A dereliction of duty

Whose lives matter more to the IDF, Israelis' or Palestinians'?

halutz looks tough 298.8 (photo credit: IDF [file])
halutz looks tough 298.8
(photo credit: IDF [file])
With the eyes of the nation turned toward Jerusalem, where our prime minister struggles to recover from a debilitating stroke, it is not surprising that otherwise important developments might escape our attention. A recent remark by a senior Israeli military officer is particularly worthy of note, if only because of its terrifying significance for the future of the nation's campaign against Palestinian terror. In a briefing to journalists late on Monday, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz addressed the issue of ongoing Palestinian Kassam rocket attacks against Israeli towns and cities. In the past week alone, Palestinian rockets have hit the western Negev, Kibbutz Nir Am, Kibbutz Nahal Oz, and Highway 34 near Sderot, and the terrorists are said to be perfecting missiles with an even longer range. "In order to deal with the Kassams," Halutz said, "we would need to breach various constraints that we have imposed upon ourselves, moral constraints and others, that we do not wish to breach, and I do not recommend that we do so." The chief of staff later explained that he was referring to more aggressive counterterror operations designed to stop the rocket launchings against Israel, as these would inevitably harm innocent Palestinian civilians. At first glance there would appear to be something eminently admirable in Halutz's approach. After all, Israel has long prided itself on its efforts to minimize harm to innocent civilians caught in the crossfire, and it is doubtful that any other country in the world would go to such lengths while under rocket attack from a neighbor. AND YET, however humane and noble such sentiments might be, they are woefully misplaced. The morality of avoiding Palestinian civilian casualties may be unquestionable, but the failure to protect Israel's citizens is downright unconscionable. What Halutz is saying, in effect, is that Israel has the means and the ability to stop Palestinian rocket attacks which threaten innocent Israelis, but that it prefers not to do so for fear of harming innocent Palestinians. This moral calculus is as twisted as it is ineffective, because it essentially places a higher value on the lives of Palestinian civilians than on those of Israeli civilians. Forced to choose between whom to endanger, the chief of staff has chosen the latter even though he is sworn to protect the former. This is not only a dereliction of duty but a recipe for disaster, inviting our enemies to continue to attack us even as the army fights with one hand tied behind its back. The IDF has sharply limited the extent of its operations against the burgeoning rocket threat, contenting itself with half-hearted and largely unsuccessful efforts. As Israel's leading military analyst, Zeev Schiff, recently noted, the continuation of the Palestinian rocket attacks "testifies to a failure of Israeli deterrence." He continued, "In the Gaza Strip the security forces have also not succeeded in locating the workshops that produce the Kassams, and most of the metal shops and rocket developers have not been hit." What Halutz seems to have forgotten is that the military's primary responsibility is to ensure the safety and security of the nation and its citizens. That is its paramount obligation; it overrides all others. By imposing his dubious brand of morality on Israel's defense policy, Halutz has transformed Israel into the equivalent of a neighborhood high-school wimp who meekly avoids confronting those who torment him. THE TIME has come for Israel to bring about an end to the Kassam rocket attacks once and for all. The outskirts of Ashkelon have already come under fire, and it is only a matter of time before the vital port city of Ashdod does as well. On January 1 the army confirmed that a Palestinian Kassam fired from Samaria three weeks previously had landed near Afula. Should the terrorists succeed in manufacturing or smuggling additional Kassams into Judea and Samaria, it would place Israel's entire central region at risk. Pinpoint aerial operations and the use of IDF artillery have thus far failed to do the job. If the deployment of ground forces is necessary to halt the attacks, Israel simply has no choice but to do so. As US President Theodore Roosevelt said a century ago, "Do not hit at all if it can be avoided, but never hit softly." Dan Halutz should heed those astute words and start remembering who signs his paycheck. The people of Israel have a right to expect that their army will look out not only for innocent Palestinians, but for Israelis too. The writer served as an aide in the Prime Minister's Office to former premier Binyamin Netanyahu.