Last week, a mob of 300 Muslim men in southern Egypt stripped a 70-year-old Christian woman naked and paraded her through the streets.
This Islamist atrocity came a few days before an EgyptAir flight from Paris exploded in the skies near Alexandria. It was the second passenger jet bombed by jihadists in Egypt in recent months.
Egypt is hanging on by a thread. Like the attack that downed a Russian passenger jet over Sinai last October, this week’s attack is likely the work of an Egyptian airport employee. It is yet more proof that nearly three years after the military deposed the Muslim Brotherhood’s jihadist government, the Brotherhood’s supporters remain seeded throughout the country and are capable of threatening the regime and the very survival of the Egyptian state.
It isn’t in the least surprising that Islamists have this power. Most Egyptians support them.
In the parliamentary elections four-and-a-half years ago, Islamists won more than 65 percent of the vote. Those were the most open elections in Egyptian history.
Given their strength, it is far from certain that President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will long succeed in preventing the most powerful and populous country in the Arab world from becoming another branch of Islamic State.
From Israel’s perspective, how this battle pans out is of pivotal importance. But you wouldn’t know it from the media – or from our national security leaders.
As far as they are concerned, the gravest threat facing Israel is the Israeli Right. From their perspective, the most significant development of the year was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to appoint Avigdor Liberman to replace Moshe Ya’alon as defense minister.
Consider for example a recent national security program on Army Radio.
On Tuesday veteran Arab affairs correspondent Avi Issacharof hosted Egyptian journalist Munib Muhamed on his radio show. Since the show was broadcast two days after the EgyptAir attack, Issacharof might have been expected to ask Muhamed about the bombing.
But then Israel wouldn’t have been the story. Instead, Issacharof asked Muhamed what Egyptians think of Liberman. And again, there was nothing out of the ordinary in his discussion topic.
As the states around us collapse or struggle to survive, our media and our security brass spend the better part of their time telling us that Israeli society is dangerous. Our democracy is in danger. We are dangerous people. And we are making our neighbors angry.
As our elites obsess over Netanyahu’s coalition building and demand that the rest of the world obsess with them, we spend precious little time thinking about the long-term strategic implications of the revolutionary changes happening all around us.
Next week will mark the 16th anniversary of the IDF’s pullout from the security zone in south Lebanon. It will also mark the 16th anniversary of Hezbollah’s takeover of southern Lebanon.
Nine years ago, Hezbollah took control of the Lebanese government. Today the Iranian foreign legion is reputedly also in control of the Lebanese military.
In the 10 years that have passed since the end of the Second Lebanon War, former prime minister Ehud Olmert and his allies in and out of the military repeatedly argued that the quiet that has largely endured along the northern border proves that Israel won the war. Israel, they claimed, restored its deterrence. Hezbollah won’t dare to attack us again.
But it is far from clear that Israel is deterring Hezbollah. Since the war, Hezbollah has amassed an arsenal of 150,000 missiles that it points at Israel. These include precision-guided missiles with a range long enough to destroy targets in southern Israel. Hezbollah has installed a “missile room,” in every house and apartment in southern Lebanon.
Its offensive strategy is predicated on holding Lebanese civilians hostage.
Hezbollah acts this way because it knows that it can depend on the West. If Israel strikes its missiles, and so harms the civilians who defend its war machine, then Europe will condemn Israel and the US will sue for a cease-fire.
In other words, with its Western enablers, it is Hezbollah that is deterring Israel while it builds a capacity to paralyze the country.
And that isn’t even taking into account its plans for a ground offensive in northern Israel To mark the 16th anniversary of the IDF’s withdrawal, Hezbollah’s media mouthpiece As-Safir bragged this week about Hezbollah’s subterranean tunnels traversing the border. According to the paper, Hezbollah forces along the border with Israel “work day and night… conducting observations, preparing, and digging tunnels that cause the settlers and enemy soldiers to lose sleep.”
And again, if Israel strikes Hezbollah’s positions along the borders, the West will condemn us.
This then brings us to Hezbollah’s Palestinian twin, Hamas, which runs its own terrorist tyranny in Gaza.
On Tuesday Foreign Ministry director-general Dore Gold told the UN Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul that Hamas diverts 95 percent of the cement imported into Gaza to build offensive tunnels. Israel permits cement imports to facilitate the reconstruction of Gaza in the aftermath of the 2014 war.
