David Lehrer


The Israeli response, last Thursday, to the unprecedented Iranian missile attack, two weeks ago, seems to have been measured, restrained and within the tolerance range of our US and regional allies. The purpose seems to have been, to demonstrate to Iran, the potential consequences of another missile attack, therefore, deterring them from further attempts to challenge Israel’s sovereignty, at least directly. As an outspoken critique of the current Israeli government and someone who felt that Israel and its allies’ miraculous defense from the Iranian missile attack, was enough of a victory, I must admit that Israel’s attack, did not ignite the regional war I had feared. Whether the achievements of the Israeli attack will have been worth the risk, time will tell. I can at least understand the logic behind taking the risk. Deterrence is an important goal, when dealing with a nation state which has declared its intentions both in words and in deeds to destroy the State of Israel. Military deterrence can work in the short and medium terms when a government like Iran’s, has a country to run and a population to placate. In the long run, however, military deterrence always carries the danger of miscalculations, such as that of the Israeli government on April 1st of this year, when the IDF attacked the Iranian Consulate in Syria. Historically, the cold war era USA – USSR mutually assured destruction (MAD) strategy’s miscalculations brought the world to the brink of nuclear war on more than one occasion. In the long run, a much safer strategy for Israel to deter Iran is to build a strong coalition of Western and Moderate Middle Eastern partners who work together for mutual defense and prosperity.

The calculous of deterrence against an enemy like Hamas, however, is much different. It feels as if Israel’s, seemingly successful use of military force to deter Iran has imbued the current Israeli government with the delusion that military force is the key to “victory” over Hamas. This week, we have even heard the revival of the empty phrase “Only military pressure will free the hostages”. According to news reports, the government is gearing up for a military maneuver in Rafah to destroy the remaining Hamas battalions. Even if the immediate military goal is achievable, the long-term goal of deterring Palestinian extremists from continuing in their multi-year multi-generational holy war against the Jewish State is delusional. Palestinian extremists, whether called Hamas, Islamic Jihad, or something else, have no real governing responsibilities and no concern for the wellbeing of the Palestinian population. The physical destruction of Gaza and the suffering of the Palestinian people caused by Israel’s military actions is a victory for Palestinian extremists. The current war has created tens of thousands of potential recruits for the next phase of Islamic extremism in Gaza. If Israel invades Rafah, without any realistic plans to protect the 1.7 million civilians packed into the area, the ratio of civilian dead to militant dead will go far beyond the morally indefensible two to one ratio of this war so far. Invading Rafah is not about deterrence, and it is not about removing the Hamas threat which cannot be removed by military force alone. It is about fulfilling empty promises of “total victory” by a desperate and delusional politician who has lost the public’s trust. Invading Rafah is not about achieving the most important goal of the war, freeing the hostages. In fact, invading Rafah is perhaps the diversion Netanyahu seeks to give up on the hostages altogether.

During the seder on Monday evening, we dipped the parsley into saltwater to remind us of the tears we shed as slaves in Egypt. I needed no reminder of those tears as fresh ones well up in my eyes for those we have lost and for those we may be choosing not to save.

About the Author
Dr. Lehrer holds a PhD from the Geography and Environmental Development Department of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and a joint Masters Degree in Management Science from Boston University and Ben-Gurion University. Dr. Lehrer was the Executive Director of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies from 2001 until August 2021 and has now become Director of the Center for Applied Environmental Diplomacy. Dr. Lehrer has been a member of Kibbutz Ketura since 1981.
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