Israel’s Internal Existential Threat

Israel has never been weaker or more vulnerable. The recent Shalit deal represents everything that is wrong with Israel right now. It also demonstrates why Israel has little chance of winning the next war.

During the height of the Second Lebanon War, in August 2006, KEEVOON Global Research polled the Jewish Israeli population about their feeling and attitudes on the war. We asked them, of the following, “what makes you angriest”: 52 civilians were killed during the conflict; 3,700 rockets were fired into northern Israel during the war; much of Haifa and the North were badly destroyed; 117 Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers and reservists were killed during the conflict; and threeIDF soldiers are being held hostage and have not been returned.

In a normal country, civilian casualties are not tolerated. After all, the job of the army is to protect and defend both the civilian population and the homeland. Without it, there is no reason to exist. But of the Israeli public polled in our survey, only 5% were most angry about the 52 civilian casualties! Two percent were angriest that “much of Haifa was destroyed,” and 10% that “3.700 rockets were fired into Northern Israel during the war.” Harming soldiers makes Israelis angriest. Thirty eight percent were angriest that “117 IDF soldiers and reservists were killed during the conflict” and 37% that “three IDF soldiers are being held hostage and have not returned.” So 75% of Jewish Israelis were most troubled by IDF-related casualties, while civilian death and destruction was tolerated, even accepted. In 194 countries in the world, the army defends and protects the citizens. In Israel the army defends the citizens, while the citizens, in turn, protect the army. In the eyes of Israelis, the life of a soldier is more valuable than that of a civilian.

With attitudes like this it is not surprising that a kidnapped IDF soldier brought Israel to its knees for five years. Part of this attitude stems from the fact that everyone is the IDF, and the IDF represents and is made up of everyone. It is a conscription army that relies heavily on reserves from the general population. Every time a soldier is killed there is significant media coverage of the incident, the soldier’s family, his friends, his persona, and a discussion of the legacy he will leave behind. They have made the ultimate sacrifice and are immortalized as heroes. It is not uncommon for Israelis to name their children after great soldiers who fell in battle, even though they never personally knew them. Unfortunately, although these are acts of true patriotism, they lead to intense national demoralization. Over time, IDF casualties wear down the general public. Average Israelis can’t take the constant pain and emotional stress. Israel is weak because it cannot  bear military casualties.

Two months after taking office, President Obama reversed the previous Administration’s policy, which prohibited photographing the flag-draped coffins of US servicemen killed in action. The Bush Administration knew that photographing coffins upon arrival at Dover Air Force Base is demoralizing and might also contribute to opposition to the war effort.

There is a rule in the IDF that children of the prime minister cannot serve in combat units. It is logical because if one would fall into captivity the prime minister would not be able to behave rationally and make calculating, non-emotional decisions. The parents, siblings, and grandparents of Gilad Shalit met regularly with the prime minister, defense minister and most of the members of the cabinet. How could they not be emotionally attached to the Shalit family and the plight of Gilad? How could they ever make a rational decision, taking into consideration the entire country’s best interests, under the influence of such a campaign?

The ultimate question is, who really determines government policy? In this regard all democratic countries are at a disadvantage because they must be reelected by the very people they are supposed to lead. The Babylonian Talmud referred to this as “dog-faced leadership.” The Talmud predicted that the world would eventually arrive at a leadership crisis where “the face of the generation will be the face of a dog, and the truth vanishes” (Sanhedrin 97a). Just as one sees a dog leading its master, the dog never really leads and always turns back to see in which direction the master is going. In the case of Gilad Shalit and most issues where IDF soldiers lives are at stake, the citizens tell the leaders in which direction to go.

About the Author
Mitchell Barak is CEO of KEEVOON Global Research, a survey research and political communications firm. In the past he has served as an aide to President Shimon Peres and worked in the Prime Minister's Office, and the Finance and Foreign Ministries serving Prime Ministers Sharon, Netanyahu and Shamir.