The Cost of Crying Wolf

Let’s face it, Benjamin Netanyahu cried wolf.  When Israel initiated Operation Pillar of Defense, Netanyahu appeared before his countrymen and before the whole world and declared: “Israel has made it clear that it will not tolerate rocket and missile attacks on its civilians. I hope that Hamas and the other terror organizations in Gaza got the message. If not, Israel is prepared to take whatever action is necessary to defend our people.”

Granted, Netanyahu’s statement is broad and vague enough to claim that he stood by the projected goals of the operation.  However, Israelis understood the intention to be that no longer would the government accept a situation of repeated cycles of violence, i.e., the launching of rockets followed by limited Israeli retaliation.  Therefore, the clear majority of our citizens were not satisfied by another cease fire that in effect serves as a temporary cessation of rockets until the next cycle arrives.

I do not reject the possibility that the administration was correct in agreeing to the present cease fire, which in my view depends on the reasons behind the decision to do so.  Nevertheless, the decision to end the operation without achieving the objectives expected by the public amounts to a strong perception that Netanyahu cried wolf.

So what are the ramifications of these shattered expectations?  First and foremost, it has had a demoralizing effect on the citizenry, particularly on the residents of the south who have for years suffered the rockets from Gaza.

The atmosphere following the initiation of operation Pillar of Defense was one of having reached a moment of truth — that the Israeli government had decided once and for all to do everything in its power to achieve a permanent end to the rocket fire.  Netanyahu received the unwavering support of the majority of the public and a green light to take the painful measures necessary to fix the problem at its roots.

Residents under fire were ready to remain under attack as long as it took to obtain this goal.  Active duty defense forces and thousands of reservists prepared themselves emotionaly and spritualy for a serious ground operation, well knowing that they may not come out of it alive.  Fathers and husbands willingly left their families in order to finally do the job that needs to be done.

The nation figuratively took a deep breadth, gathered its strength, and readied itself for war.  It is a necessary war that no one relishes, but which the majority of the public understands needs to be carried out.  Netanyahu brought the nation to attention and to sacrifice, and then punctured the national spirit with the agreed to cease fire.

This has a cost, especially in a country where the national morale is so crucial to facing the enourmous existential challanges we face.  The cease fire and the manner in which it was reached also damaged the public’s belief in its leaders.  I believe in the strength of the Israeli people, but the next time our citizenry is called to ready itself for war, will we be as strong and determined as we just were?  Will we take as seriously the declarations of our leaders?

The administration’s decision to step back from seeking to permanently end the Gazan rockets has also had the effect of lifting the morale of our enemies.  One may ask why should the Palestinians view the cease fire as a victory when it is obvious that they suffered far greater destruction and loss of life than Israel?  It is because they interpret Israel’s unwillingness to go all the way as a sign of weakness.  Weakness in terms of not having the stomach to risk the lives of its soldiers and weakness in terms of not standing up to international pressure.

Hillary Clinton, sent by President Obama, arrived with declarations of support for Israel’s right to defend itself.  But in reality, the purpose of her visit was to pressure Netanyahu not to order a ground operation.  In essence, the Obama administration defended Hamas from Israel.  Hamas cannot be blamed for believing that whenever Israel gets serious about debilitating them, the present American administration will come to its rescue.

For Hamas and the Palestinians, who face an Israeli military machine so much more powerful than them, the perception that Israel backed down brings a true sense of victory and serves as a big morale booster.

Another cost of crying wolf is the status gained by Egyptian President Morsi as being a responsible leader on the international stage.  But the Muslim Brotherhood is still the same Muslim Brotherhood.  It’s virulent anti-Western and anti-Israeli ideology has not changed.  President Morsi is just playing it smart, lulling the world to complacency, and readying Egypt for the right moment in history to bear its fangs.

The best light in which Netanyahu’s agreement to a cease fire can be interpreted is that he is saving Israel’s international political capital to deal with the looming Iran issue.  If his calculation is that he must do everything to preserve the good will of the United States and the international community to garner support for action against Iran, then I can stand behind his decision.  As important as solving the Gazan quagmire is, it is by far overshadowed by the Iranian threat.

However, if Netanyahu’s agreement to the cease fire amounts to a simple capitulation to American and international pressure, and/or fear of pulling the trigger on a sweeping ground operation, then in my view he blinked in the moment of truth.  I do not want war or to see soldiers die, but the Gazan problem is not going away,  it is only getting worse.  The longer we wait, the harder it will be and the more exacting the price will become.

About the Author
Ran Zev Schijanovich was born in Israel in 1970 to an Argentinian father and American mother, lived in Argentina through age 11, and then moved to New York. He made aliyah in 2005 and served as a combat soldier in Golani from the ages of 36 to 38. Ran is graduate of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.