The marginalized commentators who dared to question the wisdom of the former prime minister’s strategy have, sadly, been proven correct. So why, then, is Israel once again acting foolishly, if not irresponsibly?
The ceasefire agreement that Israel accepted Wednesday night to end the current round of Palestinian rocket and missile attacks is not a good deal for Israel by any stretch of the imagination.
At best, Israel and Hamas are placed on the same moral plane. The ceasefire erases the distinction between Israel, a peace-seeking liberal democracy that wants simply to defend its citizens from molestation, and Hamas, a genocidal jihadist terrorist outfit that seeks the eradication of the Jewish people and the destruction of Israel.
Under international law, Israel is not just within its rights to defend itself from Hamas. It is required to. International law requires all states to treat Hamas terrorists as criminals and deny them safe haven and financing. But the ceasefire agreement requires both the Israeli policeman and the Hamas criminal to hold their fire.
At worst, the ceasefire places Israel beneath Hamas. The first two clauses require both sides to end hostilities. The third suggests Israel is expected to make further concessions to Hamas after the firing stops.
Then there is the ceasefire’s elevation of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood government to the role of responsible adult. Hamas is the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi openly supports Hamas. Morsi sent his Prime Minister Hesham Kandil to Gaza to personally express the Egyptian government’s support for Hamas’s criminal assault against Israeli civilians.
Over the weekend Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood held what the media claimed was a stormy meeting. Its members were split over what to do about Israel. Half wanted to go to war with Israel immediately. The other half called for waiting until the Egyptian military is prepared for war. In the end, the voices calling for patient preparation for war won the day.
And for their patience, the Muslim Brothers received the plaudits of the US government. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her boss President Barack Obama were effusive in their praise of the Egyptian government, and joined Egypt in placing Israel on the same moral plane as a terrorist group.
Moreover, Obama and Clinton compelled Israel to accept wording in the ceasefire that arguably makes Egypt the arbiter of Israeli and Palestinian compliance with the agreement. Aside from the administration’s de facto support for the Hamas regime in Gaza, it is hard to think of a greater humiliation than Israel being forced to submit complaints to its sworn enemy about the actions of the sworn enemy’s terrorist client.
And yet, for all of that, it isn’t clear that Israel had a better option than to sign on the dotted line. Israel might have gotten better results if Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak had ordered the ground forces poised at the border to take out a few Hamas ground installations. It certainly would make sense for Israel to end Gaza’s electricity supply. But as it stands today, a full blown ground invasion in the mold of the 2002 Defensive Shield Operation, where Israel seized control of Judea and Samaria from Palestinian terror groups and reasserted its security control over the Palestinian areas so ending the Palestinian terror onslaught against Jerusalem and central Israel was not in the cards.
Israel is in a strategic trap. And it is one of its own making. Starting with the Rabin-Peres government’s decision to embrace the PLO terrorist organization as a peace partner in 1993 Israel has been in strategic retreat. Each incremental retreat by Israel has empowered its worst enemies both militarily and diplomatically and weakened the Jewish State militarily and diplomatically.
In May 2000, following years of political agitation by the radical Left, then-premier Ehud Barak ordered the IDF to retreat from Israel’s security zone in south Lebanon. Hezbollah immediately seized control over the border area. Within months it kidnapped and killed three IDF soldiers and held them for ransom – hiding the fact that they had been murdered. The same Barak-led government that withdrew the IDF from south Lebanon was loath to acknowledge the failure of its policy and so did nothing when the three soldiers were kidnapped.
Within six years, Hezbollah was strong enough to launch an all-out missile war against Israel.
Facing them was the government that had just carried out the withdrawal from Gaza. Ariel Sharon’s heirs, Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni‘s governing strategy was based on surrendering land and demonizing as warmongers those who opposed surrendering land. When Hezbollah attacked Israel in July 2006, Olmert and Livni were in no position to order a serious ground invasion of Lebanon. And since that was the only way to win the war, Israel lost the war, paving the way for Hezbollah’s subsequent takeover of the Lebanese government.
