At around 10:45pm IDT the news-wires started buzzing. Ground operation in Gaza has commenced. Although to be totally honest, nobody uses the old wired teletext machines anymore, the Internet and “smart phones” have buried those devices along with dial-up bulletin boards and Sony Walkmen.
From the media’s point of view, this news blitz pushed Operation Protective Edge back to the number one news story around the globe, after momentarily pushing it down to number two with the tragic news of Malaysia flight MH17 crashing near the Ukraine-Russian border with all 298 souls on board lost, a tragedy claimed by the Ukrainian government, to be the work of separatist rebels armed with a ground-to-air missile. A said commentary on today’s media when the status currency of a story is dependent on the body count, or potential body count as in the case of Operation Protective Edge, but that appears to be what the media moguls believe the masses expect in their daily fare of body and soul sustenance.
Over the past week, many commentators and arm-chair critics have accused Bibi Netanyahu of dragging his heels in bringing the Political-Security Cabinet to the approval of a ground operation in Gaza. As a keen observer of Middle Eastern affairs and history, I found their ignorance quite startling, given that some of his critics claimed to be retired military persons, and quite a few media outlets claimed the IDF was chomping at the proverbial bit to be unleashed on the Gaza strip, their claims based on “anonymous sources” within the IDF. As a former military person myself, with combat experience in another theatre of guerrilla warfare 3 decades ago, I am fairly confident that the teachings of Sun-Tzu, a Chinese military strategist circa 600BC, codified in “The Art of War” are still taught in most modern military academies.
Now what Sun Tzu wrote, has been proven correct for thousands of years and three very relevant Sun Tzu quotes come to mind, with respect to Bibi’s conduct over the past few weeks. The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting, wrote Sun Tzu. Subduing the enemy is not necessarily defeating him. It can also be to make him “stand down”, in military parlance. Now given that the rain of rockets, Hamas has been pouring down on am Yisrael for the past month has been frightening to the people of Israel to say the least, disruptive to the economy, what with perpetual running for bomb shelters and safe rooms, it has not seen huge damage to infrastructure and loss of life has been limited to the one poor soul killed in a mortar attack near the Gazan border. That Israel accepted a peace-proposal a week ago, a proposal that would not have suited Israel in the medium to long term, whilst Hamas rejected it, has painted Hamas into a corner, and garnered much needed support from senior world leaders for Israel, specifically, Israel’s right to defend itself from terrorist attack which, because of Iron Dome’s efficiency, had been pretty much on the back burner in world opinion until that moment.
Benjamin Netanyahu has a proud military pedigree. He joined the IDF during the Six Day War of ’67. He then progressed to team leader in the elite Sayeret Matkal, eventually attaining the rank of Captain before his honorable discharge. He saw combat during Op. Inferno (’68), Op. Gift (68) and Op. Isotope (’72), where he took a bullet to the shoulder. He fought on the front in the War of Attrition and was studying at MIT in 1973, and returned to do a 40 day stint in the Yom Kippur War, taking part in special forces operations along the Suez Canal, and then leading a commando assault deep into hostile Syrian territory. This is not blowing his trumpet, most Israeli citizens are (or should be!) aware of the pedigree of their political leader, the rest of the world are largely ignorant of this. Even less know, that his brother Yonatan, the commander of the Sayeret Matkal unit was killed in the Raid on Entebbe in 1976, as the world knows it, Mitzva Yonatan as Isarelis’ known it. Sun Tzu wrote Treat your men as you would your own beloved sons. And they will follow you into the deepest valley and this is precisely what Bibi has done.
Sending men to die in battle is never easy, that decision lies on a mans mind until the day he dies, sometimes haunting his dreams in times of stress. Men and women with no military experience, like Obama, Cameron, Hollande, Merkel and Putin have no concept of what is asked of men and women, when you order them out of the trenches, and over the barbed wire into the machine gun nests of the enemy. Such a decision can only be made when all other options have been exhausted. The IAF F15 Eagles have done a stunning job turning parts of Gaza into piles of rubble, but even the most accurate smart bomb, carries the risk of innocent civilians being killed or maimed. This joins the ghosts that haunt commanders sleep, no man of any moral standing is happy with the term “collateral damage”, especially when the collateral is women and children. So the need for a ground operation to clean out rat holes, tunnels, arms caches and terrorists operating within civilian areas certainly exists. And before giving that type of order, Sun Tzu made these recommendations to precede battle orders – Thus we may know that there are five essentials for victory:
1 He will win, who knows when to fight and when not to fight.
2 He will win, who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces.
3 He will win, whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks.
4 He will win, who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared.
5 He will win, who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign.
So simple, yet so often forgotten. And Bibi and his commanders know that Hamas is not as prepared now, as they were 2 weeks ago. Hamas know they cannot run to Egypt, they burned that bridge when they snubbed the Egyptian sponsored truce.
So whilst many have been critically of the Prime Minister’s apparent caution, I respectfully suggest that such critics have over-simplified the dynamics of the environment within which the PM and the Political-Security Cabinet have had to operate. Israel is often accused of being overly aggressive, and being part of a world community, dependent on support from certain allies, the stage had to be set for the term “justifiable force” to be applied to a military response which will result in a increased loss of life on both sides. In applying what legalists refer to as “the reasonable man” test, I strongly feel the timing has been perfect for the expansion of Operation Protective Edge onto the ground in Gaza, with moral superiority clearly in Israel’s favour.
In closing, I pray that HaShem will extended his protective hands over the IDF men and women who are going to place their lives in harms way, to ensure the safety and freedom of their families and friends at home in Israel, and also that HaShem take care of the innocents who will find themselves in the middle of this war.