Israel Paid Too Heavy a Price for Quiet

To prevent the nightmare scenario of a Simchat Torah Massacre repeated in the north, Israel must strike first. Our relationship with the United States, though important, must not be allowed to affect the urgency of this preventative strike.

While being forced to wage a brutal border war for the sake of self-defense—and indeed, self-preservation—is unfortunately no uncommon undertaking for the State of Israel, the ongoing conflict with Hamas has required us to seriously rethink many forgone conclusions we as a society have grown to accept as simple truth. In the wake of the Simchat Torah Massacre and the “Iron Swords” War that has followed, all sorts of ideological preconceptions, paradigms, and operating standards regarding national security need to be reevaluated, revitalized, and in many cases, replaced entirely.

For starters, the standing belief that a policy of state noninterference in the internal affairs of the Gaza Strip is most beneficial to Israel – or, as enunciated in Yonathan Geffen’s famous lyrics, “just leave the territories and it will be good” – has been decisively disproven. Gaza, as it turns out, did not become another Singapore after we withdrew. The idea that territory is meaningless in the modern missile age has also obviously been shown to be defunct. It’s crystal clear that if Road 6 is the country’s eastern border, and if the country’s width is half the distance from the Gaza border to Ofakim, the Dan Bloc will become the new Gaza Perimeter—and the massacre it risks experiencing will prove unimaginably worse.

Additionally, the massive callup of reserve personnel has only reinforced the obvious fact that Israel must continue to bolster the forces that make up its “people’s army” model, which has served Israel’s defence purposes, as opposed to the irrelevant concept of a “professional army.” While appropriate for a European nation surrounded by friends, this alternative military model must be understood as irrelevant to Israel—a small country surrounded by enemies. We also need to reintroduce the idea of regional defence: border outposts, organized as military units, meant to protect settlements within the country’s borders by temporarily halting an enemy invasion until an Israeli counterattacking force can arrive to take the fight to the enemy’s backyard.

A strong understanding of national unity is therefore vital—not only to the idea of a regional defence, but to holding together the very fabric of our nation, especially while navigating—and triumphing over—this crisis. If nothing else, the need for robust national unity has been most aptly demonstrated in the raging debates in response to the recently proposed judicial reforms. It is the supreme responsibility of any government to maintain a stable state of national cohesion, and failing to ensure the fulfillment of this basic prerequisite to a functional national government can have major operational consequences in times of crisis—as we have unfortunately seen.

The state must understand that it is their ability to maintain national unity upon which the success—or failure—of our national security, the Holy of Holies, rests. All matters regarding the IDF – regular service, reserve service, volunteer reserve service, and military readiness – must be raised above issues of civic or political protest. Thankfully, this has largely been the response to the war, as those who initially voiced their intentions to boycott reserve service or who threatened to do so were the first to leap into action when Hamas struck, and should be saluted for doing so. As a nation at war—which we have been from the very founding—we cannot afford the luxury of such divisions. We must hope that future governments will understand this, and place a stronger emphasis on maintaining civil national discourse, rather than attempting to force through radical policy revolutions without broad national agreement.

However, there is another dead preconception which must be put to rest for the stability of  our future: the idea that “quiet will be answered with quiet.”

 

A Chronicle of Addiction

It is a dangerous thing when the political leadership largely responsible for Israel’s national security has allowed itself to become addicted to a false quiet that only serves to maintain a status quo meant for show. This fear of rocking the boat by aggressively targeting our enemies has, in effect, paralyzed Israel, causing it to pursue defensive and passive strategies of engagement on the eve of its greatest danger.

This approach can most clearly be traced back to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu took pride in the relatively low number of casualties sustained during his tenure, and promoted an ideology of extreme caution in the name of not engaging in military adventurism or the needless endangerment of IDF servicemen. Such guiding priorities are of course a positive feature—I would not want a Prime Minister indifferent to the lives of IDF soldiers, or one chomping at the bit to go to war. But when fear of using force begins to hinder the state’s ability—or desire—to effectively respond to an enemy assault, Israel’s national security becomes intrinsically compromised. AS a result of the natural flow of command, this dangerously passive spirit radiated downwards, affecting even the army leadership.

This addiction to the idea of “relative quiet” meant the government sufficed itself with simply reacting to enemy attacks, rather than going on the offensive, effectively hobbling its own tactical capabilities while leaving the opposition with all the initiative. Thus, the enemy can build up its forces uninterrupted, can determine how far escalation will go, and can choose the timing of every conflict to suit its own convenience. And when the enemy is a barbaric terrorist organization with goals that fundamentally conflict with the continued existence of the State of Israel, the danger is that much greater.

This has resulted in numerous questionable responses by Israel to hostile action against Israel over the years. For when you are addicted to quiet, you hold back by deploying only a “containment policy” as Negev fields are set on fire for years. When you are addicted to quiet, you oil the Hamas gears with Qatari money in a morally reprehensible and strategically ineffectual attempt at purchasing protection from criminals. When you are addicted to quiet, every operation is halted just short of permanently dismantling Hamas—and potentially stopping the current conflict before it had begun. The moment the enemy shows the smallest willingness to cease fire, Israel acquiesces, And when is the enemy willing to cease fire? When it feels that it is losing—and is thereby allowed to wring a temporary tactical advantage from the forces that should be bent on eliminating such terrorist organizations in any manner possible. There were twelve such ceasefires during Operation Protective Edge. Every time someone offered a cease fire, Israel immediately jumped on the opportunity, Hamas later violated it, and the fighting went on.

