How difficult it is to be Bibi!
The Glass is Half Full!
Over 1200 rockets from the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) terror organization have been launched from the Gaza enclave against Israel as a preamble and during operation “Sword and Shield”. With the help of Israel’s incredible Iron Dome and David Sling technology, through the hand of Israel’s top-notch Armed Forces, guided by precise and actionable information from Israel’s intelligence agencies and under the Watchful Eye of the Almighty, only two victims died as a result of these rocket attacks while at the same time, the leaders of PIJ who have not been eliminated were hiding and fleeing to stay alive. Countless important targets in the Gaza enclave have been destroyed: ammunition storage, launch sites, etc.. At the same time, civilian casualties among the Gaza population have been kept to a very small number. This is a tribute to the ethical values guiding the actions of Israel Armed Forces. The sole blame for these 35 or so arab casualties rests on PIJ among other terror organizations who willingly use civilians as human shields. PIJ fired these 1200 rockets over a large portion of the country, reaching north of Tel Aviv and just south of Jerusalem. Nearly a third of all these rockets fell into Gaza. Of the ones that the IDF chose to destroy, only one notably fell into an Israeli building injuring several and killing one Israeli citizen. One more fell into a construction site injuring several and killing one guest worker. Another resounding success for our anti-rocket technology and weapons.
To manage such a situation and to keep the upper hand, our Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu (Bibi) assembled a top-level security cabinet with Yoav Gallant, Minister of Defense, Herzi Halevi, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, and Ronen Bar, Director of the Israel Security Agency (the “Shin Bet”). Bibi once again has shown that he is a leader of unquestionable stature, wise enough to keep the fighting within the perimeter he had set both geographically and with regards to the targets he had identified with the help of his brilliant security cabinet, while at the same time projecting enough power to inflict severe pain on the enemy and to meet the expectations of most Israelis.
As a result of the total closing of the Gaza enclave during the fighting, the economic situation there became dire, with shortage of many essential goods. The twenty thousand or so Gaza residents who crossed daily into Israel to work were prevented from doing so, effectively stopping the necessary influx of money into the enclave. Further economic sanctions wisely implemented by Minister Smotrich with Bibi’s agreement also added to the economic hardship. These measures contributed in keeping Hamas out of the fighting. That “divide and conquer” strategy worked well for Israel.
Now a cease fire is in effect, life is returning to normal in the South of Israel.
All of this sounds good right? If your answer is yes, you are seeing the glass half full. Congratulations.
Many Israelis are not so optimistic. Their appreciation of what went on during Sword and Shield is not so positive. They are seeing the glass half empty
The Glass is Half Empty!
It did not take very long for the nay-sayers to go on the offensive: The cease fire was not quite yet in effect Saturday evening, several television channels, many internet sites and countless so-called experts, journalists and politicians were hard at work to discredit what Israel had accomplished during the “Sword and Shield” campaign, to launch personal attacks on Bibi, his security cabinet, and his coalition, and to warn Israeli citizens about a soon-to-be-returning doomsday. There were certainly some legitimate questions, worries and even criticism, but many of them were simply outrageous, politically motivated, and in direct line with the pre-campaign, anti-reform rhetoric we have seen and heard for many weeks. Among these “non-legitimate”, or politically motivated attacks, we could hear, in no particular order: – the campaign was a total defeat for Israel and an unquestionable victory for the Palestinians, – the Palestinians killed by Tsahal were too few and in any event of insignificant importance, – the target we struck were too few and completely useless, – Tsahal response was way too timid because the political echelon (i.e. Bibi) muzzled them, etc.., and then, – the cease fire was a capitulation on Israel’s part, – at the end, this campaign served no purpose and accomplished nothing. For these people, the common point of all these criticisms is Bibi: he is the root of all evil, the single point of failure in Israel today, and the reason our enemies attack us. Their conclusion is both obvious and simple: let us go back to the street protests as before and kick the entire Bibi government out.
In my opinion, these politically motivated criticisms do not hold against the facts and a careful analysis. No war campaign is ever perfect. Success criteria differ greatly whether you are supportive of your government, your army and your country or not. But, trying to demoralize the population and demonize the government, while that is protected under freedom of speech, is nonetheless morally reprehensible, especially when the rockets are falling.
The most legitimate criticism came from the inhabitants of the southern cities, especially those bordering the Gaza strip. To summarize: there has been only 8 months between the previous Gaza campaign and this one, the scenario repeats itself from one campaign to the next with no decisive victory, therefore opening the door to the next episode of bombing, retaliation and cease fire with again, predictably, no decisive “final” victory.
Sword and Shield post mortem
Recognizing the real nature of the threat. The last conventional war Israel had to fight was in 1973, the Yom Kippur war. Nation against nations, organized army against organized armies fighting on identifiable battle fields. Enemy nations, having been defeated once more, became reluctant to fight again on the same model. Some even signed peace agreements with Israel. Since then, insurgency warfare has prevailed. All previously known rules of engagement became obsolete. Israel’s armed forces, presumably the best in the world, is facing urban guerilla waged by small highly mobile groups hiding behind civilian human shields. Interestingly enough, both camps have evolved towards a similar paradigm: Fight in the air and do not expose your ground troops to an uncertain outcome. Israel uses airplanes. Israel’s enemies use rockets. Is this likely to change anytime soon? Probably not. The Monday morning quarterbacks who blame Bibi for not having sent the troops into Gaza are wrong. The changing nature of the war being waged is not conducive to traditional ground operations, unless one is willing to accept massive casualties among Israeli soldiers. In fact, the efficiency of Tsahal is not in question here. Remember Bibi’s absolutely brilliant statement that should have terrified the PIJ leaders: “we can see you, we know where you are, we can get to you anytime we chose”. What is really in question is the political willingness to do what needs to be done, efficiently, and based only on Israel’s own best interest.
