The rule of thumb in gauging any public’s mood is that the higher the expectations, the deeper the let-down. Put differently, it may be argued that the more unrealistic the expectations, the more groundless the grumbles.
This was all too evident in the reactions of disappointment that followed the purely tactical decision to re-station IDF units at staging areas in and around the Gaza Strip, while keeping others behind to maintain defensive positions that safeguard Israel’s hinterland.
Anyone who bothered paying attention would have understood that this is no wholesale retreat, that all options remain open after Hamas was dealt grievous blows both to its rocket arsenals and tunnel projects.
Sure, Hamas might continue to fire at Israeli civilians, but it keeps depleting its stockpiles, which it would be hard pressed to replenish. All known tunnels were destroyed although this doesn’t rule out a situation in which a tunnel or branch thereof were missed.
But in all, it would serve us to remember that the IDF went in with superior intelligence and wasn’t blindly groping for tunnels in total darkness. Our forces knew where to look, a fact which attests to painstaking prior preparation and which refutes contentions that the tunnel threat was lackadaisically ignored.
There are no guarantees for perfect story lines in combat zones. Where bullets fly, lives are on the line and bad things can happen to the best of soldiers. Reducing nonessential contact with the local population is therefore prudent.
The ground incursion into Gaza was never intended to conquer it and expel Hamas. It was occasioned by the tunnel threat and that was neutralized more efficiently and successfully than might have been envisioned.
The wails of discontent from both Left and Right arise from wishful thinking that has nothing to do with the justifiably limited aims of this phase of the fighting.
Nowhere on our broad mainstream political spectrum are there outright advocates for Hamas but many on the Zionist Left want Hamas replaced with Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah functionaries. The rationale is that we can do business with Abbas, though this hasn’t actually ever worked so far. Moreover, it was to Abbas’s care that Israel relinquished Gaza in the 2005 Disengagement and he was the incompetent who lost it to Hamas.
As things stand, Abbas would be lucky to hang on to Judea and Samaria where he’s entirely reliant on Israel’s support. The notion of paying with the blood of countless Israeli soldiers just to reinstate Abbas in Gaza should be a nonstarter.
The same concerns about the terrible cost in lives ought to preclude calls from the Right to retake Gaza. It‘s true that terrorism can only be controlled by actual Israeli presence or unhindered access, as experience indeed shows in Judea and Samaria. The IDF can take possession of Gaza faster than is assumed but would then have to mop up, which would inflict casualties on all sides.
Deployment flexibility leaves Israel with all operational options, while it enjoys incomparably greater staying power than Hamas, its bluster notwithstanding.
It is tempting to demand radical facile solutions but reality doesn’t always dish these up. It’s easy to demand comprehensive once-and-for-all overhauls of chronically dangerous circumstances but such overhauls can be deceptive, if not altogether unattainable.
It is a true test of leadership to keep a cool head when emotions rage all around. It isn’t easy and it isn’t popular.
Such difficulties are further exacerbated by the unique Israeli psyche. We aren’t merely a democracy but a democracy comprised more than any other comparable society of opinionated second-guessers and vocal armchair generals.
Despite blatantly biased portrayals overseas, Binyamin Netanyahu’s government isn’t gung-ho or trigger-happy. Despite carping protests at home, it isn’t weak or irresolute. It has been adroitly performing a tricky balancing act between the desirable and the doable despite unavoidable battle mishaps, calumnies from implacable foes and insincere slurs from severely injudicious sometimes-allies.
After a month of warfare we should take solace from the fact that official Israel has consistently been doing the right thing. That’s no mean feat.