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.