Operation Cast Lead – Week III
Let us start with the good news. First, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has removed the stain of the 2006 Second Lebanon War. The Winograd Commission found drastic failures in both the political echelons and the command level of the IDF. But it also found that troops on the ground had lacked the commitment to the completion of the “the mission” at all costs that had always distinguished the IDF.
By contrast, the IDF has, by all accounts, performed admirably in Gaza. Though Defense Minister Ehud Barak has received most of the credit (if polls showing a sharp jump in support for the Labor Party are any indication), the true hero of the war so far is Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi. The ground forces have had clearly defined missions – something totally absent in Lebanon – and have consistently achieved their objectives as scheduled or even in advance of schedule. Both regular soldiers and reservists have been well-trained and equipped for fighting in tight urban environments.
Though it is forbidden to ever refer to Jewish casualties as light, it is safe to say that the ten soldiers killed in action so far (four by friendly fire) is far less than Israel’s political leaders feared when they delayed endlessly in responding to Hamas missile attacks. And that number of casualties is remarkably low considering that the ground action is taking place on Hamas’s turf, which they have carefully prepared in anticipation of an Israeli ground action with huge networks of underground tunnels and booby-trapped buildings. It is also low in comparison to the number of Hamas fighters killed in direct confrontations.
The intelligence services have also acquitted themselves well in two respects. First in identifying targets for Israeli bombers and helicopters, including three mosques being used as weapons repositories. Military expert Edward Luttwak writes that Israel’s success in identifying non-high contrast targets indicates that it has had considerable help from Palestinians in Gaza, perhaps disaffected Fatah members. The second intelligence success has been in the ability to get useful information to the troops in the field in real time – again, something which the Winograd Commission found was woefully lacking in Lebanon.
NEVERTHELESS, it makes no difference how well the IDF fights if the political echelon lacks purpose or the means to translate the IDF’s successes into concrete political gains. At least at the rhetorical level, Israel’s leaders have been sufficiently resolute. Foreign Minister Tzippy Livni told a group of European foreign ministers, “We don’t sign agreements with terror; we fight terror. The equation of Israeli restraint for Hamas terror must change.”
After the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 1850 calling for an immediate ceasefire last Thursday night, Prime Minister Olmert’s response was suitably blunt: “Israel has never let an external body decide its right to protect the security of its citizens.” Of course, he received an assist from Hamas, which announced that it also rejected the U.N.’s ceasefire resolution and proved it by firing more missiles into Israel.
Beneath the tough rhetoric, however, there is a division between Prime Minister Olmert, on the one hand, who wants to continue and broaden the military action, and Foreign Minister Livni and Defense Minister Barak, who believe that a ceasefire at this point could help Israel consolidate its gains. The failure of the political leaders to agree on a clear course of action concerns the IDF, for as the IDF learned in Lebanon, an army is never so vulnerable as when it is at rest.
At this particular stage, the outcome of Operation Cast Lead is impossible to gauge. The minimal Israeli goal is to ensure that as soon as fighting ends that Hamas not be able to immediately resume the smuggling of arms in tunnels under the Philadelphi Corridor. In the recent six-month ceasefire, Hamas succeeded in bringing in many of the longer-range missiles that have now brought the citizens of Beersheba, Ashdod, and Ashkelon within missile range of Gaza, just like the residents of Sderot. Hamas will attempt to bring in yet longer-range missiles as soon as the pressure is off.
While Israeli bombers have taken out fifty or so tunnels under the Philadelphi Corridor, there are estimated to be at least 200 still intact. Even if Israel were able to successfully destroy all the remaining tunnels – a far from easy task – they would quickly be dug again absent a determined effort to prevent that from happening. And it is those mechanisms that are not yet in place.
One thing is clear: Egypt cannot or will not stop the smuggling of its own volition. Just last week, Egypt’s Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit denied that weapons entered Gaza via the Egyptian-controlled Philadelphi Corridor. If Egypt is unwilling to admit the problem, it is obviously unable to cure it.
