Another Tack: In love with barricades

Wingate asserted that defensive deployment inside protective parameters was the worst option.

Orde Wingate appeared on this country's scene just when the tower-and-stockade concept was perceived as the cleverest response to ever-escalating Arab assaults. Fifty-two Jewish settlements were established - often overnight - under tall lookout contraptions and surrounded by wood and gravel ramparts, supplementarily reinforced by barbed wire. That was the time Haj Amin el-Husseini launched his three-year-long Nazi-funded bloodbath. Orde Wingate asserted that defensive deployment inside protected parameters was the worst option for the Yishuv. "There is only one way," he argued, "to persuade the gangs that in their predatory raids there is every chance of their running into a government gang which is determined to destroy them." In June 1938 he set up the Special Night Squads, exhorting their Jewish volunteers to go on the offensive, seize initiative, shock and surprise the enemy and keep it off-balance. The SNS evolved into the activist Palmah, whose mobility and tactical ingenuity indisputably facilitated Israel's War of Independence victory. Its unconventional spirit was still evident in the lightning triumph of 1967's Six Day War. But by 1969, an increasingly orthodox IDF began relying on colossal and costly fortifications at the Suez front. The powers-that-be were actually proud of their mega-defensive line, named after its progenitor, Haim Bar-Lev. Those of us with sufficiently long political memories recall the election campaign waged just before the Yom Kippur War caught Israel tragically off-guard. Ubiquitous billboards were plastered with Labor posters proudly proclaiming the Bar-Lev Line's virtues and unstintingly praising "the quiet achieved along the Canal." Shortsightedness was pitched as "the fruit of prudent far-sighted policy." Yet despite the line's calamitous collapse, Israel remained in love with barricades. It keeps reconstructing them, serially losing sight of the fact that sedentary warfare had stunningly failed in circumstances as disparate as France's Maginot Line and Syria's mammoth Golan counterpart. Particularly since Oslo's advent, and in order to justify that reckless gamble, we were told over and over that we can't win, that we must shrink, disengage, converge and realign behind new barriers - if need be unilaterally. The first unilateral disengagement was Ehud Barak's harried nocturnal flight from Lebanon six years ago, for which the Left ecstatically congratulated itself. Yet its claim to have brought calm to the north hinged upon ignoring the upset balance of power with 12,000 Hizbullah rockets threatening Israeli communities as far south as Tel Aviv. Likewise conveniently overlooked was Hizbullah's massive presence directly at the border, the October 2000 murder/abduction of three soldiers or the 2002 Matzuba incursion (via ladders over the security fence) in which seven Israelis were shot dead. Self-serving hype notwithstanding, nothing was ever pastoral. Hizbullah, allowed by Israel to construct an intricate formidable terror network, was primed to strike if and when it pleased. It was its call. The IDF, passively watching, only occasionally went through the motions of reacting, thereby eventually making reentry into Lebanon impossible without mounting a major operation. THE SURRENDER of Gaza and Gush Katif's destruction last year was motivated by the identical delusion that a country as tiny, vulnerable and besieged as Israel could be defended from its side of the border alone, that we could huddle behind fences, bulwarks and walls, contentedly resurrecting yesteryear's tower-and-stockade mentality. What took place on the boundaries with both entities to which Israel unilaterally relinquished strategic assets, flies hard in the face of assumptions that we can petulantly disengage and walk away. Similar lethal onslaughts from the two zones - where Israel's departure was to usher tranquillity - are hardly coincidental. Our deterrence was obliterated on these fronts, leaving us even less adequately safeguarded than on the Bar-Lev Line. Israel survived the sham of that line's dependability because the Sinai afforded comparative strategic depth, which doesn't exist on the heartland's very doorstep. Neither the Lebanese nor Gazan fences could impede determined intruders. Besides being useless against indiscriminate shelling, both fences were breached - via tunnels or other ruses. Disengagement promoters, extolling the effectiveness of the Gaza fence, expediently omitted mention of past terrorist infiltrations that originated from where they weren't supposed to. Remember the atrocity at Azor, the bombing at Ashdod Port or the carnage at Mike's Place? If the Lebanon and Gaza follies prove anything, it's that another unilateral withdrawal and a Bar-Lev Line equivalent along Israel's eastern flank will only bring the horror - intensified and unparalleled - to central Israel, to the state's densest population centers. Ultimately, defensive measures were defeatist cop-outs. They could be hawked as alternatives for combating terror. If a ceramic vest or a cement roof deflect assorted projectiles, there's diminished impetus to pursue whoever fires them. Barring egregious catastrophe, we indeed pretended nothing was amiss. At least temporarily, bleak reality could be obscured by facile fix-its - like contemporary tower-and-stockade setups or updated variations on the Bar-Lev Line theme, nowadays marketed as the security fence. Inside our enclosed sanctuaries we luxuriated in a deceptive sense of well-being and contemplated yet more "painful concessions," because the underlying premise was that Israel bears the onus for achieving peace and should - as an expression of obligatory restraint - routinely downplay the blood lust beyond the fence, the weaponry trained upon its citizenry, the demolition of its deterrence and violation of its sovereignty. This premise endures which is why persistent realignment propagandists won't abandon their agenda of follow-up pullbacks or admit that it was a grievous error to unilaterally retreat and voluntarily restrict Israel's freedom to go on the offensive, seize initiative, shock and surprise the enemy and keep it off-balance - that it was indefensibly wrongheaded to dilute IDF commitment to Wingate's relentlessly reiterated doctrine of "taking the war to the enemy."