Ending the ostrich strategy

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The large boom that reverberated throughout Jerusalem on Tuesday morning threw the city's residents into a momentary panic. Windows of homes and offices rattled. As my dog nose-dived under the bed, I, heart pounding, went over to the window to see if smoke was rising from any tall buildings around my shaking home. Seeing none, I decided it must have been a sonic boom and went about my business, cursing the air force under my breath, yet feeling a little silly for my reaction.

 

As the day wore on, more and more people related similar stories. "I was standing in the mall and heard the boom and everyone dropped to the floor," went one of the worst. It became clear that I was far from alone in my anxiety.

 

Responding to the incident, OC Air Force Maj.-Gen. Dan Halutz grounded the F-16 squadron responsible and ordered an investigation of how it happened that our pilots could be so insensitive to a justifiably jittery public.

 

To a certain degree, the otherwise unremarkable incident is an indication of the shallowness of our sense of security. Quite simply, if a sonic boom can cause a general panic, we have no sense of security. And the panic was reasonable, because statistically speaking, given the IAF's record of thoughtfulness, the chance of that boom having been a bomb was actually larger than it being a jet fighter breaking the sound barrier directly above our rooftops.

 

Up in the North, our fellow citizens probably raised an eyebrow when they heard of their anxious brethren in the capital. While a sonic boom is a rare occurrence here, from Haifa to Nahariya to Kiryat Shmona, they are heard all the time. While in Jerusalem we reasonably mistake sonic booms for Palestinian bombs, in the North the automatic response is to believe that Hizbullah is attacking.

 

Since the start of the year, Hizbullah has been deliberately firing anti-aircraft guns at northern communities. The specially designed shells explode at an altitude of some 3,000 meters. This ensures that the noise heard on the ground is extremely loud and frightening. By lobbing the shells over the border, Hizbullah also ensures that the fragments fall in our cities and towns.

 

We are being victimized by a terrorist war fought against us on two fronts. Both the Palestinians in Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip, and Hizbullah in south Lebanon manifest strategic threats.

As the government has limited its engagement in this war to the Palestinian front, the threat of Hizbullah has been left to escalate into what security sources are now arguing may very well be the most serious emerging strategic threat to the state.

 

Like the Palestinian terror organizations, Hizbullah is wholly dedicated to the physical eradication of the State of Israel. So, like the Palestinians, Hizbullah is impossible to deter. It can only be fought until its ability to cause harm has been destroyed.

 

The impossibility of deterring Hizbullah was brought home yet again this past week when the group began dumping raw sewage into Nahal Ayoun, which flows into Israel. The dumping dovetails with the Lebanese project of diverting the flow of the Wazzani River away from the Hatzbani, which flows into the Jordan and Lake Kinneret.

 

Both of these provocations, like the anti-aircraft fire, the cross-border shootings, the kidnapping of three soldiers, the killing of another three, and the terrorist attack near Shlomi in the spring, point to an abject failure to deter the rising Hizbullah threat.

 

Dr. Boaz Ganor, director of the Counterterrorism Institute at Herzliya's Interdisciplinary Center, explains why Hizbullah is a growing cause for alarm. "Before the precipitous IDF pullout from south Lebanon in May 2000, Hizbullah was simply an annoyance, a tactical threat to Israel. Since the pullout, because it is deployed directly across the border and because it has significantly upgraded its capabilities, it now for the first time constitutes a strategic threat to the country."

 

On Tuesday, the US army conducted a successful test of a high-energy laser that shot down an artillery shell in New Mexico. The test followed a successful test some months ago of the laser that shot down both single and multiple Katyusha rockets. The high-energy laser system is a joint US-Israeli project.

 

The Defense Ministry is no doubt keen to get the system operating in the North. This because Hizbullah has a large Iranian- and Syrian-supplied arsenal of long-range Katyusha rockets and mortars capable of reaching targets as far south as Netanya. Sources familiar with Hizbullah's capabilities explain that it has developed advanced guidance systems that enable it to hit specific targets. This situation exposes not only civilians to attack, but also endangers sensitive strategic targets like the oil refineries in Haifa and military installations throughout the north and center of the country.

 

Even more foreboding was The Sunday Times of London's report last month that Hizbullah recently acquired Zelzal-2 ballistic missiles with a range of 250 kilometers capable of hitting Tel Aviv ,that can be armed with chemical warheads.

