Calling a war a war

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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


of Attrition.


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


the Galilee.


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


conventional arenas.


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.


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