It was in this very month, in 2006, that I served as a heavy gunner in the Second Lebanon war. It was a difficult war. Troops went hungry and dehydrated. The IDF lost soldiers and soldiers lost limbs. Families of the fallen were left forever bereft of those taken from them in the zones of combat. I imagine that such realities are common to every war.
Those realities are what cause soldiers to seek out clarity in circumstances that are anything but clear.
For me, inside Lebanon, that clarity came in the form of that week’s Torah reading – Matot.
There, within the pages of the bible I carried with me, an exchange is recalled just prior to the battle for the land of Israel. It recounts how the tribes of Gad and Reuben voiced their reluctance to participate as Moses moved to marshal the troops. Upon hearing the objections of these two tribes Moses asks of them, “Ha’acheichem yavo l’milchama ve’atem tesh’vu poh?” “Will your brothers go into battle while you dwell here?”
That simple exchange dispelled all doubts I may have had as to the importance and the legitimacy of we soldiers of the IDF completing our mission for the sake of Israel — the country and the People. It remains my belief that in Israel, each of us is responsible one for the other. I believe that as a soldier and as a citizen.
Lebanon 2 was eight years ago. Eight years is the length of time for which Israel has had near total quiet on her border with that country. Such quiet is the consequence of courageous service by the IDF — from the air, from the sea, and most importantly, on land. The way in which Lebanon 2 was prosecuted can be debated. The duration of the results, cannot.
That campaign may seem distant to many. For me, however, those memories remain rather fresh. They are uncovered and exposed as a result of events such as today’s.
Today I write from my home in Bat Yam, a city located 10 minutes south of Tel-Aviv. It is a city whose citizens are becoming accustomed to the ringing of sirens signaling incoming rockets. Our bomb shelters are now opened, cleared out and utilized. Our stairways are intermittently filled by residents running from their apartments each and every time they hear that now all-too-familiar siren. It is an awful sight to see. Mothers clutch babies, fathers strain to turn the sound of the ‘booms’ into sources of laughter for their children. It is a city whose citizens now know war — or so it seems.
There on the stairway, seeking shelter alongside the other tenants, I am reminded of the fact that I am a combat reservist, a citizen soldier of the IDF. We reservists undertake our duty annually. We can be mobilized in the event of an emergency draft. It has happened before and it can happen again. It could happen tomorrow. The mobilization and deployment of ground troops is a point vigorously debated here in Israel.
I am more than familiar with the risks attendant to the deployment of ground troops. Nobody need teach me of why we fear the kidnapping of our troops. It was, at least in part, as a consequence of the kidnapping of Ehud Goldwasser, Eldad Regev (Z”L) and Gilad Shalit that we deployed en-masse into Lebanon, after all. Nobody need school me on the tragedy of loss. I still recall the sobs of IDF soldiers in Lebanon whose brothers were lost in the field of battle. Not brothers-in-arms — brothers.
I know well the effect that war has upon families, including my own. Just a few days ago I drove my youngest brother to his base after he was drafted into the armored corps as part of the emergency mobilization of reservists. He is home now, but I know how it felt to drop him off at those gates. A different brother, Rafael, was mobilized alongside me during the draft of 2012. My sister served in the IDF for 18 months. Those realities are with me and are unforgettable to me.
It is with an appreciation of those realities that I say that while the images of Bat Yam today are certainly disturbing, they do not trouble me nearly as much as the undeniable fact that for far too long, we in Israel have left the citizens of southern Israel; of Ashdod, of Beersheva, of Ashkelon and of Sderot, to live in the shadow of terror, of rocket fire, of victimhood, and of war, to a degree that no government should countenance and no people should excuse. Even in the midst of the current onslaught of Hamas rockets, reaching as far north as Zichron Yaakov and Haifa, the citizens of the south continue to bear the brunt of this terror to a degree far greater than anything experienced by the citizens of central and northern Israel. This fact must shape the thinking of our citizens and the strategy of our military and politicians. Citizens of Israel everywhere must proclaim that if rockets are not acceptable on our home they are not acceptable on anyone’s home. Not in the north and not in the south. Any military campaign must therefore conclude with sustained normality, security and quiet for all of our citizens.
