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Head to head: Is our deterrence gone?
Op-ed battle: Was Israel’s deterrent power harmed in wake of the restraint shown in Gaza?
Hagai Segal and Amir Peleg
Some critics argue that Israel's response to Thursday's deadly terror attacks
near Eilat was not forceful enough. Others claim that it was wise to exercise restraint ahead of the Palestinian statehood bid at the UN
slated for next month, and in light of the diplomatic row
Hagai Segal and Amir Peleg debate whether Israel's deterrence has been harmed. What do you think? Tell us in the talkbacks below or in our Facebook page debate.
As part of the macabre humor that flourished around here during the Yom Kippur War, it was said that the Arabs learned to win from the Jews, while the Jews learned to lie from the Arabs. Since then we’ve been through three or four more wars, who’s counting, and in the meantime we managed to learn yet another bad thing from our enemies: To promise but not to deliver.
So many times we vowed to pound Hamas should it dare to harass our southern residents, yet so few times we delivered. In fact, we may have never delivered. Even Operation Cast Lead, the crown jewel of our retaliatory acts in the Hamas-ruled Gaza, was a rather soft move; for that reason it only netted meager achievements.
Ismail Haniyeh stayed alive, his power plants continue to operate normally, and the Philadelphi Route was not blocked. The terrorists learned that at the moment of truth we always choose a ceasefire over victory and stopped fearing us.
When Israel responds to the firing of an anti-tank missile on a school bus by paving a new bypass road, as happened here in the spring, it cannot sow fear among its enemies. They still realize that they have no chance against us in a head-on clash, yet they noticed that Israel is willing to sustain a million humiliations as not to reach that head-on clash.
Even When Ehud Barak threatens to decapitate terrorists, his body language shows that he is eager for a truce. He mostly cares about the Iron Dome production line, not about punishing Gaza. He lost the desire to win some years ago, and now he also lost the desire to produce deterrence.
There is no doubt that our meager response to the bombardment of Beersheba and Ashdod will be interpreted by Gazans as terrible Jewish weakness. They evacuated all their headquarters because they expected a particularly violent Israeli response to the rocket hits deep in our territory, yet now we taught them that even highly cheeky provocations don’t trouble us. Once upon a time we would respond recklessly when our blood was spilled, yet now we apologize.
“If anyone thinks that the State of Israel will accept it, he is wrong,” our prime minister declared following the terrible terror attack near Eilat. Words, words, words. The State of Israel is most certainly accepting it. Netanyahu’s and Barak’s acceptance of a sudden lull, after everything that happened here in recent days, is a national disaster in security and physiological terms. Even highly advanced warning systems cannot cover for the ongoing deterioration in our deterrent power.
Let’s assume that the IDF would not make do with surgical strikes and sporadic attacks on intelligence targets. Let’s assume that we would embark on a large-scale ground incursion, backed by massive airstrikes, which would have ended with the destruction of Hamas’ infrastructure and the death of some scoundrels (as well as quite a few innocents.)
What would we in fact achieve? The diplomatic implications for the region are of course hard to predict, especially given the changes in Egypt, yet some elements don’t change: Several fatalities among our forces, several ruined families and destroyed homes, three or four states that would sever their ties with us, and tense quiet prevailing until the next time.
By that time, one thing would certainly change – the range of the missiles and the size of their warheads.
So no, of course we could not afford to show restraint, and we should laud the IDF’s long arm, which assassinated the military chief of the Popular Resistance Committees. Yet that’s precisely the issue. We are dealing with committees that are not headed, as we know, by Professor Manuel Trachtenberg.
The struggle between Hamas and us is regrettably unlike the Cuban missile crisis or the confrontation between South and North Korea. Enemy states can be deterred but guerrilla fighters can only be challenged; especially ones who embrace a hero’s death as a way of life.
We’ve already seen this movie, and even though its name changes every time, the genre remains the same. Just like in the Rocky movie series, each sequel can get its own serial number, although in our production, for understandable reasons, we prefer to come up with a new name every time – “Summer Rains,” “Grapes of Wrath,” “Cast Lead.” In all these feature films, our troops are the story’s real heroes, yet the script is ultimately written by our neighbours. Neither side deserves an Oscar for special effects.
The trick is to initiate and not to be drawn into something, and therefore the question of whether we lost or restored our military deterrent power is irrelevant. The time has come for the State of Israel to restore its diplomatic deterrent power and act in a rational rather than emotional manner for a change. To that end, we need s leadership with a vision, and mostly with brains. Most certainly not a leadership that believes in a policy of putting out fires. Sadly, the burning lava in the Gaza Strip cannot be extinguished with a Supertanker.
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