Into the Fray: Like a rudderless ship in a stormy sea

Just as Hamas uses its civilians as human shields against Israeli military attacks, so the Israeli government uses its civilians as human shields to fend off diplomatic attacks from the international community.

Binyamin Netanyahu speaks at the Knesset on Monday (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Binyamin Netanyahu speaks at the Knesset on Monday
The most righteous of men cannot live in peace if his evil neighbor will not let him be.
Wilhelm Tell, Act IV, Scene III, by Friedrich von Schiller, 1804
The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other guy die for his.
– Gen. George S. Patton Jr.
There is always a cost to defeat an evil. It never comes free, unfortunately. But the cost of failure to defeat a great evil is far higher.
– Jamie Shea, NATO spokesman, BBC News, May 31, 1999, on civilian casualties inflicted by NATO in the Balkans.
As Operation Protective Edge – which could have been dubbed “Pillar of Defensive II” or “Cast Lead III” – drags on, it is becoming increasingly clear that the government is misconstruing its role..
Running the country vs. leading the nation
It seems to believe that its primary role is to run the country, rather than lead the nation. This is a disastrously inappropriate misperception of its task
The manner in which the current round of military operations is being conducted clearly reflects a state of mind preoccupied with tactical management of existing realities, rather than strategic leadership, which strives to forge new realities.
The objective of the campaign – articulated as the restoration of calm – makes any other conclusion difficult to reach. Indeed, when “calm” is chronically impermanent, the desire for a return to the precarious status quo ante has a ring of despairing resignation to it, and conveys little hope of any better realities.
This debilitating syndrome was diagnosed in a perceptive opinion piece titled “Defeatism at its worst” (Jerusalem Post, July 14) by Anya Zhuravel Segal – who interestingly enough served on Binyamin Netanyahu’s staff prior to the 2005 disengagement from Gaza: “We are facing a deep crisis of political leadership, and a deep disbelief in our power to shape reality.”
Sadly, it is difficult to imagine a more fitting characterization of the mindset of Israel’s leadership in recent years, underscored not only by the definition of the objectives of military campaigns undertaken, but by the means employed to wage them.
Tactical brilliance, strategic imbecility
There can be little disagreement that Israel has cutting- edge technologies that few countries can compete with at its disposal. While this impressive technological superiority has resulted in several brilliant tactical achievements by the military, on the strategic level Israel has displayed what can only be called utter imbecility, precipitating situations which have considerably degraded its security.
Ever since the disastrous decision not to preempt the Arab attack in October 1973, which brought the country to the brink of annihilation, and cost it thousands of needless deaths, Israel – and Israelis – have paid heavily for policies of restraint and retreat, whether almost immediately, or with the passage of time.
Nearly all Israel’s subsequent strategic initiatives have involved restoring/transferring territory to defeated aggressors, in exchange for unkept – and often unkeepable – pledges. In every case the areas relinquished have, sooner or later, become platforms on which attacks are planned, prepared and perpetrated against Israel.
As a result of Menachem Begin’s 1977 decision to surrender the strategic expanses of Sinai, Israel faces an increasingly grim situation on its long southern border. The peninsula is descending into one of the most savage areas on the planet, ruled by brutal jihadi warlords increasingly putting Eilat and its booming tourist industry, without which its very viability will be imperiled, at risk.
Strategic imbecility (cont.)
Faced with an evident lack of Egyptian ability and/or will to cope with the unfolding realities, a situation is emerging which eventually will become intolerable for Israel, one which can only be addressed by jeopardizing the peace treaty with Cairo, which constituted the rationale for relinquishing the territory in the first place.
The 1993/1995 Oslo Accords led to the deployment of armed Arab forces, drawn from the ranks of murderous terrorist organizations, within mortar range of the nation’s parliament. With it came an unprecedented wave of bloody terror, currently held in check only by the effects of 2002’s Operation Defensive Shield, subsequent redeployment of the IDF in the area, and the construction of a multi-billion dollar “separation barrier.”
The 2000 unilateral withdrawal (or more accurately flight) of the IDF turned southern Lebanon into an huge arsenal for the Shia-extremists Hezbollah, bristling with missiles that rained terror and destruction on millions of Israelis in 2006. The poorly conceived and inconclusive Second Lebanon War resulted in a dramatic increase in the deadly ordnance directed at Israel.
True, Hezbollah has refrained from using it up to now. However, the fact that the organization did not join Hamas in the current round of fighting may well have more to do with its involvement in the civil war in Syria, an indication that it is loath to engage on two fronts, rather than an effect of any durable deterrence attributable to a memory of the 2006 engagement.
Indeed, its huge accumulation of offensive weapons, coupled with persistent reports of extensive cross-border tunneling, hardly seem indicative of a diminished appetite to continue battle at an opportune moment in the future.
The most imbecilic of all
Then came, arguably, the most imbecilic strategic initiative of all – the unilateral abandonment of the Gaza Strip (a.k.a. disengagement) and the expulsion of the Jewish residents from their thriving communities, which generated around 10 percent of the output of the economy and ample employment for its Arab residents.
So far, for Israel this “inspired” decision has resulted in three (and counting) military campaigns, massive disruption of the socioeconomic routine, ongoing trauma and occasional tragedy.
