You were given the choice between war and dishonour. You chose dishonour, and you will have war. – Winston Churchill, to Neville Chamberlain
As I write this, the recent “security incident” in Gaza seems to have receded to become, well, a “security incident” and not the opening volleys of a war.
It started when one of Israel’s special units had penetrated 3 km. into Gaza to carry out an “intelligence gathering mission,” which was intended to proceed quietly without contact with the enemy. Maybe the intention was to find out about tunnels, or the location of the Israelis (and bodies) held hostage by Hamas. Or something else. In any event, the force ran into a Hamas checkpoint and aroused suspicion. A firefight broke out and the Israeli commander, a 41-year old sgan aluf (referred to only as “Lt. Colonel M.”), was killed, and another officer “moderately” wounded. The force was extracted with assistance from the air force. Seven Hamas fighters were killed in the incident, one of whom was a battalion commander. The IDF made a point of saying that no Israelis (alive or dead) were in the hands of Hamas.
Hamas retaliated by firing almost 500 rockets and mortars into Israel starting about 4 pm the next day and continuing until the early morning hours, the most concentrated barrage in Israel’s history (during the Second Lebanon War in 2006, Hezbollah succeeded in firing about 130 rockets per day). The Iron Dome system intercepted many of them, but several buildings were hit, there were numerous injuries and one fatality.
In addition Hamas fired an antitank missile at a military bus immediately after dozens of soldiers had disembarked from it. One nearby soldier was seriously injured and the driver lightly wounded. The bus was stopped in full view of the border, in violation of IDF protocol. Disturbingly, it was clear that the bus had been under observation for some time before the attack, and the missile could have been fired when it was occupied, causing mass casualties. It’s been suggested that Hamas deliberately exercised restraint to avoid provoking a massive Israeli response.
In any event, Israel struck back by destroying numerous military targets in Gaza, including three high-rise buildings in urban areas, which an IDF spokesperson proudly announced, was done “without casualties.” The IAF also hit some rocket-launching teams, but many of the rockets were launched by timers and other remote-control devices while the Hamas operatives were safely underground in Gaza’s tunnel system.
The fighting was stopped when the two sides agreed to an Egyptian cease-fire proposal. Some Israeli cabinet ministers (Lieberman, Bennett, Shaked, and Elkin) were strongly opposed, but the position of the PM and the defense establishment was to accept the cease-fire, and since the IDF offered “insufficient options” for continuing to fight, their position was carried without a vote.
In response to what he called “capitulation to terror,” Lieberman has just announced (Wednesday afternoon) that he will resign as Defense Minister and take his party, Israel Beytenu, out of the coalition, leaving Netanyahu with a one-seat margin. That almost certainly guarantees that there will be early elections.
So who won this round?
Hamas suffered greater numerical losses in manpower and military assets, with buildings, tunnels, even ships destroyed. The death of Lt. Colonel M., a highly accomplished career officer who had apparently participated in or led numerous successful operations of the type that failed on Sunday night, was a very heavy loss for Israel that is hard to quantify.
From a psychological warfare standpoint, as always, the incident was a clear victory for Hamas. Although everyone knew it already, it was demonstrated that the Iron dome system cannot provide 100% protection, and that it is possible to overwhelm it with the sheer number of projectiles. Hamas demonstrated that it could fire rockets without risking its fighters. Israelis were sent scurrying into shelters like insects, people were hurt, homes and vehicles were destroyed, and only by luck (or a miracle if you prefer), was only one person killed. Hamas limited its barrage to short-range rockets that only reached Ashkelon, but announced that if Israel continued its response, they would introduce their longer range missiles, which can strike Tel Aviv.
And Israel blinked.
Many Israelis are furious at the government and at the defense establishment, which hasn’t come up with a practical plan to defeat Hamas. There seem to be several reasons for this:
- Truly defeating Hamas would probably result in significant civilian casualties in Gaza, since Hamas has embedded its military installations in the civilian population, and officials are afraid that the “international community” (the UN and the EU) would severely punish Israel as a result.
- A full-scale war would cause even more casualties and destruction on Israel’s home front, which officials believe the public would not accept, and they would be blamed.
- A war against Hamas could provoke intervention from Hezbollah, and would inflame the situation in Judea and Samaria, leading to a much more serious multi-front war and an outbreak of terrorism.
- Hamas’ rival, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which is closely tied to Iran, would be empowered if Hamas were defeated.
- Israel would have to take full control of Gaza, which would require a military occupation and probably bring about a long-term insurgency.
There may be other reasons. But whatever they are, our leaders have decided that fighting, except in a very limited way, isn’t an option. They have decided to appease the UN and the EU, to try to keep Hamas in power but limit its offensive abilities, and to try – an impossible but in any case pointless feat – to improve the humanitarian condition of the civilian population without allowing Hamas to use the resources provided to strengthen its military capabilities.
For months they allowed the fire-bombing of thousands of acres of agricultural land and nature reserves. Now their response to a murderous rocket attack is to demonstrate our ability to take down tall buildings without hurting anybody.
They have decided to accept an unending war of attrition – which implies sacrificing the citizens of southern Israel, who will get no peace. Hamas is getting more and more competent; its rockets are more numerous, more powerful, and more accurate. When Hamas demonstrated its ability to create chaos with a carefully calibrated attack in the South and threatened to extend it to the heart of the country, our leaders allowed themselves to be deterred and backed down. Hamas is in control. Hamas decides when to fan the flames and when to turn them down.
Our leaders gave in to extortion, and they accepted humiliation. Like Neville Chamberlain, they chose dishonor over war, but like Chamberlain, in the end they will get war.
Lieberman is right. The cease-fire with Hamas is just the latest example of capitulation to terror.
The end result, if this policy is allowed to continue, will be the depopulation of southern Israel and the loss of part of our country. Netanyahu’s Sudetenland will be Sderot, Nahal Oz, Yad Mordechai, Mifalsim, Nativ Ha’asara, Or HaNer, and the rest.
Yesterday a friend in America asked me if I was safe. Yes, I said, I live in Rehovot and the rockets only went as far as Ashkelon. This time. I realized that I was embarrassed. I wanted to say, believe me, we taught them a lesson; they’ll never try this again. But I couldn’t say that because I knew they would. We have given them permission.
Dear PM Netanyahu, Chief of Staff Eisenkot, and whoever will be the new Minister of Defense: this is not acceptable. I know the problem is difficult, but you need to solve it. You need to come up with a solution that is better than giving up, paying them off, and hoping for the best. You need to develop an integrated military, political, diplomatic, and cognitive/psychological plan to extirpate the Nazi-like evil from its nest, to restore our power of deterrence, and to bring back our self-respect as a sovereign nation.