Israel has a new Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, who was never a general or a senior officer in the IDF. It also has a new Defense Minister in Amir Peretz, another man who has little senior or overall military experience. Both men were officers in the IDF, but of course, this bears little relationship to the type of senior level military experience brought to their PM roles by Sharon, Rabin, Barak, and even Netanyahu who served in the Sayeret Matkal, Israel’s most important commando force.
Israel also has a new Chief of Staff, Dan Halutz, who for the first time in Israel’s history comes from the air force and not from infantry.
In recent weeks, Israel has suffered two significant setbacks as the IDF has watched attacks from Hamas and Hizbullah, respectively, overwhelm small IDF forces with quick surprise assaults. In both cases, soldiers died, three today at the Lebanon border by Hizbullah’s hands and two in the hands of Hamas at Kerem Shalom outside the Gaza border.
It has been clear for a while that both Hizbullah and Hamas receive funding, support and guidance from both Syria and Iran. However, the groups shilling for them represent the greater immediate danger and Israel is now launching an offensive intended to attack these two groups. While there are now three kidnapped soldiers held by these terrorist groups, it is becoming apparent that Israel believes they will be kept alive because of their importance for prisoner exchanges, even as Israel attacks their captor groups.
And Israel is now on the attack. While they have been gentle in their attack on Gaza, their attack on Lebanon will be far harsher. In both cases, we are seeing a response to ongoing smaller attacks by these groups finally tackled in large operations by the IDF. I believe something else we are seeing is Israeli leaders responding to what seems to be more than just attacks by these enemies. The men leading Israel are being tested by Iran, Syria and their vassal groups, Hamas and Hizbullah. Their response will shape future attacks and strategies against Israel.
In this regard, it is important that Israel hit back hard and fast. Very hard and very fast. It should also do so as aggressively as it can. I opposed going into Gaza in the first place, believing it’s much harder to leave than it is to go in, but at this point the Arab strategy against Israel is becoming much clearer and there is no room for softness on the part of Israel. This is about deterrence, the perception of Israel’s fighting strength and ability, and flexing muscles that show to anybody seeking signs of vulnerability that – new leaders or not – Israel remains formidable and strong. Any signs of capitulation or weakness will be seen as vulnerability and an invitation to broader wars against Israel.
Let’s also make no mistake about these two attacks. In 2000, Israel vacated every last inch of Lebanon without any quid pro quo. In 2005, it vacated every last inch of Gaza. Both areas have governments in place, security forces, and non-governmental or quasi-governmental fighting forces and terrorist groups. By attacking Israel, these two governments have now forfeited any right to complain about the war they and their populations will encounter.
Along those lines, today a leader of the Al Aqsa Brigades – a Fatah off-shoot that is therefore related to both Fatah and Mahmud Abbas – announced they now have rocket firing capability in the West Bank. They are developing their own Qassem rockets and also smuggling them from Gaza. They intend to target Israeli towns and cities with these rockets.
Two things come from this story. The first is that Israel should permanently seal Gaza’s East side so that no vehicles or people from Gaza can enter Israel. In this way, the smuggling will be severely limited and maybe stopped completely. The second is that is’s time perhaps to listen to something Alan Dershowitz proposed a few years back. He suggested that Israel’s government should provide announcements that any time it is attacked by Palestinians, a Palestinian village in the West Bank or Gaza will be destroyed and then left barren. As I understand it, the clear and unequivocal advance warning prevents such action from violating international law (I would be glad to hear whether this is so or not from a knowledgeable source).
There is no room for any more rocket attacks or forgiveness for such attacks. These rockets are clear and unequivocal acts of war and there is no reason Israel should be held hostage to such attacks. If the Palestinians launch such attacks, the price exacted from the Palestinians should be very high. Start with the villages around Jerusalem and move Eastward. Provide ample time for the residents to leave the village and simply raze it subsequently. If there wasn’t direct and indirect Palestinian government support for these rocket attacks, they would not take place at all. I would think that after a couple of destroyed villages left barren forever, the rockets will stop coming. Same goes for Lebanon. If the Lebanese government is unwilling to control Hizbullah, then Israel should push them back as far from the border as possible. Removing villages would do that effectively and rapidly.
Of course, the best solution would be for Israel to figure out a technology that tracks and destroys these rockets, but until that day comes, the gloves should be off. It is incredible that after leaving this country and this territory Israel finds itself under attack, but if this is what the enemy wants, then it is time to fight back.
Something else to be considered is that Iran and Syria have now succeeded in changing the subject. Whereas only a few weeks ago, they were both in deep trouble internationally, Syria for its apparent assassination of former Lebanese PM Hariri and Iran for its nuclear program, they are now off the news and possibly off the list of primary concerns for the Europeans and America. This is precisely why Israel should make these operations move quickly and then leave both Gaza and Lebanon immediately thereafter. Israel should also be very watchful of the Syrians. In 1973 they successfully surprised Israel and some key forces, especially in the Hermon and Golan Heights. Syria should be left alone so as not to open another front, but warned sternly about repercussions if they do dare to act.