Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is no friend to Israel. In any Israel-Palestinian confrontation, whatever the circumstances, he invariably takes the part of the Palestinians. It was no surprise, therefore, to hear President Erdogan condemning Israel for the recent fighting against Hamas in Gaza. What he said was: “The Palestinians killed one Israeli child. And the Israelis retaliated by killing 240 Palestinian children.” As though Israel’s purpose had been to kill 240 Palestinian children for every Israeli child killed.
This should not strike me as unusual – yet it does, nevertheless.
In spite of Erdogan’s obvious determination to blame Israel, I find it hard to believe that an intelligent – indeed, a gifted man, such as Erdogan, should be so fundamentally misguided about Israel’s situation, and should criticize Israel in such a severe and unwarranted manner.
His words make me think that not only he, but the entire world has not yet realized what the recent fighting in Gaza was about.
The present contest for public opinion is one of the most important contests which Israel faces. It is essential that the world understand the extraordinary situation in which Israel finds itself, and the absolute need for it to act aggressively to destroy the war machine which is a threat to the nation’s sovereignty. A better understanding of the situation must necessarily have a profound effect on our relations with other countries.
Operation Protective Edge proved, beyond any doubt, that we can no longer afford to ignore the present dangerous security situation in which this country finds itself. The State of Israel remains under constant threat of missile and rocket bombardment of its civilian population, at whatever moment Hamas should decide that this is an advantageous move. In such a situation, Israel ceases to be a sovereign state.
Our campaign in Gaza was intended to restore that sovereignty to Israel. But the campaign is not yet over.
In 1962, John F. Kennedy was president of the United States.
Though not a general of the US Army, nor a man of any great military experience, he was regarded as a war hero, on account of his record as a young officer in the US Navy. It was president Kennedy who led the United States into the disastrous Bay of Pigs episode in Cuba, after the foolish attempt to conquer that country with Cuban exiles. And yet, when Khruschev decided to set up Soviet-controlled missile bases in Cuba, Kennedy understood immediately that such a threat to US sovereignty, with missiles which could be armed with nuclear warheads in the country’s back yard, could not be tolerated.
He immediately ordered a total sea and air blockade of Cuba, and reconnaissance flights over the country – to prevent a situation which could drastically change his country’s strategic position in its confrontation with the Soviet Union. In fact, he risked setting off a third World War, with unforeseeable consequences. Nevertheless, his immediate, decisive action met with the support of the entire world – even that of hesitant Europe.
When the very first rocket was fired from Gaza at the civilian population of Israel, the head of Israel’s government made a grave mistake.
At that moment, Israel should have come back with a powerful response – leaving Hamas, the citizens of Gaza, and the world, in no doubt that Israel would not tolerate such an assault on its sovereignty. An immediate, appropriate response, of the appropriate strength, at the very beginning of events, would have gained the understanding and support of the world.
The latest campaign in the South was not just one more campaign against Hamas terrorism. It was – and is – a campaign for the restoration of Israel’s sovereignty. And if any further evidence were needed that this campaign is indeed a campaign for the sovereignty of the state, that evidence is plainly to be seen in the partial embargo declared by the airlines of the world. Israel cannot, and must not, abandon public relations efforts to explain the realities of the situation, in the face of a negatively prejudiced world.
One need not be a public relations expert to realize that there are several essential messages which must be got across to the world – clearly, unmistakably and continually.
These messages should be repeated over and over again, however tiresome their repetition may become.
First: Israel’s bombardment is not directed at the civilian population of Gaza. The opposite is true. We take all possible care not to harm civilians. Hamas, on the other hand, deliberately launches its rockets and missiles at civilian targets in Israel.
Second: no sovereign state in its right mind will allow its civilian population to be continually bombarded with rockets and mortars, from any geographical area on its borders. Any state in the world would react violently in the face of such a situation. The right of self-defense renders such reaction legitimate.
Third: It is Hamas, not Israel, who is responsible for damage to civilians.
Hamas makes sure of this by deliberately carrying out its bombardment of Israel from the most heavily populated civilian centers, knowing full well that Israel’s answering fire must be directed at the launch sources of the bombs and rockets, which Hamas has so carefully located in the densest civilian areas.
Fourth: It is not in Hamas’ interest to protect civilians from harm.
On the contrary – Hamas wants as much damage as possible done to civilians. This is a very powerful propaganda weapon in its ongoing war with Israel.
These are very simple messages.
We understand them very well – and yet, most of the world is unaware of them. It is not sufficient for us to complain that the world reacts unfairly. We should be constantly hammering these messages home to the whole world.
The author is president of the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce.