Our Existential Choice

In my previous post I asked why Israel only “plays defense” in recent times. Why do we only bat the rockets away with Iron Dome, instead of ending our enemies’ ability to launch them? Why do we bomb empty Hamas installations in Gaza in response to incendiary balloons and machine-gun fire that are intended to burn and kill? Why did we allow Hezbollah to rearm? Why do we allow Hamas to mount its human wave attacks against the Gaza border? Why do we always let our enemies strike first? When they score a goal, why do we give them back the ball and tell them to try again?

I argued that this was not the case in the pre-state period or during the War of Independence, when our military and diplomatic policy was aggressive and creative, despite our relative military and economic weakness. I suggested that this was because in the past, the nation had a single overriding objective – the establishment of a sovereign state, and there was general agreement that there was no option other than success.

Now the nation has no national objective, such as the one the Palestinian Arabs strive for (our disappearance), or the imperial ambitions of the Iranian, Russian, and Turkish regimes. Israel today wishes only for a quiet time in which its people can cultivate their own gardens. Just let us alone, please, we say.

Unfortunately, that isn’t the way the historical development of nations works. Struggle is necessary for national survival. Complacency is the precursor of death. If you snooze, you lose.

The bloody fighting of WWII paradoxically revitalized American society after the Depression, and the struggle against Soviet communism focused its energies in the 1945-1990 period. It could have become the champion of the Western world against the armies of Islam that almost immediately threw down the gauntlet after the passing of the Soviet Union; but it chose not to do so. Perhaps because it saw itself as a secular nation, it was unable to grasp the meaning of the first WTC attack, the one against the USS Cole, the Khobar Towers bombing, and of course 9/11. It chose to shut its eyes to the challenge, and hasn’t reopened them yet.

I think Americans have a hard time seeing that they are involved (whether they want to be or not) in a long-term historical struggle with the Islamic world in part because their society functions primarily in the short term. Their politics are short-term, with a rapid changing of the guard every eight years or less. Their idea of history is short-term as well; they see the birth of their nation as the beginning of a brand new, even messianic age, and nothing that came before has the power to impinge upon it. Their enemies, though, take a very long view: 9/11 was the 318th anniversary of the Muslim defeat at the Battle of Vienna. They remember.

America’s complacency is enabled by the knowledge that it is massively powerful, protected from invasion by broad oceans, and at least in the past, had an industrial engine that could be turned to military purposes quickly to greatly outproduce its enemies.

On the other hand, Israel is tiny, has limited manpower and little strategic depth, is surrounded by enemies, and is dependent on the US for resupply. Complacency is not an option. But a large and powerful minority in Israeli society has turned to fantasy. This group, which includes the intellectual elite of our country, also shut their eyes: they shut them to the narratives and objectives of our enemies. They believe that our enemies think as we do that the greatest good comes from peaceful economic and social progress. Nothing could be more wrong; and yet, nothing that our enemies say or do can disabuse them of the notion that if only the right formula (always involving our giving up land, control, money, honor, etc.) can be found, then the conflict will be over, and we can all cultivate our gardens.

Most Israelis don’t belong to the deluded minority. But that minority holds a veto power over our politics, as well as a lock on our media, legal system, and culture. And so while they don’t have the ability to precipitate national suicide – though they almost succeeded with the Oslo Accords – the state is paralyzed and can’t act effectively against its enemies.

Because the minority believes that appeasement is the path to peace, they try to ensure that we don’t create permanent hard feelings on the part of our enemies. But the rest of the nation demands action against terrorism or rocket attacks. So as a compromise, we have adopted the strategy of “painless retaliation,” in which something is bombed, while great care is taken that nobody is hurt.

The rest of the nation understands that we are involved in a zero-sum situation. Either we will push our enemies out or they will push us out. Most of us understand the erosion of Jewish sovereignty in Judea/Samaria as well as in the Negev, the Galilee, and Jerusalem, as a sign that we are losing. But the fantasizing minority thinks that the Jewish presence in Judea/Samaria and especially eastern Jerusalem is “an obstacle to peace.” So as a compromise, we allow Jews to live there, but limit the construction of housing for them.

Human societies live or die by struggle. Struggle creates vitality, while lack of struggle breeds weakness. Sooner or later a culture that has stopped fighting is conquered by one that hasn’t. Our defeatist minority wants to stop; indeed, its spokesperson could be former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert,  who said in a 2005 speech to the Israel Policy Forum that “[w]e are tired of fighting, we are tired of being courageous, we are tired of winning, we are tired of defeating our enemies…” He actually said that.

Unlike Iran, Russia, and Turkey, we don’t desire to create a caliphate or an empire. But we are facing an existential choice: we can fight for what is ours, Eretz Yisrael, and at the same time strengthen and revitalize our society. Or, on the other hand, we can give up, like tired Ehud Olmert.

Posted in Israeli Politics, Israeli Society | 2 Comments

Why Does Israel Only Play Defense?

Since 1967 the amount of territory under Israeli control has shrunk significantly. At the same time, the threats to the security of Israelis have increased. Terrorism waxes and wanes, but never goes away. Although there are “peace treaties” (actually long-term cease-fire agreements) with Egypt and Jordan, the enmity of the Palestinian Arabs has only deepened. Hamas continues to threaten the inhabitants of southern Israel with rockets, mortar shells, attempts at infiltration, incendiary balloons, and recently machine-gun fire. Israel’s control of Judea, Samaria, and the Jordan Valley, which are essential to the defense of the state, has weakened over time: areas A and B are no-go zones for Jews, and Arab construction in Area C is proliferating. Even within pre-1967 Israel, parts of the Galilee and the Negev are slipping from Israeli control. There are new existential threats that are on the verge of becoming actual: the Iranian nuclear project, and the deployment of precision-guided rockets and drones in the hands of Hezbollah and Hamas.

Not that there aren’t any bright spots. Some examples are the Abraham Accords, which prove that true Jewish-Arab cooperation for a common goal is not impossible, and even more encouraging, that it can take the form of a “warm peace” that is more than merely a cease-fire. But overall the victories of 1967 have failed to translate into a “new Middle East,” in the words of Shimon Peres.

One of the reasons is that there is an ideological conflict based in the essential precepts of Islam that can’t be papered over. This will remain a problem for the foreseeable future and there is little that we, in Israel, can do about it. But given that, there is a pragmatic approach that calls for maintaining the respect of our neighbors, even if it is not accompanied by affection.

Israel has the technological and economic ingredients that will command the respect (and fear and deterrence) that we need to become a regional power – indeed, the preeminent regional power. But in order to make this happen there is a fundamental strategic change that we must make. We need to stop playing defense and go over to offense.

The defensive posture is deeply ingrained in our political and military culture, even when public statements indicate the contrary. Even the 1967 war, when our tactical approach was to take the offensive, was fought in reaction to imminent threats from Egypt and Syria. Since then, almost every military campaign and all of our diplomatic activity has been reactive rather than proactive. Indeed our diplomacy, which even adopted the pernicious idea of “land for peace” for a time (I hope this time is ended), has been worse than reactive – it’s been submissive.

Consider the tactics that we have adopted in response to the various threats from our enemies: rather than respond aggressively to rocket attacks in order to create deterrence, we chose to bat the rockets away with Iron Dome and accept the economic damage that is done by the disproportionate cost (Hamas rockets may cost a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, while the projectiles used by Iron Dome cost $50,000 each and are usually fired in pairs). Retaliation for incendiary balloons is carefully tuned so that nobody is hurt. We try to use minimal force to repel human wave attacks at our Gaza border, and to put down violent riots in Judea and Samaria. We limit expansion of Jewish communities in the territories, while only minimally enforcing building codes against European-funded Arab construction in Area C, and failing to remove illegal Bedouin settlements.

Anti-Israel media makes much of deviations from the do-no-harm rules, but they are exceptions and in opposition to overall policy. Indeed, one of the primary goals of the anti-Israel “scholarship” in left-dominated universities is to try to show that the broad strategy of Israel, both historically and contemporaneously, is to hurt and oppress Arabs. In order to do this, they ignore important context, exaggerate, and even invent “facts.”

So why does Israel fail to “play offense?” Why do we always pass the ball to our enemies and encourage them to try to score again? Why is the most important consideration of the security forces in any situation to avoid wider conflict, to “not heat things up?”

It’s tempting to say that there is some inherent weakness in the Jewish psyche, perhaps learned in our millennia in diaspora, that prevents us from acting aggressively. But that is not so: during the pre-state period and the War of Independence we did take the initiative, militarily and diplomatically. What changed?

I think the problem is that today there is no agreement in Israel over the appropriate long-term objectives that we are striving to obtain. Up until 1948, the goal which the great majority of Jews in the Yishuv supported was the establishment of a sovereign state, even if there was disagreement about the precise nature of that state. Because there was a common goal, there was no hesitancy in embracing the strategies and sacrifices needed to attain it.

Today there is a Jewish state and the disagreements about its nature divide us. Our compromise government perfectly reflects our division. The Nation-State law that tries to explicate what it is to be a “Jewish” state, is controversial. And the opposition to the law is not just composed of Arabs; there are Jews that are embarrassed by the idea of a Jewish state and would prefer a “state of its citizens.”

The nations that have set for themselves ambitious goals – whether we consider them just, moral, beneficial or the opposite – are the ones that pursue aggressive, proactive polices. Iran and Russia come to mind. Where such objectives don’t exist, as often happens in politically divided democratic countries like the USA and the UK, policies are inconsistent and weak. In Israel, this takes the form of the government acting according to the least common denominator of public opinion, which is “keep us safe.”

Unfortunately for Israelis, the defense-only policy is not even effective at keeping the population safe. By allowing the enemy to take the initiative, it permits the development of future existential threats. A continuation of this policy will lead to the further contraction of the Jewish state, until only the People’s Democratic Republic of North Tel Aviv will remain – and it will be a binational state surrounded by Arab states.

But the options are not only expansive empire-building as practiced by Russia and Iran, or the directionless drift into which we have fallen. There is another alternative. That is to return to the goal of some of the earliest Zionists: the Jewish settlement of all of Eretz Yisrael, and the establishment of Jewish sovereignty throughout the land, from the river to the sea, in keeping with the natural geostrategic boundaries of the land (this doesn’t go without saying: it’s easy to forget that as recently as 2007, an Israeli Prime Minister (Olmert) offered to return the Golan Heights to Syria).

This is an objective that the people of Israel would fight for, and one that would enable us to replace the defense-only strategy with a proactive, aggressive one that would guarantee our continued existence.

Posted in Israeli Politics, Terrorism, War, Zionism | 4 Comments

The Post-American Age and Israel

The American debacle in Afghanistan is bad for America, and bad for Europe. The jihadists of the Middle East have received a huge gift of military equipment. They may even receive “humanitarian aid” from the US, in return for releasing some of the Americans still in Afghanistan. The Americans may call it aid, but everyone knows it is ransom for the release of hostages.

Psychologically, this is a massive boost to Islamic militants everywhere. Their belief that Allah is on their side has been confirmed. While I am probably too old to see them marching into the Vatican, unless present trends are reversed, my children probably will. Maybe they will find our Menorah, the one that Titus looted from the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE.

America’s defeat is also bad for Israel, and not just because of the American-made arms that the Taliban is selling to Iran and to every swaggering group of savages who believe they have a divine mandate to loot and rape. Even before the disaster in Afghanistan, the forces of jihad here have been feeling the wind of history at their backs, and have become drunk with their power to make demands and have them met by a government which is always willing to choose, as Churchill said, dishonor over war – and which, like Britain under Chamberlain, got war anyway.

So when six murderous terrorists from the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and Fatah organizations escaped from an Israeli prison on Monday, their parent organizations threatened violence. Hamas, apparently feeling left out, also made threats of escalation and launched incendiary balloons across the border. The tension has been growing for the past few weeks, as Hamas makes demands for loosening of restrictions on the entry of building materials and financial aid from Qatar, and Israel tries vainly to satisfy them with concessions.

