There is a new Knesset sitting in Jerusalem and soon there will a new government running our lives. We have also found out today that Barack Obama, the most powerful man in the world, will soon be arriving in the Middle East, presumably to ensure that there is some kind of dialogue between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Without an election to worry about Obama can afford to be a great deal more robust in his dealings with his erstwhile ally and our Prime Minister than he has been previously and by all accounts that is saying something.
At this time of uncertainty we would do well to rid ourselves of some unfortunate myths that seem to have slithered their way into our consciousness over the years. I have been aided in this respect by the nominee for the Academy Award for best documentary; The Gatekeepers. There is something incredibly shocking about hearing every living former head of Israel’s internal intelligence service, the Shin Beth, saying exactly the same thing, namely that staying in the West Bank has been a catastrophe for Israel on a military, strategic, moral and counter terror level.
Hearing them describe killing terrorists and in one case giving the order to murder two terrorists while already in custody leaves one with the feeling that these men who have shouldered the burden of defending us from the shadows know what they are talking about. Perhaps that might be obvious to some but since there are so many who are fighting with every breath in their bodies against the advice offered freely not just by the former bosses of the Shin Beth but also of the Mossad and the military it is worth exploding a few myths that we have become accustomed to believing.
It’s worth doing this because those of us who believe that we can simply wait until the end of time to do exactly as we wish will find out the hard way that is simply not the case. Whenever I hear and participate in discussions about Israel’s quest for security they never concern the effect that the actions of the Palestinians have had on us, so much as the mistakes that we made with regards to them. We talk about how the withdrawal from Gaza was a mistake, about how Arafat was never serious about the peace process and about a whole range of other topics but we have ever so quickly forgotten about the events that led to us making the military and diplomatic moves that we did, we forget at our peril.
In short we didn’t choose to make peace with the Palestinians they forced us to the table through an Intifada that saw hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets to chase us out of the West Bank and Gaza. We had no solution to the Intifada, we had no way to stop it, we didn’t allow Arafat and his cronies into Ramallah because we decided to be nice, we did it because it was the only card we had left up our sleeve. In a world that was paying increasing attention to the desperate measures Israel was using to pacify the West Bank and more importantly the lack of patience that the Israeli public had for those same methods peace talks were inevitable regardless of whether they were in Madrid or Oslo or Washington and as it happened they were in all three cities and more.
In 2005 we didn’t choose to leave Gaza, were there no military threat to us we would still be there now, building more settlements and sending more soldiers. We left because Hamas were simply killing so many of our soldiers that it became clear that the situation was untenable. The fact that Arik Sharon, for decades the strongman of Israeli politics lead the charge for the withdrawal should speak volumes. By the time the IDF withdrew from Gaza the area was so hazardous to Israeli soldiers that it was forbidden to carry out operations on foot and in the open. Hamas and the other armed terror groups had denied the IDF the ability to function effectively in Gaza proper. One example of the growing sophistication of our enemies came on December 12th 2004 on our side of the border when, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website;
“Five IDF soldiers were killed and five wounded when a tunnel filled with 1.5 tons of explosives were detonated under an IDF post at the Rafah crossing, followed by the infiltration of the post by two terrorists who opened fire and activated another explosive device. Hamas and the Fatah Hawks claimed responsibility for the attack.”
The effectiveness and professionalism of this attack is the reason I chose it as an example. There were plenty of attacks resulting in dead soldiers in the days and months leading up to the withdrawal that we seem to have forgotten about. But it’s not just that Palestinian terror groups had denied us freedom of movement within their territory, nor is it the fact that they were expanding their activity outside of the borders of Gaza creating a war situation for civilians and soldiers supposedly in friendly territory, but the extent to which they were learning how to really hurt us. They were well on their way to becoming another Hezbollah right in our back yard and there was very little we could do about it, so we took the only option left.
I am saying these things because we have forgotten who our enemy is, we have been lulled into a false sense of security by the lack of terror in recent years. The scale of the killing that went on throughout the Second Intifada could and will be repeated if we continually treat the Palestinians as a minor irritation that we can ignore at will. They have strength, they have numbers and if they decide to they can bring a rain of horror down upon us once again. Talk of a third Intifada is on the rise and if politicians like Naftali Bennett have their way Palestinians will be hearing in no uncertain terms that there is no possibility for them to have a state of their own…unless they pick up a gun, bomb or Molotov Cocktail.
Ami Ayalon, former head of Shayatet 13, former head of the Navy and former head of the Shin Beth makes it painfully clear what’s at stake when he says in The Gatekeepers that “We may win every battle and yet still lose the war.”
I am not sure what the strategy of my new government is going to be when it comes to peace and peace making but if Bibi Netanyahu hopes to spend the next four years ignoring Obama and playing his domestic political rivals off against each other in an effort to maintain the status quo he may well wake up one day to find out that there is no status quo left to maintain.