Repeating failure in Gaza

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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.

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  • Marcel Cousineau 12/23/2008 at 0:54

    All I hear from the Israeli leadership is empty threats that no one believes any more.
    They think their talk will bring the enemy to surrender and think the people they rule over are so stupid to believe them.
    Their arrogance is criminal.
    I can’t even look at the faces of Peres, Barak,Livni or Olmert without disgust and revulsion and wonder how far Israel has fallen to have such evil,incompetent trash like this in position to self destruct the nation unchallenged.
    Knowing there is a God is my only stability in such unstable times.
    Neville Chamberlain has been outdone in our day by the sons of the Holocaust.
    I seriously doubt that an election will change much in Israel. All the major parties put serving foreign interests above Israel’s security and there is no leader strong enough to stand firm and say no for more than a few hours before capitulating to minimal pressure.
    The saddest part of my long relationship with Israel is how spinless and weak the nation has become.Without fail Israel has under Likud,Labor and Kadima retreated from every red line they ever had.
    There is a deep spiritual malaise in the land where the people only want to be loved by the goyim and be like them in every way.
    This is the end result of dancing atound the golden calf.
    Their willingness to surrender so easily and failure to stand firm like their enemies do is a death sentence for the nation.
    If you are not willing to fight now and think a Feburary election will magically change anything ,you are mistaken.
    The restraint agianst Israel will only grow more severe than it is already.
    Netanyahu will fold quicker than the bulldozer did.
    The UN,EU,US have been making sure for many years now that israel never defeats another Arab army. It’s very bad for the global system and so Israel is restrained in 101 ways.
    The number 1 way Israel is restrained is by making sure only weak and suppine leaders become Prime Minister in Israel.
    I would not be surprised if Netanyahu got his orders to dump Feiglin directly from the U.S. government which has corraled and neutered the once proud and powerful Israel.
    You have to cut the leash and trust in Hashem alone because until you do nothing will ever change.
    Another Israeli lap dog politician who takes his orders from Washington waits in the wings to take Israel further down the hole to hell.
    After so many wars with Israel defeating the Arab armies who have lost face,the U.S. has leveled the playing field to give the Arabs a chance to win one for their gipper,allah.
    I sure hope Israel ends her naive and gulliable mentality as she is led to the slaughter by crafty and evil leaders like Bush who destroy her by peace.

  • Marc Handelsman, USA 12/23/2008 at 2:12

    Operation Defensive Shield in 2002 succeeded because the leadership had the will to win. The current government lacks the necessary fortitude to win and hold territory. Unfortunately, the current leadership has no statesmen with gravitas, just professional politicians. Until Likud retakes the premiership, Kadima will continue with strategic blunders that imperil Israel. Hamas has Beersheva and many beautiful cities on its target list. It’s time for the amateurs to leave public service and let experienced people run the government. Kadima has been an utter failure, and its demise couldn’t come sooner.

  • Fon Grandinetti, USA 12/23/2008 at 5:17

    Caroline, you are right on. This current government could make a movie called “All the wrong moves”.
    First of all they failed to recognize the enemy and their ambitions and to deal with them accordingly.
    Forget the Palestinian government, that is a poor excuse for a government. The Hama’s terrorist organization is calling the shots.
    Israel has to move from a weak defensive posture to a strong offense. Forget world opinion . Did you notice any Arab nation or any other government for that matter, condemn Hama’s from sending rockets into Israel? No, forget the UN, That body can’t hold its head up straight. It’s merely a body of words, no action. A place where speeches are made, votes taken and do nothing.
    Israel has to take the initiative to take out the enemy. Forget Egypt, Syria, Jordan or any other windbag Arab country, they will not interfere. They don’t relish having their butts kicked again, they prefer the terrorist organizations to do their dirty work.
    Israel, should and can defeat her enemies. I believe the American people along with her counterparts, those of GB support any action Israel takes to protect her sovereignty and will demand their respective governments to provide any assistance including coming to her defense should any other country interfere.
    The citizens of Israel will have their say in the upcoming election. Let’s pray they are tired of being pushed around and elect the government that will put an end to this constant harassment from her enemies.

