Rare are the violent clashes from which all sides emerge positively cheery. But the latest exchange of fire with Gaza was just such an atypical conflict. When the smoke cleared, both combatants came away upbeat and sure their respective enemy was taught a painful lesson.
We are near-giddy with gladness over the technological wonders of our Iron Dome anti-missile missiles, while the Gazans are hoarse with victory whoops because they managed to fire off as many rockets as they did. We effusively congratulate ourselves because no major catastrophes were wrought on our side of the border. Nevertheless, the Gazans know that had we truly won, they wouldn’t be left standing and able to spark another conflagration at another time.
What does all the sound and fury signify in real terms? Most likely that no lessons at all were taught, that no one was punished and that in all probability we once more critically misread the signs. It’s as if somewhere along the line we’ve managed to lose sight of what constitutes triumph in our peculiar immediate environment. According to Mideastern conventions, the absence of incontrovertibly humiliating vanquishment denotes a degree of victory.
This local logic mustn’t be dismissed out of hand.
In the Gazan view our aim should have been to entirely disable them from striking again. Since we didn’t accomplish this, they won and we lost. To underscore their contentions they made sure to fire the last salvo – after the ceasefire for which they ironically begged. Thus they had the apparent last word, imparting the impression that they were capable of pummeling us more, if only they wanted to.
It almost doesn’t matter that we reject this interpretation of reality. If they consider themselves undefeated, then for all intents and purposes they indeed weren’t defeated.
Likewise, it’s hardly relevant that we never launched a wide-ranging campaign to crush all Gazan capacity for belligerence. In Gazan eyes if we could crush them, we would have. The very fact that we didn’t set out to do so attests to weakness on our part and to a deterrent strength on theirs.
However, Gazans too misread the situation. It’s not that we’re too weak to take them on, but that we’re scared of winning. This is something that they plainly can’t get their heads around. Nobody in the Mideast can comprehend cerebral convolutions like ours.
Lamentably, Israel has turned itself into the unhappy real-life equivalent of the unnerved athletes in yesteryear’s uniquely effective episode of TV’s animated Batman series. Aptly entitled “Fear of Victory,” this classic features the recurrent villain Scarecrow, who slips star sportsmen an adrenalin-activated fear-toxin. As they gear themselves up for competition, they get scared of winning. Scarecrow then bets against them, sure that, despite these champions’ legendary abilities and proven experience, they cannot succeed.
Fear has come to dominate Israel’s zeitgeist ever since Oslo – perhaps itself born of the fear to defend our interests, if need be, in defiance of a world that keeps turning against us. Our two relatively recent largest-scale confrontations –The Second Lebanon War and Operation Cast Lead- illustrate the fiascos which fear-engendered inhibition produces.
In both campaigns, Israel patently hadn’t achieved much of anything. Israel (under Ehud Olmert’s lead) demonstrated impressive firepower but failure of will to follow through successfully enough to inflict instantly recognizable defeat on the enemy and amend the bad situation which forced us into the battlefield to begin with.
Things look abysmal even without factoring in the merciless diplomatic trashing and disastrous image-tarnishing to which Israel was subjected. When the deafening din died down, the enemy survived upright and ready to fight another day. We didn’t eradicate or even significantly reduce its rocket arsenals.
The same was the outcome of this month’s hostilities in the South. Though battered and bruised, Gazans were the ones who strove to dictate terms and impose their will on Israel and not vice versa.
For a whole host of sad reasons, we’re intimidated about going the whole hog and actually trying to rout our adversaries. They’re not blind to the paradox that the more hi-tech, scientifically advanced and militarily-sophisticated Israel becomes, the weaker its resolve. In the psychological combat zone, the Arabs make mincemeat of us – time and again.
And so, while Iron Dome may have saved lives in the short haul, in essence it epitomizes our trepidations of a showdown. Reliance upon defensive measures – no matter how cutting-edge – encapsulates hesitation to fight. This hesitation deepens precisely because Iron Dome is undeniably the stunning technological feat it’s reputed to be.
It makes the dithering tolerable and longer-lasting. The inevitable can be postponed if in the meanwhile Iron Dome neutralizes most rockets fired at Israeli civilians and luck spares us in the remaining instances.
If Israelis as far north as Gedera stay under cover, our forces can avoid actual contact with the enemy. Taking Gaza on by remote control isn’t only more sanitized; it’s less risky. The downside is that jihadists of whichever affiliation across the Green Line are emboldened, while we grow increasingly leery of the real battlefield.
