In the context of Israel’s security situation, somebody recently told me to be more cheerful, because there have been worse times.
Leaving aside the question (which my wife would answer in the negative) of whether I am capable of cheerfulness, of course there have been worse times. Israel lost 1% of her population in the War of Independence. The country was on the brink of destruction on Yom Kippur of 1973. During the period of austerity in the 1950s (the tzena) food and other necessities were rationed and many things were unavailable. During the Second Intifada, bombs were exploding on buses and in restaurants every few days. These were, in an obvious sense, worse times.
So what’s my problem? Why do I insist that the state is in as much danger now as it was in 1948, 1967, or 1973?
It’s this: our governments and military planners have followed a policy of “minimum pressure” on our close-by Iranian-proxy enemies, Hamas, Hezbollah, and other terrorist militias. It’s based on the assumption that they are deterred by our greater strength from attacking in full force, and that it’s only necessary for us to periodically push them back.
Let’s not have any illusions:
It isn’t fear of the IDF that’s stopping Hamas from firing a barrage of rockets tonight at Ben Gurion Airport, Tel Aviv or for that matter Raanana.
It is patience.
Hamas is not only busy upgrading and manufacturing rockets. They are no doubt devoting huge resources towards shifting their network of defense/attack tunnels in every city in the Gaza Strip so that they run mostly under buildings rather than streets to make it difficult for the IAF to attack them.
And fear of the IDF is not what is stopping Hezbollah from firing its hundreds of thousands of rockets towards the Jewish State tonight.
It is patience.
As each day passes they manage to smuggle in and install more of the suitcase sized guidance system rocket upgrade kits.
That’s “patience” – not “deterrence”.
There is an important difference between the two.
Because if defense officials who talk about “deterrence” really believe that there is “deterrence” then they are clueless.
And if they are clueless then this can lead to serious errors in not only planning and preparations to address these challenges but also in the timing of the execution of operations against Hamas and Hezbollah.
After all, if you think we are deterring our enemies there is no rush to do anything about Hamas or Hezbollah.
On the other hand, if Hamas and Hezbollah are patiently preparing to attack us in the future under conditions considerably more favorable for them then “quiet for quiet” does not serve our interests.
We are in a precarious position. Control is not in our hands, it is in the hands of our enemies. They decide when to heat things up, and when to cool them down. And they exploit our restraint to build up their capabilities during the cool times, so that at some point they will have the ability to land a blow strong enough to cause the collapse of the state.
Look at it as a ratchet mechanism. Each time there is a limited conflict, we destroy some of their capability. And each time, they rebuild it better, with support from Iran and various other countries. One step back, two steps forward.
Are our officials actually “clueless,” or are there other reasons for their policy? I think it is a bit of both. The false hypothesis that our enemies are deterred is accepted because the alternative would require Israel to wage war to obtain total victory over them; and that, in turn would have consequences that our leadership is not prepared to accept.
These consequences include a large number of casualties, both among Israeli and Gazan/Lebanese civilians and our soldiers, as well as large-scale damage to infrastructure on both sides. Such a war would also trigger our “soft enemies” in Europe and the Biden Administration, who would quickly respond with a diplomatic offensive to end hostilities early to Israel’s disadvantage, even to impose a settlement, followed by initiatives to sanction Israel, and legal action against our government officials and IDF officers. There is also the question of “the day after,” when it is said that Israel would have to take responsibility (at least in the case of Gaza) for the civilian population formerly governed by Hamas.
There is another problem, specifically in connection with the IDF. Our top generals have grown up in a solar system whose center is the USA. They are used to a large percentage of their budgets, and most of their equipment coming from America. They are unable to conceive of a strategy that goes against the wishes of the administration in Washington.
The denial of a proposition because its consequences are unpleasant is a fallacy called Argumentum ad Consequentiam. A rational strategy has to be based on what our enemies are actually doing, not what we would prefer that they do. And what they are doing is building up their forces in preparation for a larger war. The current policy of doing as little as possible is extremely comfortable in the short term, but may lead to a disaster in the slightly longer term. It must be replaced by one which takes into account the possible consequences of campaigns to preemptively defeat Hamas and Hezbollah, and includes elements to mitigate those consequences.
Although more attention is given to the direct nuclear threat from Iran, the combined capabilities of Hezbollah and Hamas, especially when accompanied with insurrections in Judea and Samaria – and even among a segment of Israel’s Arab population within the Green line – represent no less of an existential threat to the State of Israel.
It’s so obvious that I don’t know why I need to say it: you don’t win by following your enemy’s game plan. You don’t sit back and hope that a miracle will happen. The miracle of 1967 may have been decreed by Hashem, but it was carried out by the IDF, after careful planning. Now it’s time to plan, and execute, another miracle.