July 28, 2014
At the time of writing this column, ground operations in Gaza were still going on and reports of increasing casualties were coming in with depressing frequency. This should, therefore, be a time for national cohesion and solidarity, with unity and support for the war effort, and criticism of the government suspended.
Sadly, however, the government has given the public little coherent indication of its aims, or of the realities it is striving to create.
Ill-defined and inadequate objectives
Worse, not only is there no clear indication of where the country is going, there seems to be little willingness to recognize how we got here.
In the third week of Operation Protective Edge, the government is still waffling on its objectives. These keep morphing from one vague, vacuous formulation to another, as developments on the battlefield make each succeeding definition of the operation’s goals appear abysmally inadequate and ineffectual.
Initially, the government declared that all it aspired to was to “restore calm” – i.e.
to reinstate the status quo – and if Hamas would cease fire, so would Israel.
Just how myopic that would have been is starkly underscored by what has become chillingly apparent during the operation – the devastating potential of an elaborate tunnel system developed by the terror organizations in Gaza.
Had a cease-fire been implemented in such circumstances, Hamas would have been free to continue developing its deadly subterranean potential, which it could activate at a moment of its choosing.
This appalling prospect makes deeply disturbing questions, regarding the competence and/or judgment of the nation’s leadership, unavoidable, even as the battles rage on. Unless the reasons for the current predicament are understood, no effective remedy can be found.
Deeply disturbing questions
We must weigh the only two possibilities before us: (a) either the government was aware of the deadly menace posed by the network of tunnels; or (b) it wasn’t.
If it was, then willingness to agree to a cease-fire before the danger was eliminated reflects a disturbing readiness to reconcile itself to the dangers and expose the country’s civilian population to murderous consequences in the future.
If it was oblivious to these dangers, this reflects a grave ignorance of deadly threats facing the country, a sign of just how out of touch the leadership of the nation has been with the ominous reality we inhabit.
Although I rarely find occasion to quote Haaretz as a corroborating source, my eye could not help catching the pungent title of a piece written by veteran defense correspondent Amos Harel: “Hamas’ terror tunnels – a national strategic failure for Israel”.
Harel points out: “A week ago, Israel announced its willingness to accept a cease-fire in Gaza… This means one of two things. Either the ministers and generals were willing last week to let these tunnels, every one a ticking bomb, tick softly under kibbutz dining rooms until the next escalation, or they weren’t aware of the seriousness of the risk.”
He continues: “So either they were taking a calculated risk of unusual [read “gigantic” – M.S.] dimensions, or they didn’t have enough intelligence [information] before the operation (which doesn’t quite square with a senior officer’s claim…
that ‘never before has the army had such quality intelligence before an operation’).”
It is difficult to accept that the government was totally unaware of Hamas’s tunneling endeavor. As early as 2006, Hamas used a tunnel to abduct Gilad Schalit and kill two of his comrades near Kerem Shalom, eventually attaining the liberation of 1,027 convicted terrorists. Last October, the discovery of an almost 2-km.-long tunnel near Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha was widely reported, and according to several sources, its objective was a kindergarten, located close to its exit point, 300 meters inside Israel.
The threat imminent in Hamas’s burrowing enterprise, and the conditions under which it might be employed, were presciently predicted 10 months ago by Harel. In an article, carrying the ominous headline: “Hamas’ strategic tunnels: Millions of dollars to spirit kidnapped Israelis into Gaza” (October 13, 2013), he warned of the likely reaction of Hamas should it feel weakened, precisely what Israeli politicians were crowing about just prior to the current round of violence. He cautioned: “… if Hamas decides to try to overcome its present distress by reigniting the front against Israel, using the tunnels to launch an attack could be one of its main options.”
His prediction proved chillingly precise.
Figuring the flaccidity factor: Impotence not ignorance
Given that it is highly implausible that the government was unaware of the danger looming under its very nose (or rather, feet), how are we to account for the flaccidity of its response – which, but for good fortune, could have precipitated outcomes of unthinkable tragedy.
Former Jerusalem Post Editor in Chief Bret Stephens, in a recent Wall Street Journal piece (July 14), provides a partial explanation for the phenomenon, suggesting that Israel’s “real weakness is a certain kind of vanity that confuses stainlessness with virtue, favors moral self-regard over normal self-interest, and believes in politics as an exercise not in power but in self-examination.”
For all its admirable eloquence, Stephens’s diagnosis relates more to the symptoms of the malaise, rather than its causes.
In numerous columns, I have been at pains to explain the roots of this enervating phenomenon (which I have designated “The Limousine Theory of Israeli politics”) and warned of the ruinous results it will inevitably wreak upon us.