Gold’s revelation naturally raises the question, why is Israel allowing Hamas to import cement? The answer is equally clear.
Israel continues to provide Hamas with the means to attack our citizens because we are afraid of international condemnation.
Like Hezbollah, under the protection of Western powers, Hamas has developed the means to deter Israel and force us to stand by or even assist as it reconstructs the war machine with which it will attack us.
This Western alliance with jihadist armies is not likely to be broken in the foreseeable future.
Given the demographic, political and social dynamics of the Western world, it is fairly clear that Western animosity is not a function of Israeli behavior.
As these dynamics become stronger, Western hostility is likely to grow. Even today, the West’s mistreatment of Israel reaches new heights seemingly on a daily basis.
This week, for instance, Israel was condemned by the UN’s World Health Organization. With the support of Germany, France, Britain and other EU member states, the WHO condemned Israel for carrying out fictional crimes against the health of the Palestinians and the Syrians.
It goes without saying that the WHO had nothing to say about Hamas’s use of Shifa Hospital in Gaza City as its forward command post or the Assad regime’s repeated use of chemical weapons.
The time has come for Israel to reconsider its strategic position and options.
Ever since the since the PLO set up its state-within- a-state in Lebanon in the 1970s, Israel’s policy for fighting sub-state actors has been to hold the state they operate within responsible for their aggression. So it was that when the PLO, or Hezbollah, attacked us, Israel retaliated against Lebanese targets. In so doing, Israel was able to avoid hitting the civilian targets the terrorists used as human shields for their aggression.
The idea was that by attacking the regime, Israel would be able to coerce it into curbing the terrorist armies itself.
Today, Hezbollah dominates the Lebanese government.
To the extent it operates at all, the Lebanese government serves as Hezbollah’s errand boy. The Lebanese government won’t rein in Hezbollah. If it tries to, its leaders will meet the same end as Rafik Hariri, and they know it. And the West will respond with the same paralysis as it did to Hariri’s assassination.
Just as Hezbollah dominates the Lebanese government, so Hamas dominates Fatah. And just as the Lebanese government serves as Hezbollah’s surrogate for attacking Israel in the diplomatic sphere, so the PLO uses international diplomacy to criminalize the Jewish state.
Under these circumstances, the first step Israel needs to take to develop a constructive strategy for defending itself is to recognize the nature of the threat and the hostile system operating against us. To do so, the first thing we need to do is cease our self-obsession. We are not the story.
We are not the engine of regional events.
For incoming defense minister Liberman this means that his primary task isn’t to convince Western powers that he wants peace. His primary task is to develop a strategy for restoring deterrence.
At this point, deterrence cannot be restored through threats. Empty promises to raze Lebanon if Hezbollah again attacks us are no longer taken seriously. The only way to restore our deterrence is to weaken Hezbollah on the ground. And we cannot wait until Hezbollah starts the next war to do so.
Indeed, given the offensive capabilities Hezbollah has developed, we cannot afford to allow it to initiate the next war. We need to be the side that initiates the next round, on a battlefield that exploits our relative advantages.
How we strike and the means we choose to strike is for Liberman and the government to decide. Perhaps we can use stealth. Perhaps we can use surrogates. Perhaps we will need to invade southern Lebanon. But time is of the essence. With Western support, Iran will continue to expand its power throughout the region.
As for Hamas, in formulating a strategy for cutting the terrorist regime down to size, Israel should take a lesson from Syria. There are a half dozen Islamic State-like militias operating along the border on the Golan Heights. But they are too busy fighting one another to attack Israel.
Such militias operate in Gaza as well and are already engaged in an internecine battle with Hamas.
Israel should constantly check and diminish Hamas’s military capabilities to prevent it from rebuilding its arsenals and offensive capabilities.
It should also help to destabilize it as a coherent fighting group. The presence of other jihadist militia in Gaza facilitates the accomplishment of this goal.
Finally, Israel needs to realize that there is unlikely to be a clear-cut resolution of this struggle, at least in the next generation.
With the traditional Arab regimes still in place fighting for their survival, and Iran ascendant, Israel needs to assume that more terrorist regimes like Hezbollah, ISIS and Hamas will be formed from the wreckage of the Arab state system in the future. Instability, then, can be expected to remain a chronic condition of the Arab world.
The good news is that Israel has the capacity to adapt and forge constructive strategies for weakening and dividing our enemies. The bad news is that so long as we insist on obsessing over ourselves, we are unlikely to do so.