Defining success. It has been said that Jews respect Life, terrorists worship Death. This is still true. Remember the 72 virgin’s tale. Success comes easy for our enemies: one Israeli (military or civilian, man or woman, adult or child) captured, injured, or killed is immediately celebrated with fireworks, candies and enthusiastic declarations. By contrast, their use of their own civilians as human shields shows how little respect they have for the lives of their kins. In the absence of a well-defined end goal, success is not easy to measure for Israelis. Hence the glass half full or half empty rhetoric. One thing is sure: any single Israeli casualty is viewed here as a tragedy, a failure, exerting extraordinary pressure on the government.
Fighting an ethical war. The Gemara in Sota ch 7 says in substance: “ Remember, when you go to war, you are fighting not against your brothers but against your enemies. If you fall in their hands, they will feel no pity for you.” The message is clear. War like most human interactions should be conducted along a two-way street. For example, what sense does it make to talk about ethical trades with Japan when their import rules are so restrictive? Or to talk about mutual intellectual property respect with the Chinese (no further comment needed)? Likewise, expecting ethical war behavior from muslim terrorists is irrealistic. As for us, we should never forget our cultural, ancestral sense of right and wrong, but we cannot fight a war with our hands tied. More specifically, our government should not impose on Tsahal the presence of lawyers or legal advisors telling our soldiers at all time what to do or not. Enough dropping leaflets to tell Gaza residents we will bomb such building at such time so they can evacuate. Enough waiting over a perfectly identified rocket launch site to allow the terrorists to flee before its destruction. This serves no purpose, except perhaps to instill a sense of invulnerability among our enemies. There will be collateral victims, alas. There will be international condemnation. No difference. Will that contribute to restore deterrence? No doubt about it.
Defining victory: what is the end goal. Throughout this discussion, one unalterable fact emerges: without a well-defined end goal, battles can be won, but the war will linger. By definition, victory or success is the attainment of a previously agreed-upon, hopefully well thought out, objective or end goal. And we all know that this is sorely missing. This of course will not be resolved anytime soon. Such questions as: one state versus two states, Gaza status, palestinian leadership (in Gaza and Judea / Samaria), legal status of all territories liberated in 1967, authority over the Temple Mount, etc… have been with us for decades with little to no resolution. In the meantime, we can and we should win decisively all the battles we engage in. We should unequivocally restore deterrence. And we should pursue ways to ensure longer term periods of calm.
There are two critical variables in this equation: Hamas and Iran.
Let us talk about Hamas. This Sunni Muslim group, designated as a terrorist entity by the EU, the USA, and many other countries and international organizations is the governing authority in the Gaza strip. Its ambition, supported by its 2006 victory in the Palestinian elections, is to replace the PLO at the top of the entire so-called Palestinian territories, including Judea and Samaria. Economic stability is of prime importance to Hamas. First because it allows its leaders to live the life of the super-rich in Qatar, and second because, out of the huge amount of money poured into their coffers by international donors, Hamas provides meager resources to keep Gaza residents quiet albeit at the edge of survival. It seems likely that informal, indirect contacts have been established for some time between Israel and Hamas, contacts that have surely intensified during this recent operation. The extend to which these contacts have been instrumental in keeping Hamas out of the conflict will probably remain forever unknown. Bibi walked a tightrope but he can most probably be credited with Hamas staying away from the fighting. Some believe that if Israel helps Hamas be successful as the governing body of the Gaza enclave, economically mainly, then real-politics will prevail and Hamas may become more rational and more moderate. This remains to be proven, but is it worth trying?
Iran is a whole different case. It is an oil rich theocracy, an extremist Shiite dictatorship, a country with many well-educated scientists capable of developing the most terrifying weapons. With the vacuum left by the USA’s disengagement, Iran has managed to restore its position as a leading force in the middle east and beyond via its recent alliances with Saudi Arabia and Russia among others. Iran while pulling the strings of Hamas, PIJ and Hezbollah is playing a waiting game right now. They may push their puppets to engage into the occasional escarmouche, but they will probably wait until they are ready with their dreaded atomic bomb to fully engage against Israel. Can we afford to wait until then? For sure not. Can we count on the USA or anyone else to help us? Probably not. Do we have enough actionable intelligence to prevent a catastrophy? Probably yes. And finally, do we have enough political willpower to engage Iran preventively if and when it is time to do so? Time will tell. Stay tuned.
How difficult it is to be BIBI !!
One may say: how difficult it is to be prime minister of Israel. It is true. But Bibi is in a category of his own: He benefits from a strong majority in the Knesset, and he is a well-known, very experienced leader. On the other hand, he is bitterly contested at home and therefore he is fighting on two fronts: the very necessary, very democratic Judicial Reform (IMHO), and the foreign aggression / terrorist war. All this with a restless set of coalition partners, a worrisome inflation, high cost of living, and in general, economic woes in the background.
If anyone can lead Israel through these turbulent times and restore the economy, Bibi can do it. (again: IMHO).
Sword and Shield was a battle Israel won. A roadmap to a lasting peace, to an end goal for Israel and the middle east should be the next step. A roadmap that Bibi should explain to the Israeli population at length. Just a roadmap, that’s all we need for the moment to feel that each battle won is not a dead end but a stepping stone towards a better future for our children.