The round of fighting with Hamas is one more stage in Israel’s strategic downward spiral. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declared victory. At the same time, Gaza’s Hamas rulers are dancing in the street. Ahmed Barakat, senior member of Hezbollah, has stated that the “countdown to the disappearance of the Zionist entity [Israel] in the region has begun.” Unfortunately, Netanyahu is wrong and Barakat is right.
If you count bodies and destroyed homes, Israel won the round. But if you look at the overall strategic situation, what you see is a steady deterioration in Israel’s position, both militarily and diplomatically. After the last Intifada, Israel’s enemies realized that suicide bombing alone cannot achieve their desired goal – the destruction of the Jewish state. So what they embarked on is a three-pronged strategy that involves low-level conflict and terror, combined with the development and production of weapons of mass destruction and an unrelenting media war designed to isolate Israel and create the international atmosphere necessary for its elimination. They have succeeded on all three fronts.
With respect to low-level conflict and terror, recently, in one week alone, Israel was fired on from Gaza by Hamas, from Lebanon by Hezbollah and from Syria by a combination of rebel and Syrian army forces. Kuneitra in Syria, right on the border with Israel, has fallen to Al-Qaida-affiliated forces. If not for the Egyptian army taking over Cairo, Israel would also be facing Al-Qaida in the Sinai and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. The noose is tightening.
Economically, a few relatively low-cost tunnels on the Gaza border and a few thousand cheap rockets and mortars have cost Israel billions of dollars and, for a couple of days, even shut down Ben-Gurion airport. Israel’s isolation was near total.
All this is possible because Israel is fighting with two hands tied behind its back. Its political and military leaders are so close to the trees, they can’t see the forest. They have not caught on to the idea that power is useless if you can’t wield it. Specifically, the forces lined up against Israel have spent billions of dollars in an unrelenting media war to delegitimize and isolate the Jewish state. They have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. Today, Israel is a de-facto pariah state in the world.
Even during the worst days of South Africa’s Apartheid, no one called for the destruction of South Africa. What they were calling for is a regime change, not the annihilation of the state. With Israel, it’s different. In campuses around the world “progressive” students and faculty are openly calling for the elimination of the Jewish state. Israel’s defenders are reduced to a campaign of whining: “why do you criticize Israel and not genocidal regimes such as Sudan and Syria?” In other words, at this moment the best that Israel’s friends can do is put it in the company of mass murderers.
In the international media, Israel is portrayed as the enemy of peace, the disruptor of international stability and a racist, colonialist regime that targets Arab children for a pastime. The worst Nazi-type anti-Semitic stereotypes have been taken out of mothballs, dusted off and applied to the Jewish state by seemingly respectable people. Around the world, left-wing and right-wing demonstrators stand shoulder to shoulder calling for “death to Israel”.
In the suburbs of Paris, Jews have to fight street battles against a mob attacking a synagogue with its congregation inside. In South Africa, a politician calls for “eye for an eye” violence against South-Africa’s Jewish leadership in “retaliation” for the war in Gaza. In England, kosher products are taken off supermarket shelves, so as not to incite the local population.
And what is Israel doing about the media war that has made all this possible? Absolutely nothing. While billions of dollars are fuelling the anti-Israel campaign, Israel is spending zero. Israel’s leadership is fighting early Twentieth-century battles. They are spending billions on tanks and nothing on media. Its enemies are spending billions on media and almost nothing on tanks. Israel is fighting last century’s war. Its enemies are fighting the war of tomorrow, often with the low-tech, media-friendly tools of yesterday. This “Neo-Primitivism” involves decapitation on youtube and other such methods. Put differently, Israel may be at the cutting edge of High Technology, but its enemies are on the cutting edge of post-modern warfare.
