Some see the world in one or two dimensions and others in three. When Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who also has a portfolio within the Defense Ministry, responded to the Palestinian terrorist attack in which two Jews were murdered in Huwara in the northern West Bank by calling for using tanks and helicopters against the Palestinians, he certainly was not thinking three-dimensionally.
Nor was National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who picked a fight with the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), which recommended unsealing the residence of a terrorist who killed three Jews earlier in February.
These views are indicative of narrow thinking. Lessons from the Second Intifada and the Knife Intifada showed that substantially increased IDF physical presence in West Bank areas, especially Palestinian areas, were part of the necessary mix of ingredients for restoring calm and security.
But that presence rarely involved tanks and helicopters – blunt instruments for open battlefields or for targeting large, concentrated enemy positions.
Those positions do not exist in the West Bank, which does not have the massive volume of rockets, other destructive weapons and well-structured Hamas militias that exist in Gaza.
Why won't tanks, helicopters in the West Bank secure quiet with the Palestinians?
The Palestinian Authority, while it might not control all areas and might be turning a blind eye to terrorist elements, is actively avoiding conflict with the IDF. Non-PA terrorist elements do not pose anywhere near the same magnitude of threat as Hamas. Neither do they present a useful large target for tanks or helicopters.
Militarily, the tactic that worked before, and would likely work now if it needs to be unleashed, would involve huge numbers of soldiers going door to door, with intelligence support from drones.
Likewise, despite Ben-Gvir’s attack on the Shin Bet, the security agency has been a big supporter of house demolitions to deter future terrorism.
However, part of the Shin Bet’s rationale is that Palestinians know in their heart of hearts that the agency is focused on families who hold some joint responsibility for the terrorism of their family members.
In contrast, the Shin Bet found that the Ramot terrorist from earlier this month was psychologically unstable and that the family did not assist him in any way and might even have tried to temper his violent leanings.
A house demolition in that case could just create more terrorists, even according to the Shin Bet, because not a single Palestinian would see it as legitimate.
But the Second Intifada was also brought under control by the eventual completion of the West Bank security barrier to limit infiltrations.
One problem in a dimension where using force cannot solve everything – and tanks and helicopters are useless and impractical to police a long border – is that, as IDF sources told The Jerusalem Post, completing those portions of the barrier where Palestinians are still sneaking through into sovereign Israel could take another 18 months.
And this doesn’t even address east Jerusalem, where there is not any initiative being entertained that could handle the security situation. Arabs from east Jerusalem travel freely in Israel. Even presuming that nearly all of them aren’t looking to act against Israel, anyone with violent intentions is unrestrained. Tanks and helicopters are even less relevant there.
Sunday’s terrorist attack occurred in an overlapping Palestinian area, where Palestinians and Israelis mix, the least secure type of location.
The Knife Intifada was partially put down by Israeli security forces using social media and drone surveillance to predict and prevent terrorist attacks by “lone wolf” attackers before they happened. Yet, many say another ingredient to ending the Second Intifada was Israel’s announced withdrawal from Gaza.
In contrast, there is currently no diplomatic dimension (or “carrot”) on the table from Israel to follow a new Operation Defensive Shield (or “stick”), such as then-prime minister Ariel Sharon used.
In parallel to demolishing more houses, taking away terrorists’ citizenship and calling for capital punishment for terrorists, the current government is also in negotiations with the PA, Jordan and Egypt to try to calm the broader situation before it transforms into another intifada. Part of the “deal” that seems to have emerged includes freezing unilateral actions on both sides for some months.
For Israel, this referred to new settlements and outposts, whereas for the Palestinians, it might have referred to legal moves against Israel in the UN system.
But as those efforts continue, elements of the coalition oppose any dialogue whatsoever with any Palestinians, even though the Shin Bet believes dialogue is critical to restoring security cooperation with the PA.
In past years, some intelligence officials told the Post that the PA had helped Israel stop 20% or more of terrorist attacks against Israel – not insignificant numbers. And tanks and helicopters in the West Bank would not make things quieter with Hamas in Gaza.
To date, the current government has failed to convince Hamas to fully disconnect itself from issues with Palestinians in other conflict areas.
All of this comes down to the idea that using force, and more of it, may absolutely be part of the equation to end the almost yearlong up-and-down current wave of violence.
But there will also likely need to be a “carrot” in there somewhere, whether economic, diplomatic or both. Might the new deal be enough in this area, or is it inadequate to escape the current quagmire?
Other ingredients could be the unfinished security barrier in the West Bank, which will take time, coming up with a unique security solution to east Jerusalem security issues and figuring out a way to restore deterrence with Hamas in Gaza.
This would mean the current government will need to try some new and creative ideas on multiple playing fields instead of only doubling down with populist slogans in one dimension.
There are many ideas, short of a messianic peace vision, that can help restore calm, and the latest deal might help with that. But tanks and helicopters are either a tiny part or a nonexistent part of the solution.