In those nerve-wracking moments we took cover in our sealed rooms, braced ourselves for the sound of a big boom and waited for the all-clear. Many among us demanded that we strike back at Saddam Hussein. After all, the argument went, the only way to fight terror is to respond with force. What nation under attack would allow constant missile strikes against her population centers without responding, the strike-back proponents hotly contended.
But all we did in that first Gulf War was trust our American patrons, let their military coalition do the dirty work and wait for the hostilities to cease – this at a time when an unfriendly Republican administration was not on the best of terms with our Likud-led government. And it worked like a charm. The Americans and Europeans praised us for our restraint, the BBC and CNN covered us with empathy and fairness, and although those Patriot interceptors did such a lousy job of defending us we suffered only a few casualties. In the fog of that war the best hope we had was a counter-terror dynamic that combined military force with a political horizon.
It would take the Americans another round before they finally knocked off Saddam and his homicidal regime. That was before they made the mistake of occupying Iraq. As in the Israeli experience, the Americans’ military presence only fed the flames of an existing terror dynamic in that volatile country.
When the Oslo Agreement launched a political process, there was a fleeting atmosphere of dialogue and reconciliation. Palestinian support for Hamas was put on hold and a counter-terror dynamic was put in force. That was before the hot-headed proponents of the Greater Israel movement, Baruch Goldstein, Yigal Amir, those who looked the other way or smiled at their deeds and the Right-wing political opportunists who let the extremists ride on their coattails, all did Hamas a big favor and put them back in business.
Skip a decade or two and yes, Led Zeppelin fans, the song remains the same. In summer 2014, as we braced ourselves for a new war in Gaza, we were still debating among ourselves the conditions and attributes of effective counter-terrorism. Most Israelis called for a strong show of IDF might, using the familiar mantra “What other nation would allow constant missile strikes etc.” as a silenced Left still clung to hopes for a political solution.
Operation Protective Edge drew to its logical conclusion once the IDF shut down the terror tunnels and dealt a blow to the Hamas leadership. In spite of the undeserved bad press that slandered Israel for its counter-terror campaign, all we needed to both win world opinion and finally knock out Hamas was a show of strategic resolve. A strong Israeli diplomatic initiative was the call of the moment.
But as the dust settled over Gaza, the first thing that Bibi Netanyahu did was announce that we’re building more housing units in the occupied West Bank. One could almost hear the Hamas heave a collective sigh of relief. First we defeat them in battle, then we breathe life into them by riling up the masses who support them.
The next thing Bibi did was allow a few messianic crazies to ignite a flare-up on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, effectively expanding our conflict with the Palestinians from its usual political deadlock to a more inflammable religious confrontation. Armageddon, anyone?
Then Bibi and his cohorts reintroduced the State Law bill, with all its implications regarding the Jewish character of Israel versus its democratic character. We spent years locking horns over the “Who is a Jew” issue, now we’re loudly debating the weight and substance of our Jewishness within the context of a democratic state, but when it comes to drawing permanent borders with our neighbors we’re tongue-tied.
All these non-policies send out the wrong message to the Palestinians: there is no political way out of our conflict. Accordingly, the Palestinian Authority is losing face and Hamas is regrouping, building on a resurgent terror dynamic that will, God forbid, empower it to take over the West Bank the same way it took over Gaza.
Hopefully, Bibi is now in the lame duck stage of his long and undistinguished tenure as Prime Minister. That is the political change we can only hope and pray for. And by “we” I mean the proponents of a free and democratic Israel who don’t see the point in building villas on disputed territory that is subject for negotiations; or praying on the site of a mosque that was built over the ruins of the long gone Second Temple; or reaffirming our undeniable religious identity by sticking it in the faces of our Arab and Druze minorities and Palestinian neighbors.
We can oust Netanyahu and his brinkmanship policies once and for all, or we can allow this supposed person in charge to continue to do what he does best, lead us to the next Gaza war, and nowhere else.
As we waver on our way to a national election, the choices are clear: One trades the progress of a young nation for the occupation of another people, and one relinquishes Biblical territory in exchange for our future. One buries hope for a resolution of the conflict and enables terror to thrive. And one sets in motion a political agenda that can ultimately put the terrorists out of action.