The Two-Front Threat (Extract)

Extract of an article in Issue 2, May 12, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here. Our neighborhood is quite different from what it was 60 years ago. Enemies have changed, and so have friends. The powers of the colonial era have evaporated from the Middle East, and now the powers of the Asiatic renaissance are hovering over it. Arab nationalism - once the main engine in the region - is rapidly waning, in the face of the wave of Islamism. The officer corps of Arab armies, which once ruled in the name of "Arab socialism," has silently withdrawn into the barracks. Its place in government has been taken by alliances of businessmen and the families of the political aristocracy. The area as a whole is simultaneously getting stupendously rich and undergoing a dizzying avalanche of impoverishment. The Middle East is disintegrating, losing its traditional cohesion, while at the same time expanding into regions which had been cut off from it, following the Russian conquests in the Caucasus and Central Asia. The view from Israel's windows is one of tectonic upheavals, frenzied internal vacillations, teetering on the brink of an abyss. A thin veneer of artificial stability has so far prevented the exposure of the cracks opening up in the ancient walls of conservatism but, nevertheless, the acrid odor of a great eruption to come is in the air. Most Israelis seem to have learned that they cannot afford the luxury of "nowism" - that made-in-Oslo faith that the conflict can be resolved in one stroke, however generous and conciliatory. They have grasped that there will be no more blitzkriegs with armored columns sweeping all before them, or air attacks that decide the war at dawn. Ordinary Israelis - not necessarily those whom pundits try to persuade on the op-ed pages - have long understood that we have a long, uphill struggle towards a smoke-enshrouded peak, with a steep slope behind us. Everyone has a different idea of what peace is and what war is. Peace has a bitter taste of hostility and alienation. War has misleading patterns of low intensity, but it continues from day to day and no longer ends in the flashes of brief conflagrations. During the first 30 years of its existence, Israel stood up to the Arab states and their ever-expanding armies, usually backed by the Soviets. The existential threat was perceived as an offensive coalition that would mount a war to defeat the Israel Defense Forces. The security doctrine of David Ben-Gurion and his heirs was formulated to meet this threat, as were the structure of the IDF and the intelligence services. This mission was accomplished, with fantastic success - which most Israelis don't bother to acknowledge. The armies that first invaded Palestine in 1948 in order to prevent the establishment of the Jewish state stopped planning another round after the wars of 1967 and 1973. At the end of the Yom Kippur War, the Arab world made a tacit decision, which has ever since been carried out carefully and consistently, not to get involved again in another direct military confrontation with Israel. Thus, since the disengagement agreements on the Sinai and Golan fronts in 1974/75, the state of war between Israel and its neighbors has ceased to exist. Egypt and Jordan took the road toward "cold peace," Syria chose "cold war" and the common denominator of these models is that there's no shooting, whether a peace treaty has been signed and ambassadors exchanged or the formal state of belligerency still exists. In the following 30 years, three hostile forces that had not played an active role before entered the arena: the Palestinians, first as the PLO and then as Hamas; Lebanon, in the form of Hizballah; and Iran, which with the Islamic Revolution of 1979 transformed itself from friend to enemy. Not only the identity of the adversaries changed half way along the road, but the nature of the confrontation morphed as well, from conventional warfare to terrorism and guerrilla operations, from war between states to combat against armed, non-governmental forces; from fighting with close neighbors to battling an enemy based in distant lands, though operating through nearer proxies, almost beyond the range of our pilots. Moreover, the war aim of the new enemies is no longer achieving a quick victory, but to set in motion a prolonged war of attrition, generations-long. Unlike their predecessors, the new enemies are not seeking strategic parity with Israel, but they make do with asymmetry. They don't rely on armadas of tanks and planes, but rather on massive quantities of all kinds of rockets and missiles. And where the Arab states gave up any nuclear aspirations, Iran has made the atom bomb the supreme object of its desires. The success of the founding generation and its sons in blocking the Arab threat in its original form is by no means a guarantee that the generations of their descendants will find effective remedies for the new kinds of challenges. On the contrary, so far Israel has not managed to neutralize the missile menace looming in both South Lebanon and the Gaza Strip and is therefore exposing itself to the pincers operated from Tehran. One of the main reasons for this dismal state of affairs lies in the fact that neither the leadership in Jerusalem nor the majority of the public perceive the current threat as a truly existential one, as long as Iran still lacks nuclear warheads for its Shihab 3 missiles. This sense that the skirmishes with Hamas and Hizballah are ultimately nothing more than an irritating nuisance is what is responsible for the lack of readiness to act rapidly and adequately to thwart what may become, in the span of a few years, a much greater threat. Extract of an article in Issue 2, May 12, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here.