Recently, Israel agreed to “loan” the Palestinian Authority about $150 million, in order to “strengthen the PA against Hamas.” This is a strange “loan:” the source of the money is about $186 million of funds that were collected by Israel on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, for Palestinian taxes on imports that pass through Israeli ports. Israel, however, withheld the money from the PA because of an Israeli law that forbids transferring money as long as it is used to pay stipends to imprisoned terrorists or the families of “martyrs.” The Palestinians have refused to stop paying their heroes, so the transfer is called a “loan” in order to bypass the law. Wrap your head around that.

I know, it’s complicated. There is the PIJ, there is Hamas, and there is the Fatah-dominated PLO which in effect constitutes the PA. But here’s a rule to make it simpler: they are all waging jihad (even Fatah, which is officially secular), they are all deploying terrorists against us, and they are all dedicated to the idea that if they kill enough Jews the rest of us will pick up and go back to Poland, or wherever they believe we come from.

The new government is not quite as dysfunctional as the preceding one, but because of the inclusion of left-wing parties and even an Arab Islamist party – that’s right, a party whose ideology is that Israel should be ruled according to the principles of Islamic sharia is part of Israel’s governing coalition – it seems to be unable to deal with the escalating chutzpah of its Palestinian enemies.

The Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett, is someone with a solid right-wing ideology, at least he has always expressed himself as such, but I believe that he is not able to call the shots in a government whose majority is center-left and left. Incidentally, and I know I will get a lot of objections to this, I think he is a courageous person who has sacrificed his political career – I doubt that his party will even get into the Knesset in the next election – to extricate the country from an endless series of elections and caretaker governments. The present situation is not good, but it was worse before. For this, I am grateful to him.

But now is not the time for concessions. America is leaving the Middle East, starting with Obama’s tacit decision to allow Iran to get nuclear weapons (as long as the breakout happens after his presidency), continuing through his inaction when Bashar al-Assad crossed his “red line” by using chemical weapons, and now being concluded by the empty suit in the White House. It should be clear to every American ally in the region, especially Israel, that it is impossible to count on support from America. Of course Israel doesn’t need American troops to fight for it, or even military advisors. But political developments in America make it uncertain if it will continue to support Israel diplomatically, with military aid, or even by selling her weapons for cash.

I don’t want to be even more negative than I have to be, but there is a fundamental cultural instability in America that seems to be becoming more intense with time. I suspect that Americans will soon be concerned more with their own personal security, even their physical safety, than anything else. Maybe it looks worse from here than it is, but I visualize it as an engine revved far beyond its redline, and holding there. At any moment it will fly apart.

We are living at a major historical inflection point, with America withdrawing her influence everywhere. Unfortunately the beneficiaries of this are Iran and the Islamists of all stripes, as well as the totalitarian Chinese Communist party, nuclear-armed Pakistan and North Korea, and others.

The end of the Roman Empire was followed by the Dark Ages, which aren’t called that for nothing. It’s going to be hard for everyone.

Posted in American politics, Terrorism, The Future, US-Israel Relations | 5 Comments

Running from Afghanistan

America has suffered a defeat of military and psychic proportions that have yet to be measured.

I once thought that future historians would be likely to use 9/11 as the date that marked the end of the American era, the one that started with the end of the Second World War and represented the flowering of one of the greatest national colossi in history, the nation and time that gave us (for good or ill) atomic energy, men on the moon, and the most incredible consumer culture ever seen.

But now I think that the date they will use will be 31 August 2021, the day a senile man who was never more than an empty suit sustained by narcissism at his best (and today he is definitely not at his best), placed America’s tail between her legs and told her to run.

It’s hard to list all of the diplomatic consequences of the failure (but see this analysis by military historian Victor Davis Hanson).

After 9/11, the jihadists pretended to have won a great victory, but they were actually scared to death. America’s military machine was the most powerful in the world, and President Bush promised to hunt down the perpetrators, warning that he would “…make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.” They had yanked on the tail of a dragon that was now turning its smoking head in their direction.

Or so they thought. In the immediate aftermath, while “Ground Zero,” the site of the World Trade Center was still smoking, American and British special forces chased Osama bin Laden into the caves at Tora Bora. But Bush’s people made a serious tactical error: rather than risk the casualties that they feared would ensue from a direct assault by allied operators, they depended on local Afghan allies for the pursuit, and on Pakistan to seal its border. Bin Laden escaped; he would live almost another ten years until Navy Seals caught up with him in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

While the US was able to remove the Taliban from power in Afghanistan, it was never able to defeat them. The war dragged on to become the longest war in American history, five months longer than the Vietnam war. In the meantime, the US  invaded Iraq for no clear reason, and after defeating the supposedly fearsome Iraqi army in short order, managed to lose 4,500 men (32,000 were wounded, many seriously) over almost 9 years of insurgency. The number of Iraqi civilians killed was enormous; estimates vary from about 110,000 upward. The cost of the war and the occupation that followed has been estimated as close to $2 trillion! It didn’t bankrupt the nation, but it hollowed it out, burdening it with new debt, a large chunk of which is held by China.

The ultimate result of the war in Iraq was an Iranian foothold there by way of Shia militias that it controls. Biden plans a final withdrawal of American troops from Iraq as well, and at that point it will become  a full-fledged Iranian satellite. From Israel’s point of view, Iranian control of Iraq will tighten the ring of rockets and drones surrounding her – including high-precision missiles that can hit critical points in Israel, such as airfields, military bases, strategic roads, electrical generating plants, refineries, and so on. This is a critical danger, no less so than a nuclear weapon in the hands of the Iranian regime.

I suspect American analysts are coming out of the numbness brought about by the sudden collapse in Afghanistan, and realize the danger their nation is in. They must realize that at some point the various terrorist groups will begin to absorb and master at least some of the sophisticated weapons and equipment that is at their disposal. It will take a bit longer for them to learn to fly the aircraft than it did for them to put on American uniforms – it was telling that this was the first thing they did, a primitive way to absorb the power of their defeated adversaries – but they won’t have any trouble driving the vehicles and using the hundreds of thousands of assault rifles that are now in their possession. Many of these weapons will find their way to terrorist groups that are probably making plans at this very moment to attack the American homeland in order to demonstrate the superiority of Islam to the decadent Crusaders. Thousands of terrorists were imprisoned at Bagram who are now free, in case there is a shortage of personnel. And I doubt that Europe or Israel will be spared either.

It’s too late to stop them. The Taliban and their ilk are not afraid of the Americans any more. They believe that they are on a roll, a historic comeback for the forces of Islam after their defeat at the gates of Vienna – on 11 September (!) 1683.

What compounds this disaster is that today America is internally divided, politically and culturally. Its intelligentsia are suffering from the collective insanity of postmodernism, obsessed by issues around race and gender; and now, like Covid-19, this virus has escaped from the academic laboratory and is infecting the rest of the educational system, the media, the business community, and even the military. Now is not the best time to deal with terrorism. But America will have to.

Posted in American politics, American society, War | 3 Comments

Fight, damn it!

Losses are part of war. There’s no escaping it. The tragedy is immense. A person has precisely one chance at life, to love, to have children, to learn, to have a profession, to do all the things that a person aspires to do, and to have it all taken away when it has barely begun is catastrophic.

Whenever a life is lost, especially a young life, families and friends grieve painfully. In Israel, which has been at war without a break since her establishment in 1948, there is a phenomenon of national grief, which I haven’t seen elsewhere. Funerals of soldiers, police, and terror victims are sometimes attended by thousands of people, many of whom did not know the deceased. The media devote much time and space to each case. Memorial day in Israel is full of ceremonies, all across the country, to remember and honor the fallen.

Jewish Israelis (with some exceptions) understand that they have an obligation to pay a price for the existence of the state, and that part of that price is that some of our children will lose their lives. Nothing demonstrates more conclusively how important the state is to the Jewish people.

