s historic birthright, virtually nobody on the Israeli political spectrum has any interest in returning to Gaza, from which Israel withdrew in 2005. Thus, ironically, even though Hamas is more radical than the Palestinian Authority, which rules the West Bank, a long-term political settlement is more feasible in the near-term in Gaza. Indeed, rumors (reported in Al-Monitor) have it that Israeli PM Netanyahu and Hamas leaders, with Egyptian and Qatari mediation, are seeking a long-term truce that would include easing the blockade in exchange for a cessation of tunnels and rockets.

Hamas has few military options left, once the kites are dealt with, like trying to break through the fence, piling up the body count of its own people in a last-ditch effort to tarnish Israel’s already stained reputation. Of course, it can always resort to rocket barrages, as it did twice already since hostilities flared, a move intended to signal to Israel that “it can escalate, too.” However, that Hamas has launched only two such barrages in the past four years since Protective Edge says much as to its intentions and the limit of what rockets can achieve today.

Hamas is running out of moves here, as unrest in Gaza grows. The pressure building inside Gaza can only be pointed at Israel for so long before it explodes in Hamas’ face, leading to the collapse of their failed 11-year attempt at governance. That is why it would behoove them to admit defeat, end the armed struggle against Israel and begin channeling that creativity toward a positive future for Gaza’s inhabitants. This would truly be a remarkable transformation for the hardline “resistance organization”. To be sure, Hamas has quietly and gradually been forced to moderate itself and take a more pragmatic line in recent years, with a one-step-forward, two-steps-back approach, so as not to get outflanked on the “resistance” front by Islamic Jihad and even more radical groups.

Israel must exhibit caution and patience and make sure it does not get drawn into a massive military strike or even a ground invasion of the coastal enclave, as some voices on the Right (and even the Left) are agitating for. So long as it continues to retaliate symbolically and with smart restraint, a positive outcome lies within grasp. The residents of southern Israel have lived in fear and Gazans in misery for far too long. Only one realistic outcome exists: a long-term truce leading to the eventual demilitarization and normalcy in the Gaza Strip.

The writer is a Major (res.) in the Israel Defense Forces, where he served as a national security strategist and intelligence officer. He writes and lectures on Israel and the Middle East.

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