 

According to Ganor, the recent capture of the ring of Beduin suspected of spying for Hizbullah, like the recent arrest of a senior Hizbullah operative in Hebron, "gives a clear indication of the group's intentions."

 

Similar to its response to the Palestinian terror war, the international community's response to the growing Hizbullah threat, to a large degree, is to blame the situation on Israel. Of late, this tendency has been most clearly expressed by Canada. Its government, which is working to withhold tax-exempt status from the Canadian chapter of Magen David Adom on the grounds that MDA ambulances operate in Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip, refuses to define Hizbullah as a terrorist organization.

 

Two weeks after Prime Minister Jean Chretien shared a stage in Beirut with Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah, the Canadian embassy demanded the right to see Fawzi Ayoub, a senior Hizbullah terrorist granted citizenship by Canada and arrested in Hebron in June. Canada has refused to curb Hizbullah activities on its soil. Late last month, Foreign Minister Bill Graham defended Hizbullah, insisting that there is a distinction between the organization's "humanitarian" arm and its "military" apparatus.

 

It is true that much of Hizbullah's annual budget of $100 million goes to social services. But like Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, its media, educational, and welfare systems are aimed at indoctrinating Shi'ite Muslims in Lebanon in its ideology of jihad and Islamic fundamentalism.

 

On the day that an IDF artillery battery misfired and killed Lebanese civilians in Kafr Kana during Operation Grapes of Wrath in 1996, then prime minister Shimon Peres was meeting with Yasser Arafat at the Erez checkpoint. When reports of the incident started flowing in, both Arafat and Muhammad Dahlan joked with their Israeli counterparts, congratulating them on the operation. Arafat and Dahlan explained that the PLO hates Hizbullah, which is sponsored by Iran and Syria, both of which were at the time hostile to Arafat for signing the Oslo Accords.

 

And yet, the strategic ties between Palestinian terrorism and Hizbullah are deep and long-standing. In his recent expose on Hizbullah in The New Yorker, Jeffrey Goldberg reported that Imad Mugniyah, its chief of overseas operations and the second most wanted terrorist, after Osama bin Laden, on the FBI's list, began his career in the PLO training camps in Lebanon in the 1970s and later served in Arafat's Force 17, until the IDF drove the PLO from Lebanon in 1982. Goldberg reports that Mugniyah served as an agent for the PA's acquisition of Iranian weaponry that was bound for Gaza on the Karine-A in January.

 

That the Palestinians perceived the IDF's pullout fro
m south Lebanon as a Hizbullah victory and modeled their terror campaign along Hizbullah lines is a well-known and undisputed fact. Aside from the fact that Al-Manar, Hizbullah's television station, is the first to report on Palestinian terrorist attacks, experts do not see a direct link between Palestinian terror operations and Hizbullah. At the same time, since Yitzhak Rabin temporarily deported 415 Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists to south Lebanon in 1992, there has been close cooperation between these groups and Hizbullah.

 

The fact that the primary sponsor of both Hizbullah and Islamic Jihad is Iran acts to strengthen these ties. The fact that Hamas leaders met with Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah in Beirut before their meeting with Fatah terrorists in Cairo this week is a further sign of the strategic coordination between the organizations.

 

In Israel's timidity in facing down Hizbullah's aggression, we see deterrence theory turned upside down.

 

As Ganor put it, "If Israel can be said to have tried to lay down red lines for terror organizations, we see that not only has it failed, but that the Hizbullah has successfully laid down red lines for Israel. After the IDF bombed a Hizbullah training camp in Baalbek in 1994, they bombed the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. When the IDF inadvertently caused civilian casualties while fighting Hizbullah in south Lebanon, they lobbed Katyushas at Kiryat Shmona."

 

There is no doubt that between the bombs in Jerusalem and the Katyushas pointing at Hadera, we have cause for anxiety. The only way to end the constant attacks and eliminate the threat of even greater ones is to destroy the capabilities of our terrorist enemies and to deter their state sponsors. As with the US war on al-Qaida, our war on Palestinian and Hizbullah terror will be long, costly, and unpopular in Europe and Canada. But the alternative is too frightening to contemplate.

 

Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.

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