August the 5th is Victory Day in Croatia. This year, it marks the twentieth anniversary of Operation Storm, the decisive military battle in which Croatia regained its sovereignty over occupied territory from which Serb forces lobbed shells at Croatian civilians with impunity for four excruciating years.
What does this matter to Israelis? Probably nothing, but it should matter, because Operation Storm demonstrated what happens when a country is fed up with missiles landing in its cities from within its own borders. It is the tale of the liberation of Bihac, a town meant to suffer the same fate as Srebrenica – i.e. genocide. And it is a sorry indictment of the international community’s complicity in punishing the innocent while protecting war criminals and terrorists.
The scenario should be a familiar one to Israelis: UN officials, whose idea of peacekeeping was to stand by and supervise the shelling of Croatian cities, labelled any defensive measures as war crimes. When Croatia launched a military operation in defiance of the pacifist appeasers who later gave half of Bosnia to the aggressors, the media had a field day blaming Croatia for the stream of refugees exiting its territory, even though they were ordered out by Serb leaders as a stunt to garner outside support. Later, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia convicted two of the Croatian generals of war crimes despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary – you can read my contemporary analysis at Online Opinion – and then reversed the decision on appeal. However, like an editorial correction notice on page twelve after an erroneous headline on the front page three days prior, the damage was done.
Croatia’s reputation remains somewhat tarnished – unsubstantiated accusations often get more airtime than the truth and this case is no exception. The consummate military operation also incurred a terrible cost for two of its generals, who between them spent fifteen years in a UN gaol. This heavy price tag was worth it, though, for with victory came freedom. Twenty years later, Croatia is one of the world’s top tourist destinations and a member of the EU. It has complete territorial sovereignty and no longer has to worry about incoming shells and missiles. The Plitvice Lakes National Park is a World Heritage paradise instead of a minefield, and Dubrovnik teems with Game of Thrones fans instead of soldiers and aid workers. Most importantly, an untold number of lives were saved, both in Croatia and Bosnia. The genocide of Srebrenica was not overshadowed in the following months because Mladic, the ‘Butcher of Bosnia’, was never allowed to carry out the murderous rampage he planned for northwestern Bosnia. This was thanks to the force of arms, not the dithering and pusillanimity of the United Nations.
While the situations in Israel and Croatia do bear comparison, I am far from suggesting the solution will be identical. It would be well, however, for Israel to follow Croatia’s example in having the courage and integrity to act decisively when presented with unpalatable choices (as it has done in the past). We need to accept that even the best solution will come at a cost.
So, on this important anniversary, let us all remember the price that was paid for securing Croatia’s borders, in particular those who died to free Croatia from Serb aggression, but let us also remember that the UN and its cronies are not worthy judges of right and wrong. Instead of worrying about appeasing people in high places, sometimes we must simply pursue a dream whatever the cost. I dream of an Israel free of rocket attacks. Is it really so impossible?