Into the Fray..
21 April '16..
We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them. – Albert Einstein
One does not have to be an Einstein to grasp that Israel cannot solve the problems created by the endeavor to establish a Palestinian state by continuing the endeavor to establish such a state.
Futile and self-obstructive
Sadly, what should be a simple self-evident truth seems to have eluded Israeli political leaders – who for almost a quarter century have impaled the nation on the horns of an irresolvable dilemma. For by ostensibly accepting the principle of a two-state resolution of the conflict with the Palestinian-Arabs, they have, in effect, committed the nation to a policy whose implementation requires concessions too perilous for any responsible government to make.
On the one hand, this necessarily makes Israel appear disingenuous and duplicitous, since it cannot take the actions required to facilitate its alleged political goals. On the other, because of its commitment to Palestinian statehood, Israel must limit its use of military force to levels that cannot eradicate the threat to its civilian population, for fear of eliminating any prospect of negotiations with some as yet unidentified Palestinian interlocutor with whom agreement might be reached.
Little could highlight the futility of the starkly self-obstructive approach, adopted by successive Israeli governments, than three items that made the news this week.
The first was the announcement of the discovery of an underground attack tunnel, extending from somewhere inside the terrorist enclave of Gaza into Israeli sovereign territory.
The second was the report that, having rid itself of the “costly” upkeep of the settlements in Gaza, Israel is about to invest a gazillion shekels in a super-sophisticated barrier, designed to detect any additional tunnels that Gaza-based terrorists might have burrowed or are about to burrow.
The third was an interview with Construction Minister Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yoav Galant, formerly head of Southern Command, in which he reiterated his support for the construction of a port off the Gaza coast that he expressed several weeks before.
Tunnels: Technological breakthrough; policy breakdown?
Following the detection of the terrorist tunnel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed its identification as a “pioneering achievement” and “global breakthrough,” adding that his government has invested a “fortune” in technology enabling discovery and destruction of tunnels.
It is, of course, too early to draw decisive conclusion as to the efficacy/reliability of the new detection techniques, but it might well be that the discovery of the tunnel indeed constitutes an impressive breakthrough technologically.
Sadly, however, it also reflects a grave breakdown of the policy adopted during, and subsequent to, 2014’s Operation Protective Edge.
Apparently dug after that campaign, the tunnel provided conclusive proof – for anyone who felt additional evidence was required – that despite the vast damage inflicted on Gaza by the IDF, the will of the terrorist organizations entrenched there to continue the violence remains undiminished.
The unpalatable conclusion is unavoidable.
Just as with Hezbollah in 2006, and with Hamas in previous engagements in 2008/9 and 2012, so too in 2014 Israel has not achieved genuine deterrence in the sense of breaking its adversary’s will to fight. To the contrary, all it has done is to achieve a ceasefire during which the enemy has not lost its taste for battle, but has utilized the respite to regroup, rearm and redeploy – and to emerge as an even more formidable foe for the next, virtually inevitable, round of violence.
Deterrence diminished despite damage
In a perceptive New York Times op-ed, soberingly titled, “How Hamas Beat Israel in Gaza” (August 10, 2014), Ronen Bergman underscored not only the futility but the detrimental consequences of recurring bouts of inconclusive fighting, despite massive damage inflicted on the Arab side: “If body counts and destroyed weaponry are the main criteria for victory, Israel is the clear winner... But counting bodies is not the most important criterion in deciding who should be declared victorious. Much more important is comparing each side’s goals before the fighting and what they have achieved. Seen in this light, Hamas won.” Indeed, as Bergman states: “For Israel, this round of fighting will probably end... with significant damage to Israel’s deterrence.”
Back in March 2002, about a decade before the start of this INTO THE FRAY series, I wrote a Jerusalem Post op-ed piece titled, “Conquer or capitulate.” In it, I warned that in effect “Israel has no acceptable way of diminishing the Palestinian will to attack it, and thus must eliminate Palestinian ability to do so by...decisive conquest of the areas transferred to Palestinian control, the dismantling of all the political and military organizations and infrastructures established since the Oslo Accords, and... reinstatement of effective Israeli sovereign rule from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.”
I acknowledged: “this is undoubtedly a course of action fraught with many hazards. Its implementation requires meeting many daunting challenges...” However, I pointed out, “if Israel... desires to preserve its national independence and the political sovereignty of the Jewish nation-state, there is no other feasible alternative.”
It is a diagnosis that is as valid today as it was then – but to act on it the government must first extricate itself from its foolish and self-imposed commitment to the folly of two-statism.
The announcement that Israel was now engaged in a multi-billion shekel effort extending over two years to protect the civilian population in the vicinity of the Gaza strip, should – paradoxically (?) – be enough to give Israelis many sleepless nights.
This sum, together with the cost of the Iron Dome system to intercept the rockets of assorted terrorist gangs in Gaza, the cost of developing a new warning system against mortar fire, reportedly designed to give fleeing civilians seven more seconds to scramble for cover, the direct cost of Operations Cast Lead, Pillar of Defense, Protective Edge, and the indirect cost due to weeks of economic disruption, make a mockery of the claim often raised to justify the 2005 disengagement and the futile and forcible expulsion of the Jewish communities in Gaza: i.e. the allegedly exorbitant cost of securing the thriving pre-2005 “settlements.”
But let us set aside this doleful arithmetic for the moment, and overlook the errors of the past, including the heavy toll of lives/ limbs the unilateral evacuation of Gaza has wrought, and the fearsome arsenal it has allowed the terrorist organizations to accumulate.
