The Gaza war is far from over and we still face great danger in the days and weeks ahead. But we can be grateful that in this war, the IDF with new leaders at its helm demonstrated that it had learnt from the failures and disarray of the Lebanon war.
Aside from the tragic loss of lives in the “friendly fire” disaster, the IDF performance has been exemplary and suggests that the recommendations of the Winograd Committee have been implemented. The initial air force attacks which in 4 minutes effectively destabilized the Hamas command structure and destroyed strategic targets in over 40 locations, demonstrated outstanding operational skill and the optimum exploitation of intelligence. The ground offensive maximized Israel’s high grade weapons in order to minimize Israeli military and Palestinian non combatant casualties. Mobilization, training of reserves and clear battle plans contrasted with the chaos which prevailed during the Lebanon war. The IDF unquestionably redeemed its image as the guardian of the nation, confirming that today it is still one of the most effective armies in the world.
IDF spokesmen were also far more effective than during the Lebanon war, shying away from employing bombastic language and premature victory pronouncements. Despite the bizarre High Court ruling insisting that the media be enabled to enter the war zone, journalists were denied entry. As a consequence the chaos which prevailed during the Lebanon war was avoided and we were spared the humiliation of journalists disclosing troop movements and families learning of casualties of their loved ones through the media.
Instead of apologizing, Israeli spokesmen stressed the unprecedented lengths undertaken to minimize non combatant casualties. They pointed to the precision targeting which was far superior to the U.S.and allied bombing in Iraq, Afghanistan and Serbia and drew attention to their efforts to warn civilians by telephoning tens of thousands of them and dropping leaflets in advance of operations. They exposed the Hamas exploitation of human shields in mosques, schools, hospitals or private residences and emphasized again and again that Israel did all possible to limit the number of civilian casualties. Needless to say, this neither deterred most of the global media from again applying double standards against us nor inhibited the renewed explosion of anti Semitism.
During the Lebanon war, Israelis were enraged with ministers and IDF leaders making statements promoting their personal agendas and often contradicting the vacillating official policy of their own government. This time, although a marked improvement from then, there is no doubt that the posturing, sniping and rivalry between the Prime Minister, Defense Minister and the Foreign Minister does divert from the national interest. Ehud Barak, who had castigated the former government for accepting the disastrous UN cease fire during the Lebanon, felt impelled at the outset of the war to inform his dovish constituency that he favored an immediate cease fire. Tzipi Livni who had passionately defended the catastrophic UN ceasefire Resolution 1701 tried to impress her constituents by making hawkish statements and zigzagging in her attitude towards a cease fire. Her absence at the UN Security Council meeting which passed the one sided cease fire resolution was inexcusable. Ironically, Ehud Olmert, who should never have remained Prime Minister and having no vested interest in the elections, has so far performed in an exemplary manner.
Now with the diplomatic endgame looming ahead, we are at a crossroads. An urgent resolution is required as to whether the IDF should move further into the Gaza heartland risking major casualties or call a halt and accept a conditional cease-fire. The indecision by the politicians is already palpable and frighteningly reminiscent of the Lebanon war.
Understandably, subject to a caveat that genuine long term arrangements are in place to ensure that the regime of launching missiles against Israel has ended, the government would wish to call a halt now to avoid more casualties. But unless adequate controls are made to prevent the Philadelphi Corridor from continuing to act as a conduit for Hamas to replenish their armaments, a future conflict with a substantially more powerful and dangerous Hamas is inevitable. To avoid such a scenario, we cannot afford to repeat previous mistakes of delegating control to Egypt, the PA. or another impotent United Nations Interim Force. Alas, with the Bush administration abstaining from the recent one sided UN Security Council Resolution, which also employed moral equivalence towards Israel and Hamas, the situation is very worrying. We cannot expect President Obama to be more forthcoming than his predecessor.
We have additional cause for concern because our government has always displayed a propensity for agreeing to quick fixes without adequately taking account of the long term implications of its actions. Their record is appalling. They orchestrated and implemented the unilateral Gaza withdrawal which paved the way for the current crisis which led to over 6500 missiles being launched into Israel. They bungled the Lebanon war. This is the government which sat with folded arms for years as Hamas launched missiles at Israel and enabled them to amass the potent weapons that they now employ against us. They entered into a bogus “truce” with Hamas, which amounted to “quiet” in return for Hamas upgrading its missiles. They are responsible for the erosion of our deterrent and uttering empty threats which made us a laughing stock of the Arab world.
Can we trust this government not to make the same mistakes? We must pray that they learnt some lessons from their former failures, especially the phony peace to which they acquiesced in Lebanon. Otherwise the brilliant performance of the IDF and the agony and sacrifices of the past weeks will largely have been in vain.
At the same time, whilst we are a nation at war we must remain united and support whatever decision is made – as long as it incorporates a framework by which Hamas is deterred from rearming.
If we agree to a ceasefire, we must proclaim that should even a single missile be deliberately launched against our civilians we will respond instantaneously. We must leave no doubt that we will remorselessly extract retribution so that it becomes painfully clear to our enemies that the days of targeting Israeli civilians without having to pay a bitter price are over.
Nor can the plight of Gilad Shalit be set aside “for future negotiations”. We must demand his release now and if that does not eventuate, all Hamas detainees should remain incarcerated and be denied contact with their families or the Red Cross.
The terrorists will continue proclaiming victory. But if we have downgraded their military infrastructure and their leaders are no longer calling for more martyrs because most of them are cowering underground in fear of Israeli retribution, their “victory” will not be taken seriously. Nor will the Gaza population be applauding Hamas for the devastation they inflicted upon them.
We will be the victors of this war if we can demonstrate that from this point onward, we are able to implement a policy of realistic deterrence which will make it counter productive for Hamas to continue launching missiles or indulging in terrorist actions against us.
This column was originally published as a blog entry in the Jerusalem Post