Unarmed demonstrators – the new threat?

Israel is finding itself facing new, dire challenges – challenges for which it has failed to prepare and for which it has yet to think of a response.

IDF officer at Nakba Day rally 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
IDF officer at Nakba Day rally 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Ignoring all the warnings that were readily available, Israel is finding itself facing new, dire challenges – challenges for which it has failed to prepare and for which it has yet to think of a response.
For years, the traditional Israeli reaction to provocation has been a show of force – firing tear gas, water cannons and, if needed, sending in the police cavalry.
Last May, the flotilla incident blatantly showed how Israel consistently mishandles the media and the presentation of its case to the world. What’s worse, Israel’s almighty intelligence community has proven, time and again, that it simply does not grasp the changes taking place all around us. Nor does it anticipate events that occur right outside our borders.
Some two weeks before Hosni Mubarak resigned as Egyptian president, the chief of military intelligence was asked at the Knesset whether the events in Tunisia would have any effect on its neighbors, particularly Egypt. His answer: Egypt is different.
After the flotilla incident, Israel pointed the finger at the Turkish IHH, the organizer of the flotilla, calling it a “terrorist” group. Did Israel not know this beforehand? Why did we not take proper action then? After the May 15 “Nakba” events, during which over a hundred demonstrators succeeded in crossing the border in the northern part of the Golan while most of our troops were concentrated in its center, it surfaced that IDF Intelligence thought the main effort would be across from Kuneitra and not in Majdal Shams.
Israel’s attention has been on the turmoil in the Middle East, on the disappearance of old allies and on the rising specter of Islamism all around us. Most Israelis were quite happy to see domestic rifts inside the Arab world, thinking that the instability would be of such magnitude that Israel would be forgotten for a while.
Israel is also focused on what it believes to be its main existential enemy – Iran – and on ways to reduce the threat emanating from the Islamic Republic. It seems we have even considered the idea of attacking its nuclear compounds.
While preoccupied with “strategic” threats, Israel failed to see the changes occurring on its very borders: Palestinians and their supporters finally internalized the fact that there is no need to provoke Israel in a military confrontation, but rather trigger a military reaction in order to ridicule it in the eyes of the world, to expose the so-called futility of its behavior, its arrogance and its disrespect for human rights and liberties.
The idea was to perpetuate the image of the underdog, David (the Palestinians) fighting Goliath (Israel); to send hundreds of unarmed demonstrators to cross the borders. In such a confrontation, there is no just way Israel can win.
But it must understand that there are instigators behind this new approach.
In a recent interview in The New York Times, Rami Makhlouf, Syrian President Bashar Assad’s first cousin, insinuated that if there were no stability in Syria, there would be no stability in Israel.
There are indications today that the Palestinians in Lebanon and Syria were manipulated on May 15 by Hezbollah and the Assad regime for their own purposes. Israel’s poor reaction consolidated the idea that this was the right way to oppose it, all at a very low cost.
That day, one of the demonstrators shouted to an Arab TV network: “Who needs the Arab armies? With our bare hands we reached Majdal Shams. Tomorrow, with Allah’s will, we will liberate Palestine and Jerusalem!”
The late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin used to say that Israel does not need a public relations department: “The world will judge us by what we do and how we behave.” Indeed, it is high time we started acting wisely.
But, instead of trying to find a logical explanation, Israel’s top politicians took to the airwaves one after the other, trying to imbue us with a belief that Israel was the target of a new, covert form of international terrorism that could only be fought through preventing the infringement on our territorial sovereignty.
And instead of making progress on peace negotiations with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, it seems that politicians are choosing, yet again, not to make any decisions, opting for the famous Shamir policy: Do nothing and wait.
Hopefully our leaders will think of new ways to confront the unarmed marchers before it’s too late. May 15 was a first. Now comes June 5, 6 and 7, the commemoration of the Arab defeat in the 1967 Six Day War. And it doesn’t end there: The Arab calendar is full of such “commemorations.”
A creative answer on our part could deter organizers of such protests from pursuing this new policy.
The writer is a Mideast political analyst and a former diplomatic adviser to the late Yitzhak Rabin.