Instead, let us focus on the future, and imagine the dread situation that would arise if the IDF withdrew from Judea-Samaria to allow the establishment of a political entity ruled by Palestinian-Arabs – as per the wishes of the international community and Israel’s own commitment to the two-state principle.
Not a 50-km. front, but 500 km.…
In the absence of compelling contrary evidence, there is little reason to believe that what happened in Gaza would not happen in Judea-Samaria, and that the same means required to protect the Israeli population in the South, would not be required on the eastern border.
But unlike Gaza, which abuts sparsely populated, largely rural areas, the “mega-Gaza” that almost certainly will emerge in Judea-Samaria abuts the country’s most populous urban areas. Unlike Gaza, which has no topographic superiority over adjacent Israeli territory, the prospective “mega-Gaza” in Judea-Samaria will totally command the adjacent coastal megalopolis, in which much of Israel’s vital infrastructure (both civilian and military) is located, where 80 percent of its civilian population resides and 80% of its commercial activity takes place. But perhaps most significant, unlike Gaza, which has only about a 50-km. front with Israel, the envisioned “mega-Gaza” in Judea-Samaria would have a front up to almost 500 km....
Now bearing all these daunting facts in mind, if it takes billions of shekels and two years to set up a system to (hopefully) defend civilian populations against the threat of tunnels from Gaza along a 50-km. front, imagine the gargantuan effort, in terms of treasure and time, that would be required to defend civilian populations against a similar threat from a “mega-Gaza” along a 500-km. front...
Anyone still think two-statism is a good idea??
Between moronic and imbecilic
The first time I heard of the appallingly absurd idea of building a potentially retractable port, under Israeli security supervision, on an artificial island off the coast of Gaza, was in a private conversation with someone (whom I shall leave nameless) recently designated as contender for the position of head of the Mossad, just prior to the appointment of the current director.
I remember at the time being taken aback by an idea so patently puerile and perilous being bandied about by someone so senior – but took (false) comfort in the belief that it was so outlandish that it would never be given serious consideration by those in authority.
How wrong I was! Incredibly, at least two incumbent ministers and apparently a number of serving IDF generals have come out in favor of the “idea” – for want of a better word.
Thus, Transportation Minister Israel Katz has come out in favor of constructing such an island, connected to the Gaza mainland by a 4.5-km. bridge, to accommodate a port under Israeli security supervision. The idea was supported by Construction Minister Yoav Galant – who, during Operation Cast Lead, served as head of Southern Command.
Quoted by Bloomberg, Galant declared: “The biggest danger to Israel is a humanitarian crisis in Gaza... If Gaza had the ability to bring ships, and goods, without posing a security problem, that is in everybody’s interest.”
Galant is a man with an impressive career of sacrifice and daring. For that, as an individual, he deserves our esteem. Not so his political prescriptions.
For what he is proposing is little more than a hazardous hallucination, falling somewhere between the moronic and the imbecilic.
Port no panacea for poverty
A port in Gaza will be no panacea for the poverty of the population.
Hamas, and its other terrorist cohorts, are not burrowing tunnels because Gaza has no port. They are burrowing them despite the fact it does not have one.
After all, Gaza does have a modern port, under Israeli supervision, at its disposal barely 35 km. north of it, in Ashdod. Under conditions of peace (or even credible non-belligerency), Ashdod can supply all Gaza’s supervised civilian needs without squandering billions on a fanciful floating island port.
However, under conditions of on-going belligerency, even under the strictest Israeli supervision, there is no way, short of taking control of Gaza, that dual purpose material such as cement, fertilizer and steel will not be used for belligerent objectives.
For example, even if the island port were under tight inspection, how could Israel ensure that the building materials that went to construct the recently discovered tunnels would be used for more benign purposes? One might also ask how Israeli supervision is to be maintained, and the safety of the Israeli personnel secured in the isolated off-shore port, should they, as is far from implausible, be set upon by a bloodthirsty local mob.
Humanitarian solution to humanitarian crisis
The dire economic situation that plagues Gaza will not be alleviated by giving Gaza access to port facilities, which it, in principle, already has available to it.
Israeli restrictions on the flow of goods are not the cause of Arab enmity, but the result thereof. The crippling unemployment, reportedly above 40%, will not be alleviated by transferring Israeli supervision from Ashdod and the Gaza border crossing to an off-shore islet.
There is soaring unemployment because any creative energies that there might be are not channeled by those who rule Gaza toward productive/constructive goals, but into fomenting violence against the hated “Zionist entity.” A port will not change those realities.
Indeed, it is likely to exacerbate them.
The penury of the enclave is not due to lack of resources, but to the preferences/priorities of the brigands who govern it, and as events have shown, the only way Israel can determine who governs Gaza – and who does not – is by governing it itself.
Galant is, of course, right that Israel should defuse the brewing humanitarian crisis in Gaza – which is demonstrably the consequence of the ill-conceived two-state approach and misguided attempts to foist statehood on the Palestinian Arabs.
But it is a humanitarian crisis that requires a genuine humanitarian solution: Generously funded humanitarian relocation of the non-belligerent Arab population elsewhere, out of harm’s way, and extension of Israeli sovereignty over the region.
That is the only approach that can:
• Provide a durable solution to the problem of Gaza;
• Eliminate the threat to Israel continually issuing from Gaza; and
• Preclude the need for Israel to “rule over another people.”
But despite all this let me take the opportunity to wish readers a Happy Passover, and hope they can forget, for a few festive days, that the staggering stupidity of some of Israel’s political leaders comprise a peril no less pernicious than those posed by our Arab adversaries.
Dr. Martin Sherman (www.martinsherman.net ) is founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies (www.strategicisrael.org).
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