Civil Fights: How Israel became the boy who cried wolf

Rather than Israel deterring Hamas, Hamas is deterring Israel.

a-zahar, banner 298 (photo credit: AP [file])
a-zahar, banner 298
(photo credit: AP [file])
Kadima has set several records during its brief existence. No other ruling party has generated so many criminal proceedings against its representatives, nor has any previous government so successfully outfaced public desire for its ouster. But perhaps its most devastating record is how thoroughly it has shredded Israel's deterrence. Last week's column analyzed what Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief Yuval Diskin deems the worst blows to the nation's deterrence over the past three years: the disengagement from Gaza, Hamas's subsequent takeover of the Strip and the Second Lebanon War. Kadima, of course, deserves "credit" for all three: It comprises all the politicians most responsible for the first (and indeed was formed for that purpose), while the latter two occurred under its rule. Yet far from learning from these mistakes, it proceeded to compound them. In the South, rocket attacks from Gaza more than tripled following the mid-2005 disengagement, to over 1,000 a year in 2006 and 2007. And the mid-2006 Lebanon war effectively undercut previous excuses for inaction. Not only did it prove that such barrages, if not stopped, destroy morale at home and deterrence abroad (since the enemy concludes that Israel fears to confront it), but it also produced a military consensus on how to counter them: a major ground operation to drive the launchers out of range. Yet the government refused to order such an operation, instead relying on the same failed tactic it used in Lebanon: aerial assaults. That reinforced Arab belief that the IDF is afraid to confront the far smaller and more poorly equipped Hamas. Even worse, however, were its nonstop threats that we would "soon" lose patience and invade Gaza. Since that never happened, Israel became the boy who cried wolf. It has lost any ability to make credible threats, as its enemies will consider them mere hot air. THEN, IN June, the government capitulated completely, accepting a truce on Hamas's terms - which Diskin termed a "lifesaver" for the organization. Specifically, after having said repeatedly that any cease-fire must bring Gilad Schalit home and prevent weapons smuggling, it accepted a truce without Schalit and with no provisions on smuggling except Egypt's umpteenth empty promise to combat it. It thereby proved once again that our "red lines" are meaningless. The Palestinians soon violated this truce: Hamas itself refrained from firing rockets, but declined to stop other organizations from doing so. Yet Israel never responded militarily, and though it did initially close the border crossings it had opened under the truce, it immediately reopened them at Egypt's request. The lesson was clear: Terrorist organizations can violate deals with impunity since Israel will honor its commitments anyway. Moreover, Palestinian analysts say the truce bolstered support for Hamas, because it achieved through force what Fatah failed to achieve through negotiations: a cessation of IDF operations in its territory. In short, rather than showing that peace pays better than terror, Kadima showed that terror pays better than peace - thereby encouraging it. Finally, Hamas has exploited the truce to prepare for future conflict. It is training troops and smuggling in masses of arms (i.e. four tons of explosives). It is stockpiling nonmilitary essentials such as food and fuel, since the truce, with its reopened border crossings, more than tripled the volume of cargo entering Gaza. And it is building bunkers with cement supplied courtesy of the lull. All this will increase IDF casualties in any future Gaza operation, making governments even more reluctant to approve one. In short, rather than Israel deterring Hamas, Hamas is deterring Israel. THE PICTURE in the North is identical. The Lebanon war, which followed years in which Hizbullah amassed an arsenal while Israel did nothing, underscored the dangers of letting terrorist organizations arm unimpeded. Yet since the war, Hizbullah has tripled its rocket supply, to about 40,000, and now has virtually all of Israel in range rather than the North alone. And again we did nothing. Moreover, Hizbullah's rearmament enabled it to seize control of Lebanon's government this spring, further increasing its ability to threaten Israel. But not content with mere inaction, Kadima actively undermined its chances of mustering effective diplomatic pressure against the smuggling via its indirect negotiations with Syrian President Bashar Assad. For Assad, the benefits were immediate: After years of international isolation, he was welcomed back to the world stage, including a starring role in last month's Mediterranean Union summit. Israel, however, got nothing in exchange. Defense officials begged the government to condition talks on a halt to Hizbullah's arms smuggling from Syria, but the government refused. Now, having belatedly woken up, Kadima wants the world to pressure Syria to stop the smuggling. But as a senior official told Haaretz last week: "The fact that we are conducting negotiations with Syria doesn't make it easier to [explain] our position to the world." After all, if the government doesn't consider this issue important enough to employ its own diplomatic leverage against Syria, why should other countries deem it important enough to employ theirs? The unconditional talks with Syria also undermined Israel's deterrence in another way: They proved, as a senior Arab diplomat told Haaretz, that "it's possible to supply missiles to Hizbullah, be a patron of Hamas and be in Israel's good graces all at the same time." If so, why should any Arab country not support anti-Israel terror? Even after Assad flatly rejected direct talks last month - meaning that having already given him international legitimacy in exchange for no tangible benefits, Israel was not even getting serious negotiations - the government still refused to end the farce. The message could not be clearer: One can support terror, refuse serious negotiations and still reap all the benefits of peace. No more thorough eradication of Israel's deterrent is conceivable. Kadima inherited a country with a weakened but still extant deterrent posture and proceeded to systemically destroy it. Now, rebuilding deterrence must be a top priority. And Kadima cannot be trusted with the job. Its record speaks for itself.