After a 33-year delay, the IDF began distributing war decorations on Yom
Ha'atzma'ut to veterans of the War of Attrition. That war, which until this
past November was never officially recognized as a war by the government,
lasted from June 15, 1967 until August 8, 1970. Its toll was 1,425 IDF
soldiers and officers killed in action and more than ten thousand wounded.
The decoration for service will be distributed to 333,474 IDF veterans who
served in active duty and reserves during that two-front war fought by
Egyptian, Jordanian and Palestinian regular and terrorist forces along the
Suez Canal, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and Jordan Valley.
There is no way to overstate the symbolic significance of this belated move
for the bereaved families who lost their sons and daughters during the War
Yet, aside from the move's moral significance, there is an important
national interest that is served by the government's decision to officially
recognize the War of Attrition as war like the War of Independence, the
Sinai Campaign, the Six Day War, the Yom Kippur War and Operation Peace for
In placing this war on par with the others, the government and the IDF are
signaling that they understand that wars are not necessarily bracketed
moments in time characterized by intense violence carried out by opposing
armies of conventional forces engaged in open battle.
For although there were such battles in the War of Attrition, the war was
mainly characterized by ongoing skirmishes, limited offensives and
counteroffensives, terrorist raids and counter-terrorist raids.
Two years after he launched the war against Israel, Egyptian President Gamal
Abdel Nasser in June 1969 explained its objective. 'I cannot conquer the
Sinai,' he said, 'but I can break the will of Israel by attrition.'
In this simple statement, Nasser exposed the entire doctrine of guerrilla
and terrorist warfare, or what is now, in the aftermath of the September 11
attacks called, 'asymmetrical warfare.'
Israel is no stranger to asymmetrical warfare. It has plagued us since the
advent of modern Zionism. As Nasser stated, its aim is to break our will to
fight in order to compensate for our enemies' inability to defeat us in
Terrorism, guerrilla raids, political and economic pressure as well as
psychological warfare are all components of wars of attrition.
While the terrorism causes our citizenry to live in fear and harms our
economy, the psychological aspect of being internationally isolated causes
societal disintegration as the legitimacy of the state is called into
question by Israelis themselves who seek a way out from under the crushing
pressure of the asymmetrical trap.
Just after the Palestinian Authority launched its terror war against Israel
in the fall of 2000, Maj.-Gen. (res.) and now Mossad chief Meir Dagan
explained to me that terrorism is a strategic threat to the State of Israel
because it aims to make it impossible for Israelis to live normal lives and
thus cause the disintegration of society.
In an interview last year, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya'alon
expressed a similar viewpoint. Ya'alon then stated that because the aim of
the Palestinian terror war is to cause the disintegration of our society, it
is the most crucial war that Israel has fought since the 1948 War of
Ya'alon said in an interview this week with Ma'ariv that like the War of
Attrition, 'I think that the war with the Palestinians is also worthy of a
war decoration. We have endured two and a half years of continuous war and
when it ends we will address the issue of the war decoration,' he promised.
From these and other statements by our security brass it is clear that those
responsible for safeguarding the security of the state understand that just
because our enemies use explosives, rifles and primitive mortars and rockets
against us rather than tanks and fighter craft does not mean that they are
not fighting a war against us. These statements expose an acute awareness
that we are living in an environment characterized by the presence of war
just as dangerous if not more dangerous to our survival than conventional
wars of the past. The danger is actually higher to a certain degree because
of the amorphous, undeclared nature of these campaigns against us.
As for the conventional threat to Israel's survival, there is no doubt that
Operation Iraqi Freedom degraded this threat significantly. Israel no longer
needs to worry about the specter of Iraqi forces invading the country from
Jordan or Syria. In fact, from the perspective of diminishing conventional
threats, the war against Saddam Hussein was even more significant than the
1979 peace treaty with Egypt because unlike the Egyptian army, the Iraqi
army has been effectively destroyed.
Just as President Anwar Sadat was taking the Egyptian conventional threat to
Israel off the table at Camp David, the threat of terrorist warfare
catapulted to global prominence with the Islamic revolution in Iran. Joining
radical ideology with terrorism, Ayatollah Khomeini signaled that a new
threat to Israel and indeed to the entire Western world was on the rise.
While the September 11 attacks were the most glaring single manifestation of
the threat terrorist wars constitute for open societies like Israel and the
US, it has been clear for years that Iranian and Saudi inspired and
supported global terrorist networks are, next to weapons of mass
destruction, the most significant strategic threat to global security. From
Syria to Lebanon to the Palestinian Authority to Iran and beyond, the most
salient threat Israel faces is ideologically inspired terrorism.
As if to make this point clear to us, the attack at Mike's Place in Tel-Aviv
ten days ago was carried out by Pakistani immigrants to Britain. As Ya'alon
pointed out, 'Two guys with Pakistani origins who have nothing to do with us
are so full of hatred that they are willing to commit suicide in order to
kill Jews. This makes it abundantly clear how destructive the incitement
campaign in Muslim lands against Israel and the Jewish people really is.'
In its actions in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as in its policies towards
everything from the UN to the French and German governments to Saudi Arabia
and Egypt, the Bush Administration has shown that the September 11 attacks
were enough to force the US to define global terrorism as the most dangerous
threat to its national security. It is willing to go after and destroy any
and all threats even if doing so involves alienating its allies abroad.
Then too, in its post-September 11 homeland security legislation and
anti-terror investigations the US has clearly shown that it is willing to
sacrifice certain civil liberties that impede its law enforcement arms'
ability to prevent terrorism and destroy terror networks in America.
Unfortunately, in Israel after two and a half years of a continuous
terrorist war against us, a parallel change in our politicians' thinking has
yet to occur. Although Fatah's terror attack in Kfar Saba was directed from
Iran and the attack in Tel-Aviv was the work of either Al-Qaida or
Hizbullah; while Iyad Bak, the Hamas terrorist who was killed Thursday in
Gaza by an IAF Apache helicopter was involved in setting up Al-Qaida cells
in Gaza, we continue to view the Palestinian terrorist war as something
removed from the global terroris
t nexus. By limiting our view to only those
aspects of our strategic landscape that our politicians wish to see, we
receive distorted policy initiatives and decisions that if implemented will
make it difficult for us to fight this war let alone emerge victorious from
Last week for instance Shinui MK Ehud Ratzbani requested that the Knesset's
finance committee slash the IDF's budget to reflect the elimination of the
Iraqi threat. Ratzbani has taken this initiative in spite of the fact that
the IDF is already set to have its budget slashed by 12.5 percent over the
next two years even as the terror threat and the threat of weapons of mass
destruction continues to rise from month to month.
Then too, Interior Minister Avraham Poraz decided some two months ago that
he will not revoke the citizenship of Israeli citizens who commit terrorist
attacks against their fellow citizens. This in spite of the fact that global
and local terror groups are going to great lengths to recruit Israeli Arabs
to their ranks. In so doing, in stark contrast to what is happening in the
US, far from expanding the tools the law places in his hands to protect
Israelis from terrorism and to punish offenders, in the midst of the war,
Poraz is limiting the government's use of already existing law enforcement
The fact that the government decided to decorate veterans of the War of
Attrition has the potential to be as strategically significant as it is
morally imperative. Yet, while the leaders of our security forces understand
that terrorist wars of attrition of today like the War of Attrition so many
years ago are real wars, our politicians seem not to have received the
Since we are a democracy, our politicians are the ones who must be
convinced to accept our reality. Only by doing so will our security chiefs
and law enforcement officials receive the support they need to enable us to
emerge victorious from this war as we have from all its predecessors.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.