I do not understand the Israelis who are eager for a U.S. attack on Syria. They are confused, willing to be at the receiving end of missiles and, down the road, the object of tremendous diplomatic pressure – to “prove” America’s balanced approach to the Middle East – just to preserve the U.S. hegemony in our region.
These people suffer from a blurred sense of identity. It diffuses their ability to identify an Israeli interest that is independent from, and not contingent upon, an American interest. I have the utmost respect for the U.S., but Israel must be able to look in the mirror without seeing stars and stripes.
Yitzhak Shamir, of blessed memory, was perhaps the best Israeli leader since David Ben-Gurion. Nonetheless, Shamir made a serious strategic mistake under circumstances similar to those we are currently facing. Five years ago, I wrote a column explaining why his actions were so detrimental to Israel. That 2008 column (see below) provides fresh insight into Israel’s current position. (The column was translated from the Hebrew version, which appeared in Makor Rishon.)
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Shamir’s Blunder Nobody really expected Israel to react to the rockets fired on the town of Shlomi last week. And they were right. Israel is not going to retaliate.
From the end of the War of Independence in 1949 and until the First Gulf War in 1991, Israel’s civilian population was out of bounds. Israel had created a balance of fear that dictated that shelling its civilian population was not an option and would lead to all-out war. When the Syrians shelled Israeli towns in 1967, Israel retaliated by conquering the Golan Heights.
But in the First Gulf War, under intense pressure from Israel’s Left, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir reversed two strategic principles that Israel had carefully preserved until then. The first principle was that only Israeli soldiers would be responsible for Israel’s security. The second principle was that the attack of Israel’s civilian population is completely unacceptable. When Iraqi Scud missiles rained down on Israel’s cities, Israel opted to hide behind the broad shoulders of the American and British soldiers, move U.S. Patriot missiles into strategic locations, and, of course, to instruct its citizens to cover all windows with sheets of plastic and masking tape.
Shamir enjoyed the support of the media, academia and Left for a time. No commission of inquiry was established to investigate the mistakes made in that strange war. By the grace of our Father in Heaven, there were very few Israeli fatalities and nobody criticized Shamir’s strategic turnabout. There were no bereaved families to point an accusing finger at the leader of the Right who had sacrificed their dear ones’ lives in vain. There were no reserve soldiers to stage hunger strikes outside Shamir’s home and not one Knesset member or public figure demanded that he resign.
I claimed then – and support that claim even more so now – that Shamir’s blunder was even greater than Golda Meir’s in the Yom Kippur War. In that war, Israel did not lose its power of deterrence. But by the end of the First Gulf War, Israel found itself facing new rules. Israel had entrusted its security to foreign armies and it soon had to pay for its mistake in hard currency. The Madrid Conference, to which the Left pushed the hapless Shamir to attend, was in effect Israel’s unofficial doorway to recognition of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Shamir still attempted to stick to his principles by speaking only with Yasir Arafat’s representatives and not with Arafat himself. But the Israeli public – justifiably – did not bother with the nuances and elected Yitzhak Rabin to succeed Shamir. The Oslo process was on its way.
Approximately 1,500 civilians have already been murdered in the Oslo process – more than all the civilian terror fatalities that Israel had suffered from the establishment of the state and in the pre-state days. Oslo placed a question mark over Israel’s very right to exist. It was only a matter of time until missiles, mortars and rockets began to rain down on Israel’s towns and cities.
Since Shamir’s blunder his successors have followed suit, criminally ignoring the fact that Israel’s neighbors are arming themselves with strategic missiles. They have brought Israel to its knees, waiting for the merciful final blow of tens of thousands of conventional and non-conventional missiles that will lift off simultaneously from launchers in Syria, Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon and Gaza.
Iran, Syria and Egypt have developed an even more elegant way to fight Israel without threatening their own civilian populations. They fight by proxy. In the north, Iran and Syria use Hizbullah to fight Israel. In the south, Egypt uses Hamas for the same purpose. Maritime weapons smuggling has become a thing of the past. The Philadelphi Route that Israel abandoned when it withdrew from Gaza is wide open, and the entire region is flooded with high trajectory missiles. Israel knows that any serious military incursion into Gaza will trigger a steady barrage of missiles on Beersheba and Ashdod – and possibly a simultaneous round of missiles on the north.
Ultimately, Israel will have no choice but to restore the power of deterrence that it lost in the First Gulf War. But in the meantime, Israel has a two-pronged strategy for dealing with the threat to its existence. First, it has rolled out the red carpet for the American president, so that he will be kind enough to protect Israel after it surrenders Jerusalem. Second, it has provided its citizens with a glossy pamphlet explaining where to hide when the missiles strike.
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