For the Palestinians the consequences have been far more calamitous – except of course for the cruel, corrupt cliques into whose clutches the disengagement delivered them, who have grown prosperous beyond their wildest dreams.
It would be hard to conceive of any policy initiative more counter-productive – indeed, self-obstructive – than this. Unless of course one looks at the current government’s efforts to end the hostilities in the south.
For, despite the precarious and perilous impermanence of the status quo ante, the major – if not the only – demand the government seems to be raising for a cease-fire is the restoration of the situation that led to the current fighting.
Worse, at the time of writing, the government was reportedly mulling some face-saving concessions for Hamas – ensuring that it could not only claim victory by remaining defiantly undefeated, but could flaunt tangible “achievements” – as it did after November 2012’s Operation Pillar of Defense.
Emerging exasperation
But as the government stumbles on in a seemingly aimless – albeit, pyrotechnically impressive – endeavor, there are signs of growing public exasperation with its performance and eroding confidence in its competence.
These were succinctly articulated by Zhuravel Segal in her previously cited op-ed, in which she echoes many of my thoughts: “I do not believe for a second that Israel, a country with outstanding...logistical accomplishments, cannot stop rocket fire from Gaza. What I see clearly, though, is incredible negligence and lack of systematic, long-term planning effort on behalf of Israel’s top political brass and...the prime minister...These days we are rallying behind our prime minister’s wartime rhetoric as if we were facing an enemy that could actually stand up to the concerted effort of a modern democracy with first-world diplomatic and military means at its disposal....”
‘Defeatism at its worst’
She goes on to lament, in a tone of bitter disillusionment tinged with bewilderment: “... we send our very best people to fight a bunch of fanatics who assemble smuggled rockets at home and hide in tunnels under their wives’ washing machines. Is this really the best we can do? If it is, I am deeply disappointed in Israel’s long-term planning capability...This is defeatism at its worst. It hurts us where it really matters and turns us into an indefensible victim yet again, a complex one hopes Israel would have by now shed.”
There is much to heed in Segal’s anguished words.
For while Israel’s highly effective civil defense apparatus has functioned admirably, reducing the casualty toll to the barest minimum, the ongoing imagery of Jews, forced by a Judeophobic militia to scurry for cover, and cower in shelters, is becoming increasing unacceptable, and is, or at least should be, incompatible with the founding ethos of the country.
The prattle that presents the retaking of Gaza as an invalid strategic objective is ludicrous and should be discounted with disdain.
Retaking of Gaza as a moral imperative
It is becoming difficult to bear the claims that the mighty IDF – portrayed as the strongest army in the region, capable of prevailing over any of Israel’s enemies, or combination thereof – cannot take an objective, barely 11-km. wide and 50-km. long, with no significant topographic barriers to impede its advance.
Such a measure is the only way the government of Israel can discharge its moral duty toward its citizens. To refrain from undertaking this task is a moral abomination on several levels, implying that, just as Hamas uses its civilians as human shields against Israeli military attacks, so the government of Israel uses its civilians as human shields to fend off diplomatic attacks from the international community.
Yes, such a measure will involve casualties – on both sides. But the blame for the blood shed must be laid squarely at the door of those who called for Israel to hand over the Gaza Strip to its sworn enemies – and of those who could have prevented it but, because they preferred privileged positions over political principle, did not.
Retaking Gaza cannot be avoided, only delayed for a less opportune and more hazardous occasion, when the enemy will be better prepared, and casualties higher.
Dismantling of Gaza as a moral imperative
In a recent report, the Post’s Yaakov Lappin wrote: “The experience of Israel’s military planners tells them that toppling the Hamas not necessarily in Israel’s long-term strategic interests. It remains far from clear who might replace Hamas, and Gaza could turn into a Somalia-like strip of land filled with Islamic State militias that cannot be deterred at all.”
This sort of claim be must rejected out of hand. Indeed it was precisely this kind of thinking that induced Israel to deal with the PLO lest it end up with Hamas. Israel agreed to deal with the PLO and got Hamas....
No matter what Arab regime is installed in Gaza at the end of the fighting, there is always the risk of it being replaced by more implacable and inimical successors.
Israel cannot determine who will rule Gaza...unless it does so itself.
To do this, it must impose unconditional surrender on Hamas and begin the systematic dismantling of Gaza and the relocation of its population in third party countries, as I first proposed two decades ago in “Why we can’t dump Gaza” (Jerusalem Post, December 9, 1992), and in numerous subsequent Into the Fray columns.
Frittering away a unique opportunity
Today Israel has a unique opportunity to eliminate the menace of Gaza and offer its non-belligerent population a better life elsewhere. It is difficult to imagine the current benign circumstances reoccurring:
(a) support of Israel in the US is at near-record highs, outstripping that for Palestinians (even among Hispanics and Blacks);
(b) there is deep hostility for Hamas in Egypt under Abdel Fattah al-Sisi;
(c) the Arab world is distracted by the internal tumult raging across it, with little time or resources to devote to the Palestinian issue;
(d) Hezbollah is entangled in the Sunni-Shia wars in Syria/Iraq, and unlikely to engage in an additional front against Israel.
So in the words of the sage Hillel, “If not now, when? The question is, will the government rise to the occasion.
Will it be equal to the challenge? Or will it let the country continue to drift, rudderless in the stormy sea that surround it – until an unexpected wave swamps it?
Martin Sherman is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.