Emanuel Shahaf

Israel’s second strategic defeat

Not for the first time in its short history has Israel wasted precious time after and between conflicts and made no progress towards an agreement with an adversary who has had real and justified grievances for many years. Israel, after the 1967 Six Day War insisted on keeping Sinai occupied and wasn’t willing to seriously negotiate its return to Egypt. In the last 20 years, except for one valiant attempt interrupted by the murder of PM Yitzhak Rabin and several mismanaged interludes, Israel hasn’t been willing to seriously negotiate over the future of the West Bank and Gaza with the Palestinians and make the necessary compromises.

More than forty years ago, our criminally short-sighted approach vis-a-vis Egypt led to the Yom Kippur war which, despite the enomous cost in casualties was a great tactical victory for Israel but a strategic defeat of major proportions. Israel which had dearly wanted to maintain the status-quo was forced to return Sinai to its rightful owners, agree to a peace agreement and watch as Egypt turned into a US client state. Incidentally, while the eventual outcome of the Yom Kippur War was a clear strategic defeat because it was absolutely not what Israel wanted at the time, nobody in his right mind will say today that it was not beneficial for the region and for Israel.

Our continued refusal to recognize the Palestinian’s valid and justified claim for a state of their own on territory occupied by Israel, a claim  supported by the international community without exception has essentially led to a replay of the scenario that led to the 1973 Yom Kippur war. In place of the War of Attrition we had with with Egypt from 1967-1970, with the Palestinians we had the first and second Intifada, between 1987-1991 and 2000-2005 respectively and the periodical incursions into Gaza (2008, 2012 and now). Those events should have convinced us that there is an adversary out there who is willing to fight to death for his claim. And just like the Egyptians where willing to sacrifice thousands of soldiers to regain their territory, so are the Palestinians to establish their state. It may not be a bad idea to remember that we were doing the same in our own War of Independence, sacrificing thousands to reclaim our homeland.

Back to the early 1970ties when the governing Labour Party had become arrogant and disconnected from realities on the gound. During the run-up period to the Yom-Kippur war, Israel’s leadership missed every single warning sign along the way and then some. It refused steadfastly to listen to the advice given by Israel’s staunchest allies, rebuffed every attempt to broker an agreement with Egypt insisting on “better Sharm-El Sheikh without peace than peace without Sharm-El Sheikh” and eventually even ignored direct warnings of the impending disaster.

Forty years later, Likud-Beiteinu and Israel’s political right is repeating the crime in our conflict with the Palestinians. Just like the Labour Party under the stubborn leadership of PM Golda Meir refused to see the need for an agreement with Egypt, the political right which has been in power for 30 out of 37 years, the last 14 years uninterrupted, has singularly refused to recognize the strategic need to resolve the Palestinian issue. It has been a no to a compromise over Eretz Israel and, as a result, a no to the creation of a Palestinian state. And Israel listens to no one.

Despite the fact that PM Netanyahu ostensibly supports the Two State Solution, he has recently come on record that he will not permit a Palestinian State in the West Bank under the present circumstances. In the early 1970ties, a similar refusal to recognize Israel’s real strategic needs brought Israel the Yom-Kippur war with its huge casualties and long lasting economic impact.

Today, the likelihood of causing a similarly violent “Yom Kippur scenario” in our conflict with the Palestinians is remote. Other than a 3rd Intifada which might indeed break out, continued harrassment by Hamas rockets with occasional terror acts in the West Bank and ever rising unrest among Israel’s Arab population is the more likely scenario. Other Arab countries are unlikely to join in the fray to help the Palestinians although that cannot be ruled out.

Unfortunately it appears that the Netanyahu government which didn’t see the urgency to deal with Gaza (or with the PA in the West Bank for that matter)  before operation “Protective Edge” started, doesn’t understand its strategic significance: The way it looks, the operation and all the events in its wake are likely to play out as the equivalent of the 1973 Yom-Kippur war:  An ongoing watershed event. No matter what happens from now on in Gaza, temporary cease-fires, negotiations, continued fighting or another ground invasion, there is really no turning back from a path that will, earlier or later, lead towards a far ranging agreement with the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank for three main reasons:

1. Hamas will not return to the status-quo. The organization understands that Israel will only act under the threat of force. Neither will the Palestinian Authority which can now use Hamas as a proxy to apply violence while the PA itself remains non-violent. There is unlikely to be complete disarmament of Hamas without a comprehensive solution to the conflict.

2. The population in the South of Israel is unlikely to let the country return to the status-quo. The Hamas tunnels and the continued rocket and mortar barrages have undermined their feeling of security and without a major change of the situation, the insecurity will prevail and inhabitants will refuse to return to their homes.

3. The international community led by the US will apparently not permit a return to the status-quo. Israel has proven once too many that it is unable to deal with its conflicts in the way expected of a member of the OECD, i.e. through negotiations and compromise. The price of continuing our brute force approach, already high, will soon become prohibitive through a problematic mix of lawfare against Israeli officials and military personnel who want to travel abroad and an international regime of boycotts, sanctions and delegitimization that will continue to evolve slowly but surely, supported by an ever more anti-Israel and anti-Semitic public and a suffering Israeli economy until the penny drops in Jerusalem.

Just like the outcome of the Yom Kippur War converged into a peace agreement with Egypt six years after the war got the ball rolling, operation “Protective Edge” got the ball rolling towards a comprehensive agreement with the Palestinians. Regardless of the eventual military outcome of the operation, a status-quo in which Israel occupies the West Bank and controls access to Gaza without a continuous dynamic peace process providing real benefits, some of them immediately, to the Palestinian population, is over. It will never be attained again, even if that is not yet apparent to the present Israeli leadership.

It remains to be seen if that leadership is able to seize the moment and move ahead, courageously, towards a comprehensive peace agreement with the Palestinians drawing on Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan and other moderate Arab states to make it happen. Israel, of course might try and continue to play a game of delaying tactics, the kind we have played until now until an even more dramatic watershed event will come along and force us to do the right thing. Will we be proactive for a change or will we be dragged into an agreement kicking and screaming all the way? The choice is PM Netanyahu’s.

In the end, any peace agreement with the Palestinians obtained by this government or its replacement will be likely just as beneficial to Israel and the region if not more so than the peace agreement with Egypt even though we tried to prevent that one as well, with all our might.




About the Author
The author served in the Prime Minister’s Office as a member of the intelligence community, is Vice Chairman of the Israel-Indonesia Chamber of Commerce, Vice-Chairman of the Israeli-German Society (IDG), Co-Chair of the Federation Movement (, member of the council at and author of "Identity: The Quest for Israel's Future".