It’s impossible to write about anything except the fires.
Foreign media are concerned with other things, but in Israel only the arrest of a former government minister charged with spying for Iran has come close to dislodging the fires from the forefront of our consciousness.
The Arabs of Gaza, with the encouragement of Hamas and the other terrorist factions, are burning our country. They are doing with impunity, launching kites and helium balloons carrying flaming payloads, from far enough back from the border that they are difficult to stop with nonlethal means. Naturally they are doing it from civilian areas in the company of children, so that the IDF believes that the casualties from attacking them from the air would be unacceptable. Various countermeasures using drones have been tried, but they have only been partially effective.
For Israel it is an economic, environmental, and even spiritual catastrophe. Thousands of acres of farmland and nature preserves, crops, plants, and animals have gone up in smoke. Dozens of new fires are set every day, faster than firefighters can put them out. The area is choked from the smoke of the fires and the burning tires that the Arabs ignite in order to hide the operatives who approach the border fence to plant explosives or try to cut through it. It will take decades for the land to return to its previous condition. Some of the wildlife may be gone forever.
Israelis love agriculture and they love nature. These loves are deeply embedded in our culture; look at Israeli music, art, and poetry if you doubt it. Perhaps the only thing we love more is our children. To burn the land is to thrust a dagger into our hearts (something that Palestinians also do regularly in a more literal sense). The damage done by the fires is greater than the cost of the crops that are being destroyed, and even more than the irreparable environmental damage. It is a prolonged assault on the soul of the Jewish state, its reason for being – the love of the land.
The enemy knows this. That’s why they do it. The burning of southern Israel has zero strategic significance, but it is a massive psychological blow. It’s a tribute to their understanding of us and also to their endless hatred that they chose this tactic. Frustrated by their minimal success in killing Jews with rockets and mortars, and unable to overrun the border fence, they have been wildly successful with this low-tech weapon.
The IDF fears the legal consequences of taking serious action against the “civilians” launching kites and balloons, and so far has retaliated by bombing military targets belonging to Hamas. I haven’t heard of any casualties from these attacks, so it’s reasonable to assume that they are being evacuated each night. This seems to be fine with the army, which thinks it can pressure Hamas into stopping the incendiary attacks this way, but does not want to be drawn into a wider confrontation. This tactic was met with a barrage of 45 rockets and mortar shells fired at us from Gaza last night, so it may need rethinking.
Israel’s decision-makers are considering the economic and strategic costs, not the spiritual damage and psychological cost. They know that a wider war would be expensive, and would take our attention away from the objectively greater danger from Hezbollah and Iran in Lebanon and Syria. They don’t want to be accused of fighting another war without intending to win, but they also don’t want to conquer Gaza and become responsible for it. So they do nothing and look for a technological answer.
But if you always ignore provocations, if you allow them to turn into attrition, if you time and time repress your natural desire to retaliate, if you allow the enemy to take greater and greater liberties, eventually you find that you have allowed your honor, and more practically, your deterrence, to dribble away. Sometimes restraint is not a viable option.
This is one of those times. We should not be afraid to admit that they have wounded us. But on the other hand, we must not – we can’t afford to – allow them to deepen the wound.
So here is what we do. We issue an ultimatum to Hamas that the arson attacks must stop within 24 hours, or we will destroy every Hamas installation, we will turn their tunnel city into an inferno with bunker busters, and we’ll personally target their leadership and as many officials as we have Hellfire missiles for. For good measure, we’ll do the same to Islamic Jihad and any other terrorist faction there.
At the same time, we send a copy to the UN and the European Union. We explain to them that we will not allow the Gaza Arabs to burn any more of our country. We explain that we recognize that the UN and EU have made major investments – directly and via UNRWA – in creating and nurturing an entity that will hate and oppose the Jewish state, and that therefore we expect that they will be able to influence it to change its behavior. But if not, and if we have to crush it, we expect that the UN and EU will pick up the pieces, because we certainly won’t.
We publicize our offer in multiple languages, throughout the world. We emphasize that the outcome is up to Hamas, and the responsibility for casualties if they don’t comply is entirely theirs.
Would they take our offer? I have no idea.