In satiating its addiction to relative quiet, Israel has placed a cage around its own greatest defence capabilities: Instead of the Iron Dome serving its intended offensive purpose by allowing us to attack in full force while the rear is shielded, it becomes a substitute entirely for counterattack of any sort—perfectly illustrating that to the Israeli government, maintaining the national security status quo is important enough to justify continuing to simply “contain” the ongoing crime against humanity that is deliberate rocket fire against civilians.

This policy has allowed Hamas to slowly nurture its own growth without adequate pushback, going in recent years from a low-level terrorist gang to a monstrous, barbaric terrorist army that clearly remains undeterred enough by the employ of Israel’s military capabilities to launch a direct attack on her people.

Never Again

The crippling hesitation to utilize the force readily provided by Israel’s top notch military has had consequences that go beyond the current war. While Hamas has spent the last many years utilizing Israel’s restraint to build up its forces in Gaza, Hezbollah has become ever stronger in Lebanon. Israel’s refusal to forcefully engage with the enemy reached its peak half a year ago, when Hezbollah established an outpost within Israel’s sovereign territory and the IDF failed entirely to respond for fear of removing it. This is a travesty of the greatest sort—one which would nearly be laughable in its absurdity were it not for the seriousness of the situation, and the concerning things it illuminates about Israel’s operating ideology regarding its own defence.

Firing on such an outpost to remove it from within our own borders shouldn’t even require the approval of a company commander. The logical—and only—response to the appearance of a terrorist force in our territory should be to destroy it without hesitation. Instead, the question of how to respond to such an incursion was avoided and procrastinated at every level of the chain of command, who preferred to “kick it upstairs” until it reached the fully paralyzed political leadership. The government then demonstrated its own paralysis by “containing” the invasion and allowing the outpost to remain in place untouched for half a year.

The consensus of the government was that Hezbollah had been adequately deterred, when in reality, the entire operation was a shameful show of Israel’s willingness to go so far as to bow to the whims of genocidal terrorists in order to avoid any sort of conflict in pursuit of political points. What state makes peace with such violation of its sovereignty, especially when the violators are known terrorists? It is the weakness inherent in this guiding doctrine that has, over the course of many years, left us vulnerable to the devastation wreaked by the Simchat Torah Massacre. The lesson is clear: Never again. The operative meaning of this is an immediate preemptive counterattack against Hezbollah.

What are the potential alternatives to this?

One such alternative is a surprise attack by Hezbollah, which could prove even more destructive than Hamas’ attack on Simchat Torah. We must consider such an alternative as a certainty if Hezbollah retains its current strength.

The second alternative is an Israeli offensive sometime in the future, with the aim of dissuading Hezbollah from a preemptive attack. However, the risk in this approach lies in the fact that Hezbollah would continue its current efforts at arming and increasing its strength. The more we wait, the stronger the enemy we will face grows, with subsequently greater potential for Israeli losses.

The third option is an immediate Israeli offensive, making use of the momentum of the current war and of the IDF’s preparedness. With the horrors of the Western Negev massacre still fresh in the minds of the world, Israel does not lack for international legitimacy. Additionally, a preemptive strike is justified in its aim of preventing a disaster like that we just experienced in the south, and in the fact that Hezbollah’s constant rain of fire in recent days leaves no doubt as to the political rationale of self-defense.

The United States continues to pressure Israel against launching a preemptive assault in Lebanon. American support for Israel – moral, political, and defense-related – is an invaluable asset, and one we must strive to maintain throughout the course of this war. This may occasionally mean that it is worthwhile to acquiesce to some American requests and expectations, such as a humanitarian corridor. However, no matter how important American support of Israel is, it must never be the deciding factor in determining decisions of Israeli national defense. Israel is a sovereign nation under direct military assault, and the decision of whether and when Israel will attack Hezbollah is a solely Israeli one.

Devotion to maintaining the status quo of relative quiet may seem momentarily appealing in serving political interests, but is disastrous to the safety and stability of the state in the long term. Israel has an obligation to ensure that what happened on Simchat Torah will never happen again, and the path to assured security runs through a preemptive counter strike to destroy Hezbollah.

 

Our Moral Right to Preemptively Counterattack

I will end by quoting the continually relevant words of Yigal Alon, one of Israel’s greatest political and military strategists. In his book Curtain of Sand, Alon wrote: “The highest odds are reserved for the approach of the preemptive counterattack. A preemptive initiative means: Israeli taking of operational initiative against the enemy’s assembled forces, and seizing targets of vital security importance on the enemy’s soil, as it is preparing for an attack on Israel and before it can manage to launch its offensive in practice.”

In an essay he wrote in 1968, after the Six Day War, Alon clarified that even after the expansion of Israel’s borders, the right to launch a preemptive counter strike remains. “Israel is behooved to continue to maintain its right and operational ability to conduct a preemptive counter strike against a coming offensive. The power to preempt the enemy is becoming ever more vital, the greater the danger grows that the enemy will employ rapid, open military means against vulnerable Israeli targets.”

This article was translated by Avi Woolf and edited by Gavriella Cohen.

Uri Heitner

Uri Heitner is a member of Kibbutz Ortal. He is a farmer, publicist, educator, and historian. Heitner is the author of Yehuda Harel: A Biography and Let Us Not Be Late for A Desired Moment: The Labor Movement and Settlement in the Golan, 1967-1969.

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