Manny Behar

The Next Step: A Plea for Wisdom

I feel like I am in the eye of the hurricane. Life in Jerusalem, in the aftermath of the Simchat Torah massacre is seemingly quiet and back to normal. Yet the worst of the storm may still be ahead of us. Israel will soon have to decide if and when to launch a ground operation in Gaza. Moving into Gaza may well be necessary, but it will involve significant risk and heavy losses. It should be undertaken after careful consideration of the dangers involved.

Decisions made with anger and rage are not always wise ones. We should learn from the American experience. In the aftermath of 9/11, we went into Afghanistan and Iraq, believing that we would bring the perpetrators of 9/11 to justice and rebuild those countries as democracies in our image. Our stated goal was to overthrow the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Those goals were achieved rather quickly. Many Afghans and Iraqis even welcomed us as liberators. But in the aftermath chaos broke loose. In Iraq we got caught in the crossfire of a civil war with ethnic and religious overtones we did not begin to understand. In Afghanistan, the government we set up proved to be corrupt and incompetent. We became bogged down in “forever wars” and lost the support of the American people. The wars ended with the establishment of an Iraqi government that is heavily influenced by Iran. Iraq is now used as a route for transporting Iranian weapons to terrorists in Syria and Lebanon, including tens of thousands of rockets with a range that can strike strategic points throughout Israel. In Afghanistan, the Taliban are back in power. In the meantime, Iran has moved ever closer to producing nuclear weapons and has stepped up its support for terror against Israel and the entire world.

An Israeli operation to destroy Hamas in Gaza will be far more difficult than what the Americans attempted in Afghanistan and Iraq. In the initial stages of those conflicts, the US had the support of many people in those countries. In Gaza Israel will face an enraged and hostile population that has been brought up to believe that their very real suffering has been caused by Israeli oppression.

Going into Gaza may well be walking into a trap. Hamas conducted the Simchat Torah massacre knowing full well what the consequences would be. They are ready. Buildings will be booby trapped. Our hostages may be used as human shields. Success will come at a heavy price in casualties among our soldiers and the hostages.

An Israeli invasion may well be exactly what Hamas wants. They will have shown that Israel is vulnerable. They will inflict heavy casualties on the IDF. By using their own people as human shields there will be heavy civilian casualties, which will be blamed on Israel. There will be demands for a cease fire to end the suffering on all sides. Once it is imposed, Hamas will have two hundred hostages to exchange for all terrorists being held in Israeli prisons.

If Israel reoccupies Gaza, we will be confronted with the task of governing two million hostile people and rebuilding Gaza’s infrastructure. Do we really want that? If we withdraw once Hamas has been overthrown it will create a power vacuum, which might well enable Hamas to reconstitute itself.

None of this is to say that Israel should not go into Gaza. The risks of not going in may be even higher. Hamas can be weakened but not destroyed by air strikes alone. Anything less than the complete destruction of Hamas will be proclaimed as a Hamas victory. They will have achieved their goal of proving Israel’s vulnerability and “liberating” their “resistance fighters” through an exchange for the release of the hostages. Hamas will emerge even stronger for the inevitable next round.

I am neither for nor against going into Gaza. The decision on the next step will be an extremely difficult one. The risks of going into Gaza are great. The risks of not going in may be even greater. A decision will have to be made. I do not envy the people who will have to make it. They must decide after sober reflection on the risks involved and a grim realization of the heavy price to be paid.

In the fourth blessing of the Amida, we ask G-d to grant us wisdom, knowledge and understanding. We should be reciting that blessing with extra fervor in the days ahead. We must ask G-d to give Israel’s leaders the wisdom, knowledge and understanding to make the right decisions. They are sure going to need it.

About the Author
Manny Behar is the Former Executive Director of the Queens Jewish Community Council and was a senior aide to several public officials. He currently lives in the Talpiot neighborhood of Jerusalem
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