The security barrier in Gaza cost three and a half billion shekels. Above ground, underground, sensors, cameras, everything is the last word in technology. On Saturday, with the outbreak of the war, it collapsed, it was a wall of paper.
The barrier is not to blame; the people are to blame, one of those responsible for the border security barrier's establishment told me on Saturday night. When there is no one watching and no one shooting, there is no obstacle. On Saturday afternoon, the Air Force raised 40 aircraft of various types above the barrier, all the time, to block passage from Gaza to Israel and from Israel to Gaza. The effort was heroic. The delay was terrible.
The Israel Defense Forces are currently asking the public to not address the blunders. The Chief of Staff and the generals should be left to focus on fighting, they say. The investigations will come later. "Shut up and shoot," wrote the late Amiram Nir at the beginning of the First Lebanon War. I think there is a lot of justice in this claim at this time. Even if the IDF succeeds in cleaning out the clusters of terrorists in the communities surrounding Gaza, the tasks that will be required from them in the coming days are complex and demanding. First and foremost is the issue of the captives in Gaza and the problem of deterrence on the other fronts. The war must be conducted with a clean mind. Everything else is less urgent.
But the temporary exemption given to the IDF does not include the millions of Israelis who followed the news on Saturday, astounded and anxious about a war that no one prepared them for. To me, October 7, 2023 was a mega-blunder, a disgrace that the IDF has never known in all its years.
I will explain: The first disgrace was the intelligence. Again, as in 1973, the system saw all the telltale signs but arrogantly concluded that these were just exercises, idle training. The second disgrace was the ease with which the Hamas terrorists jumped over the barrier; the third disgrace was the ease with which they returned to Gaza with dozens of hostages; the fourth disgrace was the slow reaction of the IDF to the infiltration. Dozens of terrorists were walking around the Armored Corps base as if it was theirs, and there was no helicopter to shoot at them.
The Yom Kippur blunder had a bigger number of people killed, without comparison. This is true, of course. But in the '73 Yom Kippur war we confronted the largest of the Arab armies, not a second-rate terrorist organization. Out of that painful war came a peace that endures today, 50 years after the cease-fire. It is hard to see right now what good will come out of this current war.
Beyond the details, there was astonishment at what seemed like a long chain of blunders. I confess, I suddenly felt like I do not live in Israel, which I am proud of, but in Somalia.
In 2006, after the kidnapping of the two soldiers by Hezbollah, Air Force planes turned Dahieh, the Shiite neighborhood in Beirut, into a village of ruins. The bombing was effective. Apparently, a similar strike is called for in Gaza: there is no operational impediment in doing so. The question is what is the goal that will be achieved by the bombing of Gaza. We are tired of the repeated attempts to teach Hamas a lesson through bombings from the air. If Saturday's horrific event taught us anything about Hamas, it taught that this terrorist organization cannot be tamed.
Most importantly, the fate of dozens of hostages, small children, women, the elderly and soldiers, hangs in the air. A massive bomb will not improve their chances of returning home safely. Hamas can always put them on the roofs, as human shields. In short: bombing is what the IDF is used to doing, a conditioned reflex, but it is doubtful whether it is useful.
The second option is to choose negotiations. In the Shalit deal, Netanyahu released 1,027 terrorists in exchange for one captured soldier. The price of repeated terrorism was hard, some say unbearably hard. How many terrorists will Hamas demand to be released in exchange for dozens of prisoners? A deal would give Hamas one more victory. And most importantly, it will deal a heavy blow, another blow, to deterrence against Iran and Hezbollah, and further weaken the Palestinian Authority.
The third option is to launch a ground operation. The four divisions that the IDF brought down to the south on Saturday did not go out to defend the settlements surrounding Gaza, they went out to join a ground operation, if and when the political leadership makes a decision. The majority of the public will support such an operation at the beginning. Then the questions will arise: What will happen the day after the operation, if we stay we will bleed there, if we leave, what have we done? Do we intend to eliminate the entire Hamas chain of command during the operation? Who then will take their place?
I have another question that has been bothering me for years. The Iron Dome is a wonderful invention that saved the lives of hundreds of Israelis. It is clear what would have happened if we did not have an Iron Dome; we would have had no choice but to go into a decisive battle against Hamas, including the occupation of Gaza. Is it possible that everything we achieved in the Iron Dome was a delay of a few years until the inevitable ground operation? Won't we do in the future what we should have done a long time ago?
The incident with Gaza has far-reaching political and policy implications. Their weight will become clear in the future. The victory of Hamas is bad news for the Saudi deal. If the hundreds of dead in Gaza and those who will be killed in the coming days do not upend the deal, they will transport it into a deep freeze. The fear of a multi-arena war, in the north, in the West Bank, in Jerusalem and in Gaza, further reduces the military's maneuverability.
On Saturday, Opposition Leader Yair Lapid proposed to Netanyahu the establishment of an emergency government based on the Likud, Yesh Atid and National Unity parties and a total freeze of the coalition's legislative push to overhaul the judicial system. The offer is good for Lapid and good for the country. It is doubtful that Netanyahu would be able to accept it: parting with Betzalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir, perhaps also with Yariv Levin and a large part of that Likud faction, is a price that Netanyahu would have a hard time paying. As he once admitted himself, paying is difficult for him.
Netanyahu knows that not only the voters who have been protesting for the past nine months are having trouble coming to terms with Saturday's humiliation, but also voters in Ofakim, Sderot, Netivot and Rishon LeTziyon, where his Likud Party has considerable, if not total support. Therefore he works to distance himself from any blame. He has to face the future. "What has happened today," he said in a statement on Saturday night, "will not be seen in Israel. I will make sure it doesn't happen again."