The underlying reason for the inadequate responses to clearly apparent dangers is that Israel’s leaders have been cowered into this moralistic masochism by an aggressive and intolerant triad of left-wing civil society elites (in the legal establishment, the mainstream media and academe), who, through their unelected position of privilege and power, have taken control of the political discourse in the country.
The political discourse determines the elected political leadership’s perception of policy constraints and policy possibilities.
Through dominance of the discourse, these elites can control the parameters of Israeli policy-making and impose their worldview of political appeasement and territorial concessions on it.
Sacrificing lives for a ‘two-state deity’
These elites have, to a large degree, mortgaged their personal prestige and professional positions, and much of their livelihood, to the two-state concept and the land-for-peace doctrine on which it rests.
Were this doctrine to be discredited, all these benefits – material and otherwise – would be jeopardized. They, therefore, have a vested interest in preserving a perception that it is valid – no matter how incongruent with reality and rationality it proves – and must endeavor to prevent the adoption of any policy measures that put paid to the two-state formula.
Since the attainment of strategic victory in Gaza calls for measures that preclude any agreement on a Palestinian state, the policy-relevant discourse, which these elites mold, has been devoted to ridiculing such measures as impractical or infeasible, and to promoting measures that can only bring about a temporary respite to the fighting. These respites have always been exploited by the enemy to enhance its capabilities for the inevitable next round – and the next inevitable batch of casualties.
Oblivious to facts, and impervious to reason, in a desperate attempt to sustain an unworkable paradigm, Israeli left-wing elites perpetuate bout after escalating bout of violence, callously sacrificing ever more lives on the altar of the false deity of twostates- for-two-peoples.
‘Mowing the lawn’ won’t cut it
The reluctance to face unpalatable realities has spawned new terminology to paper over intellectual surrender, and mask unwillingness to accept the need for regrettably harsh but essential policies.
First, we were told that since there was “no solution” to the Israel-Arab conflict, we should adopt an approach of “conflict management” rather than “conflict resolution.”
Now we have a new term in the professional jargon to convey a similar perspective: “mowing the grass.” This is the name for an approach that entails a new round of fighting every time the Palestinian violence reaches levels Israel finds unacceptable.
Its “rationale” – for want of a better term – was recently articulated by Efraim Inbar and Eitan Shamir of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, Bar-Ilan University, as: “The use of force, not intended to attain impossible political goals, but rather [as a] long-term strategy of attrition designed primarily to debilitate the enemy capabilities.”
Sadly, what we have seen is that far from “debilitating the enemy capabilities,” because said enemy keeps reappearing, spoiling for a fight, ever bolder with ever-greater capabilities.
It is an open question just how many more rounds of “mowing” the residents of southern Israel will endure before losing confidence that the government will provide adequate protection and choose to evacuate the area.
No, periodically mowing the lawn is not a policy that can endure for long – it simply will not cut it. The grass needs to be uprooted – once and for all.
Gaza: What would Einstein say?
Albert Einstein famously said that one could not solve a problem with the level of thinking that created it.
Clearly, the problem of Gaza was created by the belief that land could be transferred to the Palestinian Arabs to provide them a viable opportunity for self-governance.
Equally clearly, then, the problem of Gaza cannot be solved by persisting with ideas that created it – i.e. persisting with a plan for Israel to provide the Palestinian Arabs with land for self-governance.
The problem can only be solved by entirely abandoning the concept that Gaza should be governed by Palestinian Arabs. Any effective solution must follow this new line of reasoning.
Any other outcome will merely prolong the problem. If Hamas comes out stronger from this round of fighting, it will be only a matter of time before the next, probably more deadly, round breaks out.
If Hamas comes out weaker from this round of fighting, it is only a matter of time before it will be replaced by an even more violent extremist-successor – and thus, once more, only a matter of time until the next, probably more deadly, round breaks out.
The only durable solution requires dismantling Gaza, humanitarian relocation of the non-belligerent Arab population, and extension of Israeli sovereignty over the region.
That is the only approach that can solve the problem of Gaza.
That is the only approach that will eliminate the threat to Israel continually issuing from Gaza.
That is the only approach that will extricate the non-belligerent Palestinians from the clutches of the cruel, corrupt cliques who led them astray for decades.
That is the only approach that will preclude a need for Israel to “rule over another people.”
Gaza: What would Herbert Hoover say?
Former US President Herbert Hoover, dubbed the “Great Humanitarian” for his efforts to relieve famine in Europe after WWI, wrote in The Problems of Lasting Peace: “Consideration should be given even to the heroic remedy of transfer of populations…the hardship of moving is great, but it is [still] less than the constant suffering of minorities and the constant recurrence of war.”
How could anyone, with any degree of compassion and humanity, disagree?
Martin Sherman (www.martinsherman.org) is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.www.martinsherman.net