So you can imagine the anger when a young life ends because somebody in authority was incompetent or lazy. War is war and soldiers die, but one of the things a good military organization does is analyze its defeats and failures, learn lessons from them, and make changes so that future outcomes will be better. When a preventable casualty occurs, it is because someone failed to do their job.

There are micro- and macro-failures. For example, if a soldier dies because his weapon wasn’t properly maintained, that is a micro-failure. If many lives are lost because an enemy that could be defeated is allowed to continue to re-arm, over and over, and the result is an unnecessary war, that is a macro-failure. They are both the result of someone not doing their job.

The tragic death of Border Police 1st Sgt. Barel Hadaria Shmueli, z”l, traumatized the entire nation, because it was unnecessary, a combination of micro- and macro-failures. Shmueli, a sniper, was placed at a slit in a wall that forms part of the border between Israel and Gaza. The slit was improperly located (too low) and inadequately surveilled by cameras on the Gaza side. The location was known to be dangerous. Sniper weapons are carefully adjusted to fit the individual, and for some reason he was not using his personal weapon. It jammed several times at critical moments. There is a buffer zone along the border that is supposed to be clear of Arab “demonstrators” (i.e., Hamas fighters and human shields), and somehow a number of them were allowed to enter it and come up against the wall, where they could not be seen by the defenders. They attempted to grab Shmueli’s weapon from outside, and in the struggle one of them placed a pistol up to the slit and fired; the bullet struck Shmueli’s head (information from a Hebrew article in Israel Hayom, 1 September).

These are some of the micro-failures, which the IDF promises to deal with. There is also an ongoing macro-failure.

Consider the overall situation. The “demonstrations” orchestrated by Hamas and other terrorist factions in Gaza are not demonstrations; they are attempted human wave attacks against Israel’s border. IDF Soldiers and Border Police defend it; they try to use non-lethal weapons to control the crowds, as well as “less-than lethal” live fire from .22 caliber Ruger rifles, and more deadly weapons if necessary to prevent a breach of the border. Such a breach could result in a disastrous terrorist attack against the numerous small communities in the area.

Hamas and its allied factions, who are supported and financed by Israel’s enemies in Iran, Turkey, and Qatar, are constantly working on ways to attack us. They dig tunnels, release incendiary balloons, stage “demonstrations” to penetrate our border, produce and launch rockets, try to land terrorists on the beaches north of Gaza, shoot antitank missiles at vehicles on our roads, teach their kindergarteners to hate us (so this will go on forever), and more. They are creative and proactive.

On the other hand, the IDF – which has the power to scrape the entire 365 km2 of Gaza into the sea – does not even hunt down the few dozen top leaders of Hamas and other factions and kill them. When rockets are fired at random into Israel’s cities in the hope of creating mass casualties, we prefer to intercept the rockets, and only shoot back when absolutely necessary, and with great care to kill as few people as possible. When incendiary balloons burn hundreds of acres of cultivated lands and nature preserves, the Air Force bombs empty enemy installations. And when a young soldier is killed protecting the border, the IDF prefers to improve procedures and shore up the border – that is, to deal only with the micro-failures.

It’s almost as if we are afraid to fight back, because then we might make them mad. We are satisfied to merely push them away. God forbid that we should hurt somebody.

But it’s far, far worse than just that. Yesterday, the day Sgt. Barel Shmueli was buried, Israel allowed “dozens of truckloads” of building materials into Gaza for the first time since the last mini-war. Today the government announced further loosening of restrictions. If I weren’t too embarrassed by the idea, I might say we are paying them for “protection.” Nice border you have there, we wouldn’t want it to experience a violent “demonstration.”

I have heard the argument that if we did respond more aggressively, then our soldiers and leaders would have to face charges in the International Criminal Court. Perhaps – but what came first? Maybe we have trained the world to think that attacks on Jews are the normal order of things, and Jewish self-defense is the true crime. Somehow the Russians and the Iranians don’t seem to worry about the ICC. Why do we?

Sgt. Shmueli gave his life fighting for the State of Israel. Why doesn’t the State of Israel want to fight for herself?

Posted in War | 6 Comments