Henry Kissinger once declared that in an asymetrical confrontation between a regular army and guerilla forces, “the conventional army loses if it does not win; the guerilla wins if it does not lose.” Thus Hizbullah was widely perceived in the Arab world and elsewhere as having “won” the Second Lebanon War because it was still able to rain 300 missiles on Israel the day the fighting ended. And if Hamas is able to do the same thing, former Defense Minister Moshe Arens wrote in Ha’aretz, then much of the world will be convinced that it won. That, in turn, will send its prestige and that of its Iranian patron skyrocketing in the Muslim world. For that reason, Iran has ordered Hamas to refuse to accept an Egyptian-mediated ceasefire and to keep fighting.
While the fighting so far has done much to restore Israel’s deterrence, and to remove the impression that gained currency in the Arab and Persian world after Lebanon that Israel has grown soft and can be defeated, the way in which the fighting ends will determine the degree to which Israel’s deterrent power has been buttressed.
The bottom line, writes Charles Krauthamer, is that Israel cannot afford for Operation Cast Lead to end with the same phony peace as the Second Lebanon War did – i.e., with an arms embargo to be enforced by international peacekeepers who abjure the use of force and who allow arms to pour into Gaza. In Lebanon, he point out, the international force not only failed to prevent Hizbullah from doubling its previous armaments; it also made it impossible for Israel to take any preventative action. If that precedent applies to Gaza, he predicted, Israel could at most buy a couple of years before Hamas rockets began landing in Tel Aviv and force the closure of Ben-Gurion Airport.
THE MOST DISTRESSING DEVELOPMENT LAST WEEK, apart from the Israeli casualties, took place not on the battlefield but on the diplomatic front. On Thursday night, the U.N. Security Council passed resolution 1850 calling for an immediate cease fire. Most shocking of all, the United States abstained rather than vetoing the resolution, which Israel strenuously opposed. Only a last minute phone call from Prime Minister Olmert to President Bush secured even that much. A cease fire at that juncture would have left Israel with no tangible gain from the fighting, and with Hamas able to claim that it had absorbed Israel’s best shot and survived – in Kissinger’s terms, a clear victory for Hamas.
Such a cease fire would have been a disaster not only for Israel but for virtually the entire world, for it would have strengthened Hamas and by strengthening Hamas strengthened Iran. Nothing could be more inimical to Fatah, which is engaged in a death struggle with Hamas. Egypt too has much to fear from Hamas, an offshoot of the Moslem Brotherhood, which is the greatest internal threat to Hosni Mubarak’s regime. Egypt, like all the Sunni-ruled Arab states, is deathly afraid of the expanding Iranian arc of influence via Hizbullah and Hamas. The Iranian potential for stirring up restive Shiite populations and releasing radical Islamic forces keeps the rulers of the Sunni states up at night. All this was manifest in repeated statements from both Fatah and Egypt laying the blame on Hamas for having recklessly created a humanitarian disaster in Gaza.
The Europeans too have a great deal to fear both from a nuclear Iran and from increasingly radicalized Islamic populations within their borders. In recent years, a growing number of Europeans have begun to acknowledge that a clash of civilizations with Islam is in the making. And finally, the United States has every interest in Iran’s prestige in the Moslem world being dealt a blow and Iran weakened. The Wall Street Journal editorialized that the incoming Obama administration owes a great debt to Israel for having weakened Iran prior to negotiations over the future of Iran’s nuclear program.
So, in point of fact, almost none of those nations voting for Resolution 1850 actually hoped to see it implemented. Rather they voted for it out of various political calculations: the Arab countries did not wish to be labelled as Israel’s toadies by the Arab street; the Europeans were trying to placate their own Moslem populations and “humanitarian” demonstrators in the street. In that situation, it was up to the United States to inject a level of sensibility to the proceedings and to stop its allies from doing something really stupid. That the United States totally failed to do. The sponsorship of the West of the resolution betokens a lack of resolve and even instinct for self-preservation that is to likely to come back to bite it in the back.