Israel’s leadership still has the quaint idea that the media war is really a matter of “Hasbarah”. There are even “Hasbarah experts” in the employ of the government, and of the World Zionist Organization. “Hasbarah” is Hebrew for “explanation”. Israel’s leaders believe that the way to fight a media war is to fund a couple of civil servants whose task it is to “explain” to the world why Israel is right and its enemies are wrong. This is like fighting F-16s with slingshots. More seriously, it reveals the total bankruptcy of Israel’s strategic thinking. Basically, Israel’s leaders haven’t figured out that what is depicted on CNN and BBC is more important than what happens on the streets of Gaza. If you win the latter and lose the former, you are the big loser. You can have Hellfire missiles, but you won’t be able to use them. And if you do use them, America’s president will not replenish them – because he watches CNN, or at least his constituents do. Put simply, you cannot win a war on the ground if you don’t fight the war of the airwaves. The latter has nothing to do with “Hasbarah” and everything to do with strategic power.
But that’s not all. The fact is that the media war, even if Israel engages in it, will not be fought on a level playing field. Israeli ideology and culture creates a blind spot in its leaders’ worldview. They simply don’t have the tools to understand anti-Semitism. It’s out there, and it’s real and they can’t see it. No country surrounded by Hezbollah, Al-Qaida, Hamas and ISIS would have to engage in a media war to “explain” to the world that it lives in a tough neighborhood, except Israel. Cool progressives would not allow themselves to call for the destruction of any state on the face of the planet, except for Israel. The fact is that the present media war conducted against Israel by its enemies is aimed at a planet that is – by and large – receptive to the message. Less than 70 years after a million Jewish children were incinerated in the heart of Europe, the idea of Jewish fighters defending their children is still anathema to millions of people.
As for Israel’s “friends”, the news is not good. Most of the planet is against the Jewish state and, while ancient Jewish communities have become extinct from Yemen to Afghanistan, from Greece to Poland, anti-Israel Muslim populations have expanded exponentially. This combination of sociological factors guarantees that in the near future most states in the international community will work harder and harder to isolate the state of Israel like no state has been isolated before. Countries like Canada are an exception, but in reality Canada’s support turns on one man’s continued leadership, Stephen Harper. When he goes, so will Canada’s support. As for the United States, the so-called “Jewish lobby”, namely America’s Jewish population, is disintegrating before our eyes. America’s Jews are assimilating and intermarrying. Even if they identify as Jews, for most of them Israel is not a priority. In fact, many go out of their way to prove that they are Americans first by beating up on the Jewish state. One of the few reasons for America’s continued support – such as it is – is not the power of the Jewish constituency, but of the Evangelical Christian community. This, too, shall pass. The anti-Israel forces in the American Evangelical community – old-school Jimmy Carter types – are gaining strength. Many will desert Israel. Already, there are those who claim that the “real Jews” of the bible are the Palestinians and the Israelis are the “Romans who crucified our lord”.
If you think United States President Obama is lukewarm towards Israel, the day will come – and it’s not far – that Obama will look like a right-wing Zionist compared to the people who will sit in the White House. A new president shall come, who grew up on CNN and was educated on virulently anti-Israel campuses. He will not just hold back missiles, he will arm Israel’s enemies.
This is not science fiction. This is science. If the world sees you as a genocidal state, its leaders will seek your destruction. What’s “fiction” is the world that Israel’s leaders live in. Netanyahu’s world – where anti-Semitism is not a factor, where America has Israel’s back and where Hamas is really a loser despite the mass celebrations on Gaza’s streets – is a figment of his imagination.
Netanyahu and some of his Cabinet ministers – Naphtali Bennett is a good example – believe that going on CNN and sparring with Christiane Amanpour is what good media is all about. They don’t understand that these appearances – and the “high-fives” they get from their entourage – are useless. They can’t fight a war in Gaza by parachuting a couple of cabinet ministers into the fray. Neither can they fight a media war by showing off their command of English on CNN. Put simply, if it doesn’t start fighting this war, Israel will become more vulnerable than ever before. And this will happen in the next few months – just as Iran becomes a nuclear power.
So here’s my message to Israel’s leaders and supporters: it’s not too late. Start fighting the media war or we will go down in defeat – soon.
For the Hebrew version of this post, click here.