If additional proof is needed that Israel is in desperate need of a new government, one needs to look no further than the situation in the South.
After the Olmert-Livni government failed to defeat Hizbullah in the 2006 war, the public demanded that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert resign and enable the people to elect a new government capable of defending the country and fixing the damage that he and his colleagues had just wrought. Olmert refused. He justified his contempt for the public by claiming that since he was the one who had failed, he was in the best position to fix the mess he created.
His reasoning was not simply self-serving. It was strategically devastating. His stubborn insistence on remaining in power made it impossible for the country to embark on a new course.
And today, with the South under siege, the hollowness of Olmert's assertion that he and his colleagues could be trusted to learn from their mistakes is unmistakable. On Sunday the IDF was forced to order schools around Gaza to bar children from playing outside. And as Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) director Yuval Diskin acknowledged at Sunday's cabinet meeting, their fate may soon be shared by hundreds of thousands of other children.
Diskin announced that over the past six months of Israel's one-sided cease-fire with Hamas, Hamas expanded its rocket range from 20 kilometers to 40 and is now capable of attacking the outskirts of Beersheba, Ashdod, Gedera, Kiryat Gat and Kiryat Malachi in addition to Ashkelon, Sderot and Netivot. So due to the so-called cease-fire, Hamas now has more than a million Israelis at its mercy.
SINCE IT abandoned Gaza in September 2005, the government has more or less stood down and allowed Hamas to build its armies and terror arsenals unchallenged. But with the February 10 general elections swiftly approaching, and with public anger at their abandonment of the South daily rising, on Sunday Olmert's ministers decided that the time has come to launch a military offensive into Gaza.
To prepare the ground for the promised offensive, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has ordered the diplomatic corps to build international support and understanding for the planned military action. Of course, as Likud Knesset candidate and former chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. (res.) Moshe Ya'alon pointed out on Israel Radio Monday morning, the very fact that Israel today lacks international support for defending the country against Hamas's illegal terror offensive shows how empty pledges made by Livni and Olmert on the eve of the 2005 surrender of the Gaza Strip truly were.
At the time, Livni, Olmert and their colleagues promised that after Israel left the area, if the Palestinians dared to attack the country, Israel would have full international backing to defend itself. Now, with an Iranian proxy in control of its southern border, Israel finds itself condemned for every action it takes to secure its citizens from murder.
At any rate, the cabinet decided that whenever Livni, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Olmert feel comfortable with the international climate, the IDF will gradually escalate its currently anemic operations in Gaza. Presently the IDF is not even going after Hamas targets, just Islamic Jihad ones. And on Monday morning Barak announced that every additional operation will require prior approval by the government.
While the government is congratulating itself on its willingness to defend the country after three years of negligence, the fact is that its strategic aim is not to defeat Hamas. This fact was made clear in the summary of the government's decisions reported in the media on Sunday afternoon. The government made clear that the aim of both the diplomatic and military offensives is to pave the way for the "international community" to intervene in Gaza to protect Israel from Palestinian terrorism.
IF THAT sounds familiar, it is because it is. It is the same strategy, and the same strategic goal, that the government adopted during the 2006 war with Hizbullah. After reacting helter skelter to Hizbullah's initial aggression which began the war, Olmert and Livni decided that Israel shouldn't bother trying to defeat Hizbullah. Instead of ordering the IDF to defeat the enemy, they ordered it to put on a sound and light show replete with aerial bombing and some good photo-ops of ground forces raising the flag in Bint Jbail and other villages. The aim of their military extravaganza was to convince the "international community" to deploy forces to Lebanon's borders to protect Israel in place of the IDF.
In defending their strategy to the public both during the war and in its aftermath, Olmert and Livni refused to acknowledge the prohibitive cost of surrendering borders to terror armies. Instead, they spoke darkly of the cost to Israel of controlling its own borders as part of an ongoing "occupation." In Lebanon, Olmert and Livni succeeded in expanding the size of the UNIFIL force deployed along the border. And they presented the expanded force as proof of their strategic genius. But UNIFIL is a disaster.
It has consistently refused to lift a finger to prevent Hizbullah from rearming and reasserting its control over the border area. Rather than contend with Hizbullah, UNIFIL devotes its time to condemning the IAF for conducting surveillance flights over Lebanon. Those flights enable Israel to keep tabs on the Iranian and Syrian weapons shipments to Hizbullah that UNIFIL has refused to prevent.
