The IDF's reaction was measured, not "from the gut", said one senior officer about the army's response to the latest barrage of Katyusha rockets on northern Israel. In doing so, he clarified the rules of the renewed game on the northern border: Israel will once again accept being targeted by rocket fire. The "measured" reaction proves once again just how far Israel really is from understanding the rules that govern this region.
When we look at the ceremonial, tribal clothing worn by leaders of the Persian Gulf monarchies, one cannot help but notice a large, sharp weapon demonstratively attached to the hip. This weapon is called a jineta, and it serves to teach us an important lesson about deterrence in the Middle East.
Threaten, don't attack
For hundreds of years Bedouin tribes fought one another, until over time they established non-warfare rules: One may threaten, but not attack. This is the meaning of the jineta: By displaying the weapon, a leader is understood to be warning his enemies: I can kill you – but I won't.
These rules of warfare created the template for deterrence in the Arab Middle East: Threats are okay, but opening fire will carry a heavy price. The goal is to convince the other side that he will suffer heavy, heavy losses should he choose to attack.
For example, when the Syrian-supported Kurdish underground went too far in its fight against Turkey, the Turkish army responded with a mass troop concentration on the Syrian border and threatened to invade. Syria backed down immediately and returned to threatening Lebanon, much as Iran does today by warning Israel of a strong reaction should Israel attack Iran's nuclear facilities.
Shying away from confrontation
The jineta must be seen; That's why they are so common amongst armies in this region, as are threats. Israel takes the warnings and considers them to be an inferior mode of behavior, but in the Middle East deterrence has always been an important tool for preventing violence and creating the political breadth necessary for stopping deterioration.
This is the reason strong Israel shies away from confrontation, because behind the Arab threats there is no action: The goal, amongst other things, is to create a political base for non-warfare.
Since its inception, Israel has never successfully created a believable deterrent mechanism, and if any such deterrent has existed, it was not due to any Israeli planning. Instead of strongly clarifying the price the other side would pay as a result of attacking Israel, Israel has stuttered, condemned and showed itself to be weak
Reacting to the (unfounded) threats by Saddam Hussein, Israel cowered in sealed rooms with absurd masks. In Lebanon, Israel created a security zone, as it did this week in Gaza. The denunciations show the enemy that he is welcome to continue attacking.
Creating effective deterrent requires showing the jineta, as well as being prepared to "get one's hands dirty" if the threat does not dissipate: One large-scale maneuver that will leave the enemy deterred for years to come. "Measured" reactions will always bring death and destruction to the residents of this country.