Seven years ago the Israeli government decided to forcibly evict the Jewish residents of Gaza and withdraw all bases and forces from the area. The experts, some with the government and some with the media, assured everyone that it would be for the best and that withdrawal would actually improve the security situation in the country.
It was put about that resources and lives were being wasted protecting Israelis living in Gaza, while those Israelis insisted that their presence in Gaza was protecting Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The experts laughed at them. Now the experts are keeping an ear open for air raid sirens because as it turned out, those farmers and teachers, those men and women growing lettuce in greenhouses and building homes on hilltops, from which rockets are being launched, were the ones protecting Tel Aviv.
“They are now being asked to relinquish these accomplishments for the greater good,” the government press release said of their houses and farms, of their synagogues and greenhouses. And the greater good was served. The greenhouses were turned into Hamas training camps and the synagogues were burnt to the ground. Rockets fly into the air from the ruins of broken houses.
No longer will your sons have to die in Gaza, the experts said. A month later rockets were falling on Sderot. A year later Gilad Shalit had been kidnapped and Israeli soldiers were back again, dying in a Gaza that was now run by Hamas.
Among the bundle of promises from the Sharon government, was that the Gaza withdrawal was part of an oral agreement with the United States limiting further withdrawals and concessions. That agreement lasted for another few years until Obama took office and no one in his administration could ever remember such an agreement or accept its validity.
“The moment of truth has arrived,” Netanyahu said, on resigning from the Sharon government. “At the moment of truth, a man – especially a leader – must ask himself: ‘What are you doing, what do you stand for, what are you fighting for?'”
These moments of truth come fast and furious in Israel, but hardly anyone waits around for an answer. Not even Netanyahu, who knows better.
Hamas’ objectives have always been straightforward. Its commanders and suicide bombers, its militia members, bomb experts, smugglers, launchers and embezzlers know what they are fighting for.
“Our struggle against the Jews is extremely wide-ranging and grave,” the Hamas charter says. “Israel, by virtue of its being Jewish and of having a Jewish population, defies Islam and the Muslims.” It has the simplicity that you would expect from the Muslim Brotherhood, a fascist organization that drew equal inspiration from the Koran and Nazism.
What however is Israel fighting for? Since Oslo, the slogan of Israeli moderate conservatives has been “Peace with Security” even though it was quite clear that you could pursue peace and have neither peace nor security, or you could pursue security and have peace. Their slogan was muddled and their policies even more so.
Israel may have superior firepower, but like most Western countries, its policymakers are too muddled to be able to apply that firepower in a useful way. The limited scale warfare that has been adopted by America, including drone assassinations and extensive security measures, came out of Israel’s futile efforts to find a more humanitarian style of warfare that would limit civilian and military casualties. But all that these measures really did was make life with terror more manageable.
Withdrawals and a variety of defensive measures such as Iron Dome made it seem like Israel could maintain the status quo. Peace with Security meant no peace and no security, but enough of the illusion of both that it would seem as if the slogan had been fulfilled. Suicide bombings dropped and the terrorists were forced to resort to rocket attacks and drive-by shootings with much lower casualty rates. Rates so low that those who didn’t live in Sderot or Samaria could ignore them.
Instead of ending the threat, Israeli conservatives had found a way to live with the pain of terrorism while turning their focus to economic reforms. The left with its emphasis on finding a permanent solution through appeasement and withdrawals was discredited and collapsed. But the problem had not gone away.