Under the protective gaze of UNIFIL forces, which Livni and Olmert promised the public would protect Israel from Hizbullah, Hizbullah launched a successful coup against the pro-Western democracy forces in the country in May and gained control over the Lebanese government. And under UNIFIL's protective gaze, the Lebanese army – which has both the US and Russia standing in line to sell it state of the art tanks, fighter jets, helicopters and precision bombs – has actively colluded with Hizbullah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in south Lebanon.
AND NOW, rather from learn from their mistakes in Lebanon, Livni, Olmert and Barak are seeking to repeat them in Gaza.
In moving to implement their tried and failed "war" strategy in Gaza, Livni, Olmert and Barak are abandoning their tried and failed and tried again and failed again "cease-fire" strategy. Unlike their war strategy, which has only been tried and failed in Lebanon, their cease-fire strategy has been tried and failed in Lebanon and Gaza.
Barak was the first leader to adopt the cease-fire strategy. He implemented it in Lebanon after he surrendered Lebanon's southern border to Hizbullah in May 2000. At the time, as prime minister, Barak announced that Israel would use overwhelming force to combat Hizbullah if it dared to attack after the withdrawal. But then when Hizbullah kidnapped three IDF soldiers along the border in October 2000, Barak refused to take action.
Barak's one-way cease-fire with Hizbullah was exploited by the group to build up a formidable missile arsenal, to organize and train its forces and to construct its warren of underground bunkers and command and control centers which it used to such great effect in the 2006 war. Moreover, emboldened by successive Israeli governments' refusal to lift a finger against Hizbullah, the Iranian-proxy trained, funded and directed Fatah terror cells in Judea, Samaria and Gaza in their attacks against Israel.
In Gaza, the Sharon government first enacted the one-sided cease-fire with Palestinian terror groups led by Fatah in June 2003. In exchange Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas promised to take action against Hamas and Islamic Jihad rocket squads. Of course he never did. And of course, all Palestinian terror factions used the cease-fire to rebuild their forces and expand the range of their rockets – at the time from six to eight kilometers to 15-17, placing Ashkelon under attack from the first time.
ISRAEL FINALLY decided to end
its non-aggression pledge in the aftermath of a joint Hamas-Islamic jihad massacre of 20 children and their parents travelling on a bus on their way home from the Western Wall in August 2003. The response involved taking out a Hamas terror commander in Gaza.
Not surprisingly, supported by Egypt, the EU and the Israeli media, all Palestinian terror groups were quick to blame Israel for ending the "truce." The unilateral cease-fire strategy in Gaza was never replaced by a plan to have the "international community" deploy forces to defend Israel. This was the case mainly because no one ever expressed any interest in sending forces to Gaza. In the absence of a foreign deus ex machina to save the country, Ariel Sharon, Olmert and Livni decided to follow the path blazed by Barak in Lebanon and simply surrender Gaza to the terrorists.
Before the government sends IDF forces into harm's way to put on a pre-election show for the public and invite an international force to come to Gaza and protect Hamas from the IDF, the public would do well to consider whether we are truly limited to repeating failed strategies over and over again. Is there perhaps an option other than failure we could choose?
The answer to that question is yes. There is an alternative strategy, and it has already been tried. And it succeeded. That strategy is the strategy of victory adopted in Judea and Samaria during Operation Defensive Shield in 2002.
In Defensive Shield, IDF forces were sent into Palestinian terror centers with orders to defeat enemy forces. And they did. In succeeding months and years, IDF forces were ordered to remain in place and prevent enemy forces from rebuilding their capacity. As the absence of rocket arsenals in Judea and Samaria and the near disappearance of suicide bombers from Israeli cities shows, the strategy has worked.
THE PROBLEM with repeating the successful strategy used in Defensive Shield in either Gaza or Lebanon is that doing so would require politicians to admit that they have made mistakes. Livni, Olmert and Barak have all based their careers on their advocacy of the view that Israel must not "occupy" land to defend itself, but rather should subcontract its security to peace treaties, to its enemies and to Europeans and Americans.
They cannot implement a strategy that requires them to recognize that the price of defending ourselves is smaller than the price of surrendering our security to our enemies. Doing so would be tantamount to acknowledging that they have led the country astray. And as they demonstrate through their stubborn maintenance of tried and failed strategies, this is something they will not do.
But then, as Ya'alon noted in his radio interview Monday, that's why Israel is lucky to be a democracy. On February 10 we will have the opportunity to make clear our view that leaders who have failed cannot be trusted to clean up their messes.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.