By calling on Israel to immediately cease all military activities, even prior to have achieved any of its political goals, the Resolution failed on the criterion that President Bush had enunciated from the start of Operation Cast Lead: the need for a sustainable cease fire, including an end to weapons smuggling into Gaza. The resolution contained a number of other disturbing developments. It makes no mention of Hamas or even of Israel’s right of self-defense. It expresses its concern over the humanitarian situation in Gaza but none over that in Israel brought about by 8,000 rocket attacks since 2000. The resolution neither calls upon Hamas to do anything in the future nor mentions past actions that led to Operation Cast Lead, thereby reinforcing the view that the Israeli action is disproportionate and out-of-the-blue.
By calling for the opening of crossing points into Gaza, the resolution seemed to treat the closure of those crossing points as a wrong on the level of Hamas missile attacks on Israel, and the opening of the closings as a quid quo pro for the cessation of the rocketing of Israel. Yet Israel is under no legal obligation to trade with Gaza, and certainly not to supply Hamas with goods while under fire from Gaza. Nor did the resolution make reference to the fact that one of the principal reasons for the closure of the crossings was that Palestinian suicide bombers turned them into preferred venues.
Western officials repeatedly acknowledged Israel’s right to self-defense while expressing their “grave concern” over Palestinian civilian casualties. Yet not one offered any suggestions as to how Israel might defend itself against those who willfully place their rocket launchers in residential buildings and turn civilians into shields. By focusing to such a degree on civilian casualties, the West becomes a witting or unwitting accomplice to those casualties by reinforcing Hamas in its strategy of using its own population as shields while conducting attacks on Israel.
THERE IS MORE THAN a vague whiff of hypocrisy in Western expressions of humanitarian concern. No Western nation would tolerate a single missile attack on its civilian population, much less 8,000, without response, and each of them knows it. NATO bombers killed far more civilians in Serbia than Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, and the number of civilians killed by Soviet troops in Chechnya exceeds 100,000, and is likely to twice that. Yet these civilian casualties never became the subject Security Council debate, much less urgent, middle of the night resolutions.
The U.N. sat by helpless while nearly one million Tutsis were slaughtered in Rwanda, and the death of 300,000-400,000 black Moslems in Darfur has never merited condemnation by the United Nations Human Rights Council. Indeed the outpouring of humanitarian concern for a few hundred Palestinian dead in Gaza exceeds anything heard about hundreds of thousands in Darfur.
The number of Moslems killed in Gaza – or even in all Israeli military action since the founding of the state – is dwarfed by the number of Moslems killed by their fellow Moslems in the Algerian civil war and the Iraq-Iran War. Syria killed sixty times more of its own Moslem population in Hama in a single week than Israel has killed in Gaza. Even the number of Moslems killed by Tamil guerillas in Sri Lanka is much greater. But these Moslem deaths merit no attention, no outcry.
Why? Because only civilian deaths, even Moslem deaths, involving Israel merit attention, much less an outpouring of moralizing. Last week Jeff Jacoby published a piece called “Yes, its anti-Semitism” in the Boston Globe. He quoted extensively from the kind of slogans being shouted and posters hoisted at anti-Israel rallies: “Jews to the gas”; “Back to the ovens.” Even if we grant that most of those doing the shouting are Moslems, and even if we further grant (which I don’t) that Moslems don’t count, what is truly disturbing is how little protest those slogans and chants have elicited from fellow anti-Israel demonstrators.
But the total disconnect between the standards applied to Israel and those applied to any other nation, and the unfathomable disparity in outrage about civilians killed by Israel and those killed by other nations lacking Israel’s excuse of acting against terrorists operating out of schools, hospitals, and mosques, speaks volumes more about the state of contemporary anti-Semitism than do the blatantly anti-Semitic slogans and placards. For those expressions of moral outrage and disparate standards can only be explained by Jew hatred, and their proliferation demonstrates just how far that hatred has permeated Western elites.
This article appeared in the Yated Ne’eman on Wednesday, 14 January, 2009.