  • Master of Obvious 12/23/2008 at 8:45

    There has to be a corollary to land for peace. How about land for war. For each rocket fired take and clear a 100 meter strip of land. 400 rockets later, problem solved.

  • Dan 12/23/2008 at 9:18

    What’s a new administration going to do, at least concerning the narrow subject of how to deal with Palestinians?
    Israelis are locked into the nonsenical notion that somehow, somewhere, ————- somebody or entity is going to mystically appear within the Palestinian community, and that person, grouping or entity is going to be willing to make peace with Israel, and reconcile themselves to Israel being a durable presence in the Mideast.
    Wishful thinking!
    It’s the brain dead statement we hear at the end of the Exodus movie, where Ari betrays some idea that he and his are entitled to live in peace.
    Nobody is entitled to anything.
    Absent a policy of depopulating Palestinian areas, either through buy outs or forced evictions, ————- nothing is going to happen.
    You’re still going to get hit.
    You’re still going to endure the frequent or episodic mass murder at a pizzaria, a disco, a shopping mall, an ice cream stand.
    Nothing is going to change.
    Except your will to resist, —————– which is fraying badly, and all across the world, everybody is noticing it.
    You’re desperate for peace, and that desperation is increasingly squalid.
    It’s a squalid, mad scramble to come to some worthless agreement with somebody.
    Do what you will with Gaza, ———— rest assured the American people aren’t going to shed a tear for the Palestinians therein.
    The Palestinians have bought into blood, into carnage.
    If given the choice between a free and prosperous society, or one that’s a dung heap, but a dung heap that is surrounded with the ligature of dead Israelis, which of us has any doubt which option they would uniformly select.
    Stop all the delusion about the peace process, about the various modalities, the various conferences, —————– it’s all going nowhere fast.
    Embrace the hard realism of your forefathers; stop allowing terror armies to fortify redoubts along your northern and southern borders, and go after your enemies!

  • Philippe Ohlund 12/23/2008 at 13:56

    Merry Christmas, Caroline! 🙂

  • Moshe 12/23/2008 at 14:44

    To simply direct your lines at the Anglo-Saxon readers in Israel and abroad is either “preaching to the converted” or pure philosophizing. Your clear and sane message must reach a wider, ISRAELI audience if we are to achieve a change in government. Latest polls show Likud and Kadima running neck-and-neck. It is astounding that you, fluent and coherent in Hebrew, and previously published in Hebrew, are not being heard by confused, leader-intoxicated Hebrew-speakers. Why, for example, is the Post (the free, Hebrew version of the JPost) not publishing your columns? But, hey, don’t limit yourself! 6 weeks away from a general election, you have to open all the stops.
    I venture to suggest that among your readership there are whole groups of people who would very willingly help to spread the word to the Hebrew-speakers in forums, blogs, twitter, what have you.
    The born, mixed-up Israelis who have blind faith in their leaders, are the group that needs to be re-educated.
    Go, Caroline!

  • rock_rega 12/26/2008 at 5:37

    Moshe is sooooo right. I cannot think of a bigger disaster for this country then a new government that will continue the present mindset. Seeing from where you are coming (as I am from the exact same place, but 10 years before you) I assume that you are extremely concerned for what may happen on Feb10. You must appear in the opinion columns of Maariv, Yediot and Yisrael Hayom. (Yisrael Haayom especially as I see how it is freely distributed every day on the train an all over Tel Aviv). I see many friends of mine, for whom anything right of Kadima/Labor is anathema, considering going to the right this time. They are very borderline, they want to but it is difficult for them to admit the total failure from Oslo until today and the criticality to change course.
    The media, especially in Israel, is a major player that can win elections, wars and influence decisions and actions on the ground.
    Columns like yours, placed in the right places, can make a difference.


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