The firing of rockets upon us is an act of war. It is wrong and it cannot stand. But the firing of those rockets is a choice made by our enemies. A policy that effectively forsakes the citizens of the south is one for which we alone are responsible, however. It is a decision arrived at by internal considerations. Any dedicated supporter of Israel who endorses a cost-benefit analysis that relegates our southern brethren to a life lived in bomb shelters should today, under fire, hang their heads in shame. Consider that to the children of southern Israel, air raid sirens emit a sound as familiar to them as are the lullabies sung to children in most any other place. A reality such as this would not be accepted in Bat Yam. It cannot be accepted in Beersheva therefore.
The IDF is campaigning with its typical courage, accuracy, humanity, and intensity to punish and to inflict harm upon those in Gaza who wish to destroy our way of life here in Israel. I, along with millions of others, commend all efforts currently underway to restore calm to our country and to our people. But if past is prologue we must concede that a campaign waged exclusively from the skies and from the seas will not suffice. The pauses between campaigns fought in this way are of insufficient duration. Remember that our last major defensive operation against Hamas took place a mere twenty months ago. We cannot permit our citizens to be fired upon with such alarming regularity.
There is another cost to the brevity of the pause. That last operation involved the mobilization of 70,000 reservists. I was one of them. While ground forces were not ultimately deployed into Gaza, the fact remains that we reservists were drafted from our places of work and of study, from our homes and our families. We were ready to report to the line then. We remain ready to do so today but the aim must be for a conclusive defeat of terror from Gaza. We cannot be expected to endure a reality whereby every two years – or less – our lives are disrupted as a result of the whims and wants of Hamas’ thugs or others.
Whether it be popular to say it or not, no means other than a ground incursion can bring sustained quiet to our southern flank; and therefore to the rest of Israel. We may wish this were not the case, but wishful thinking will neither change the reality, nor is it a strategy.
Here are the facts. In operation Cast Lead of 2008-9, rockets from Gaza could reach 1 million of Israel’s citizens. In operation Pillar of Defense in 2012, that number had increased to 3.5 million. Today, that figure rests at approximately 5 million citizens of Israel living within range of Hamas rockets. That equates to more than two thirds of the Jewish population of the Jewish State. This reality must not become our “new normal.” Only a deployment of ground troops can break that cycle. Nothing else, even in this age where Israel enjoys supreme technological advantage, can ensure calm for the long-term.
The most important reason for a decisive campaign is neither strategic, nor military, but moral.
We must not forget the nature of the sacred contract between the military and the citizenry. It is the military that must be prepared to draw fire in order to safeguard our citizenry. Not the other way around. For too long this contract has been inverted. Now is the time and opportunity for us to turn it upright, once more. Circumstances and reality dictate that we do so. I understand well the pressures of world opinion, but how high an opinion of ourselves can we have if we revert to ignoring a million of our own?
Our people are imperiled. Our elderly, our infirm, our pregnant women and our children are in danger. We must be ready and willing to deploy the IDF forward into the field in order to destroy the source of such threats.
Hamas, though highly weaponized, are more vulnerable and isolated than ever before. Their tunnels can be destroyed as can their weapons factories, as can their storehouses. Their leaders can be eliminated.
Five million Israelis fleeing into shelters is far too many. Today though, all of us who hear the daily sirens must surely concede that one million in the south ought to have been more than enough. It ought to have been more than enough years ago.
I do not know what decisions this week will bring, but it is my sincere hope that by next Shabbat, as Moses’ question is recalled once more in synagogues around the world, we in Israel and the IDF will have already answered with a resounding “No!” Our brethren in the south will never again be left to know war, while we dwell here. Instead we will go along with them and we will shield them. A ground operation is needed. By advocating for one I do so as someone who has, and remains willing, to participate myself. Eight years of quiet is a long time in the middle-east. Twenty months between campaigns, is not – even here.
An attack upon one of us is an attack upon us all. A people that forgets that, is a people that has lost sight of the reason for its very being.
Quiet can be brought to that border. We citizen-soldiers of Israel – conscripts and reservists alike – must stand ready to deliver it. Then, and then alone, we might turn our attention to bringing Shalom Al Yisrael – Peace over Israel.
Benjamin Anthony, Founder and Director, Our Soldiers Speak
Notice: The views expressed above do not represent the views of the IDF, the Foreign Ministry or the organization Our Soldiers Speak. They are reflective solely of the views of the author.