Content as we are with the Iron Dome, the most a defensive posture can achieve is a return to the status quo ante. It means that for a given duration the bigger and more distant urban targets inside Israel will enjoy conditional respites from Gaza’s launching pads, whereas the areas adjacent to the border will continue to be subjected to daily doses of mortar attacks and occasional Kassam rockets – unremitting terror which we euphemistically dub a “trickle.”
That’s the “normal” state of affairs to which we incredibly acquiesce and to which the international community remains chillingly indifferent.
It’s nothing new. It was so when the Iron Dome was still in the realm of science fiction. Then too we sought a variety of defensive cure-alls. Among them were concrete cubes. These were all the rage right after we disengaged from Gaza.
As ever, folly breeds peril and Ashkelon, which pre-disengagement was out of Kassam range, had been rendered vulnerable thanks to the ruthless uprooting of settlements at the edge of the northern Gaza Strip (nobody then dared predict the rocketing of Beersheba, Ashdod, Yavne or Kiryat Gat).
The Gaza-perimeter settlements were set up to deliberately form physical barriers between the Strip and Ashkelon’s outskirts which contain some of Israel’s most sensitive targets (among them the Rutenberg Power Station, the Eilat-Ashkelon pipeline, huge fuel storage facilities, a major desalination plant and plenty more).
But the infallible autocrats who sold us the disengagement bill of goods threw that logic to the wind, as they did the logic of holding onto the Philadelphi Corridor to prevent the arming of Gaza to its carnivorous teeth. The antidote came in the shape of prefab fortifications of assorted sizes.
Concrete desks, for example, were the product of deadpan earnest IDF innovative brainstorming. These were proposed as a safety feature for unreinforced classrooms. Pupils were directed to cower underneath the novel constructions whenever Gazans unleashed tokens of their appreciation for Israel’s unilateral withdrawal.
This wasn’t all. In anticipation of the very tangible benefits of disengagement, our civil-defense experts promoted a project to install large concrete cubes all around Sderot streets to offer the citizenry shelter in case Gazans failed to interpret our conciliatory overtures as we intended. The local citizenry was instructed to run to these unsightly structures and hide within them whenever they heard rockets coming.
In hindsight, and in comparison to the Iron Dome’s astounding exploits, these low-tech post-disengagement solutions seem primitive. But on closer examination we must concede that their basic concept is identical to the Iron Dome – i.e. passive protection.
And passive protection begets paralysis. It’s not enough to express gratification that no rocket crashed into a schoolyard full of kids. Despite the Iron Dome, schools were hit and only the fact that their pupils were shielded at home prevented carnage.
This is the sporadic scenario. With each flare-up, life stops throughout Israel’s South. Hardly anyone goes to work or school or any place else. A full third of the country lingers in suspended animation for as long as Gaza decrees. This in itself buoys Gazan morale.
Even the fact that they force us to reduce available Iron Dome stockpiles should delight them. They might not cause casualties but they wreak economic havoc.
Yes, the syrupy slogan is that no price is too high to save lives, which – considered strictly on the moral plane – is indisputable. However, we need to keep in mind that it costs peanuts to manufacture a Kassam and that Gaza’s arsenals boast untold thousands of these crude versions of Nazi V-1 and V-2 rockets (all murderously indiscriminate). The upgraded Katyushas called Grads are supplied gratis, compliments of Iran.
In contrast, each Iron Dome interception costs $100,000. Since Iron Dome batteries cover a comparatively small area each, many more than now deployed are needed. The missiles themselves take a long time to be produced and there can never be enough of them to take down every contraption hoarded in Gaza.
Adding to the complexity is the fact that many communities under Kassam threat are too close to the border for sufficient warning time. The Iron Dome system requires 15 seconds to identify an incoming Kassam. Yet these projectiles can (and have in the past) slammed down after being airborne for shorter intervals. The Iron Dome, furthermore, doesn’t offer protection against mortars.
With their own earthy good-sense commoners throughout Israel’s South recognize that the best defense is offense and that good offense isn’t shelling vacant lots, eliminating the odd miscreant, and generally trying not to get IDF hands too dirty, so as not to offend sanctimonious European sensibilities.
They know that the only way to defend is to win and that you win by breaking the enemy’s spirit and will to fight.
We’ve got to conquer our fear of winning because neither Iron Dome nor Batman will rescue us from the Scarecrow of our own making.