Hudna? A prescription for disaster

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Today we are threatened with two extremely dangerous situations that must be dealt with speedily and resolutely. The first, already far too advanced, is that the government seems to regard rocket attacks against our civilians as being part of an ongoing – and somehow manageable – war of attrition. Our enemies, for their part, appear to welcome the “martyrdom” of 100 or more Palestinian civilians and gunmen a week to promote their propaganda objectives.

In contrast, as the Mercaz Harav massacre exemplified, every Israeli casualty represents a cause for national grief. An ongoing war of attrition would therefore be disastrous. It would in time undermine our stamina and demoralize the nation.

The second danger is that we are being coerced, or seduced, into agreeing to a temporary truce arrangement with Hamas, enabling the organization to upgrade its missile infrastructure, smuggle in more advanced weapons, send its members for training abroad, and renew hostilities at a time of its choosing.

Yet as we lurch rapidly into a new phase of confrontation with the barbarians at our gates, our government is replicating the indecisiveness and absence of strategic planning that characterized its failed management of the Second Lebanon War.

Then, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert indulged in Churchillian bombast. Today, beyond promoting the illusory “peace process,” he seems loath to take any major initiatives and merely faithfully implements instructions from US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. He also appears to have concluded that – up to a point – sacrificing the lives and well-being of Israeli civilians is preferable to facing up to casualties arising from an all-out military confrontation.

Regrettably, it is becoming clear that Olmert is desperately seeking a face-saving solution by which he can accept the Hamas offer of a hudna – a temporary cease-fire – without appearing to preside over yet another Israeli debacle. He is already hinting that a truce will come into effect as soon as the missile launches ease, and he obviously welcomes the bizarre American-inspired Egyptian offer to mediate a cease-fire. If that fails, similar offers are already in the pipeline from other dubious intermediaries like former US president Jimmy Carter and former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan.

A hudna would indeed create a temporary period of calm. But in the long term, it is a prescription for catastrophe. Taking advantage of the porous Egyptian border, Hamas and its Iranian and Syrian backers would upgrade and replicate Hizbullah’s achievements in Lebanon. That would evolve into a disastrous replay of the Second Lebanon War, with the added handicap this time of the IDF possibly simultaneously being engaged on two fronts.

Minister of Defense Ehud Barak indulges in saber-rattling rhetoric about an impending invasion of Gaza, but invariably contradicts himself a few hours later. He has already earned a reputation for making empty threats, and, like Olmert, lacks any long-term strategy.

In fact, the IDF withdrawal from Gaza after two days begs the question of whether, beyond temporarily placating domestic public opinion, the incursion served any purpose at all. The subsequent Hamas victory parades certainly do not suggest that it strengthened our deterrence.

The apparent lack of a game plan is frightening. Amid all the contradictory government statements, Israelis still remain utterly in the dark as to what is going on. Our dysfunctional government had a clear obligation to formulate options on how to deal with our current, totally predictable crisis. But its members were too obsessed with clinging to their seats of power.

We must now gird ourselves to end the terrorist abominations, lest what we have been facing in the south engulfs even more of the country. Israel must reject efforts by the international community to reconcile us to an indefinite war of attrition.

And this time, our public diplomacy must respond more effectively to those who mindlessly denounce us for reacting “disproportionately” in exercising our right to self-defense. Their condemnations are irrational, unprecedented and unquestionably reflect the application of double standards against us.

When terrorists embed themselves within a civilian cocoon and launch their missiles from dense population centers, strangely, it is Israel’s retaliation which is condemned if noncombatants are inadvertently killed or wounded. Whether we respond to attacks with targeted assassinations, take military action on the ground to eliminate missile launchers, or deny electricity to those manufacturing and launching missiles against us – we are condemned, knee-jerk style, on the grounds that any response is “disproportionate.”

Yet our critics disingenuously say that a government has an overriding obligation to defend its citizens from external attack. So what are we supposed to do when our neighbors deliberately target our civilians? Appeal for help to the United Nations?

No country under rocket and missile barrages, least of all one which genuinely respects the sanctity of human life, can be expected to sacrifice its citizens in the name of ensuring a spurious proportionality. And if civilian casualties ensue because Palestinian noncombatants are employed as human shields, the blame must be directed toward the Palestinian belligerents, not the Israeli victims.

We must therefore be prepared to defy our critics and swiftly defeat our foes with force. That was the basis on which Israel warded off its enemies in the past, in the days when our leaders still recognized that their prime obligation was to protect their citizens. Nothing has changed since. Preemption was and remains Israel’s cardinal strategy of defense.

One need not be a military genius to appreciate what must be done. Launching missiles against our civilians should be declared an act of war. Immediate action should be taken to cut off the head of the snake and methodically target the Hamas military and political leaders who direct the killings.

Should that fail, we must act more drastically. Following ample notice for civilians to evacuate, we should bombard specific areas from where missiles are being launched. When we are condemned for “responding disproportionately,” we should remind the United States and its allies that even in the absence of any threat of missile attacks to their civilians, they had no compunctions about carpet-bombing terrorist locations in Afghanistan and Iraq. NATO did likewise in Belgrade, even targeting residential areas during its botched attempt to assassinate Slobodan Milosevic.

If all else fails, recognizing that maintenance of the status quo would genuinely pose an existential threat to us, we would be obliged to launch a full-scale invasion of Gaza. That would be a calculated decision, not a gut reaction, and would be undertaken with the realization that such a conflict will lead to a major toll in lives on all sides.

Clearly, the vast majority of Israelis have no desire to occupy Gaza or rule over Arabs for longer than is absolutely necessary. But suggesting that we take no action at all because the aftermath will be complex is the worst of all options.

The time for words and threats has long passed. We have no reason to harbor any feelings of guilt because we have explored every conceivable venue to attain a peaceful solution. We realize that those confronting us are more obsessed with achieving our demise than improving their own miserable lot and gaining independence. We must act with determination and take whatever measures are deemed necessary to protect our citizens and the future of this nation.

That will only be achieved if we restore our deterrent abilities. It can be done.

ileibler@netvision.net.il

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