As for that withdrawal from Gaza, just like the phony peace process with the PLO and the strategically demented withdrawal from south Lebanon, the withdrawal from Gaza was a self-evidently insane policy. It was obvious that it would lead to the strengthening of Palestinian terrorist groups and so put Israel’s population centers in striking range of their missiles.
After both the Oslo process and the withdrawal from Lebanon left Israel strategically and diplomatically weakened, with its politicians, generals and its very existence brought before international tribunals and targeted by diplomatic pogroms, there was no basis for the empty claim that by withdrawing from Gaza, Israel would gain international legitimacy to defend itself.
By leaving Gaza, Israel was saying – as it had in Lebanon – that it had no right to be there. And if it had no right to be there, it had no right to return.
To force this mad initiative through, Sharon had to explicitly disavow the platform he was elected to implement. Sharon won the 2003 elections by pledging never to surrender Gaza. After he betrayed his voters, Sharon demonized and, when possible fired everyone in positions of power and influence who opposed him.
He called a referendum of Likud members to vote on his plan, and when his opponents won the vote overwhelmingly, he ignored it. He fired Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya’alon, then IDF Chief of General Staff. He fired his cabinet ministers. He castigated as “rebels” his party members who opposed his plan.
Moreover, with the active collusion of the legal system, Sharon violently repressed his political opponents. Young girls were thrown into jail without trial for months for participating in anti-withdrawal demonstrations. Privately chartered buses en route to lawful demonstrations were interdicted by police and prevented from travelling. Protest organizers were arrested in their homes at 3 am. And with the active collusion of the media, all debate on the merits of the withdrawal plan was stifled.
As bad as it was in Israel, the situation in the US was arguably even more devastating. Since Oslo, Israeli opponents of the Left’s strategic insanity were intellectually and politically buoyed by their conservative counterparts in America. The latter helped legitimize political opposition and enabled the conceptualization and maintenance of alternative policies as viable options.
Despite government repression, some 45 percent of Israel’s Jewish population actively participated in anti-withdrawal protests. In the US, virtually no one supported them. The absence of opposition owed to the fact that in America withdrawal opponents were boycotted, demonized and blacklisted by the American Jewish community and the previously supportive conservative media.
During the years of the fake peace process, conservative US Jewish groups and conservative publications led by Commentary, The Weekly Standard and The Wall Street Journal forcefully opposed it. But when Sharon joined the radical Left by adopting its plan to withdraw from Gaza, these formidable outlets and institutions enthusiastically followed him.
Leading voices like former Jerusalem Post editor and Wall Street Journal editorial board member Bret Stephens, Commentary editors Norman Podhoretz and Neil Kozodoy, commentator Charles Krauthammer and Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol not only lined up to support the dangerous planned withdrawal. They barred all voices of opposition from the pages of their publications. To greater and lesser degrees, their shunning of voices that warned against the Gaza withdrawal continues to this day.
So too, with the exception of the Zionist Organization of America, every major American Jewish organization supported the withdrawal. Like the editors of Commentary, The Weekly Standard and The Wall Street Journal, they barred voices of opposition from speaking to their groups. All commentators who warned of the strategic calamity that would befall Israel in the aftermath of a withdrawal from Gaza were marginalized and demonized as extremists.
In a notable gesture, this week, Stephens along with Commentary’s Max Boot, acknowledged their error in supporting the withdrawal from Gaza. Their recantations are noteworthy because most of their colleagues who joined them in pushing Israel down the garden path and cheered Sharon’s “democracy” as 8,500 Israelis were thrown out of their homes and off their land in order to free it up for a terrorist takeover, continue to deny that they were wrong to do so. But Stephens’ and Boot’s belated intellectual integrity on Gaza is not enough to make a difference for Israel today.
Israel has only two options for dealing with the ever escalating threat from Gaza. It can try to coexist with Hamas. This option is doomed to failure since Hamas seeks the annihilation of the Jewish people and the eradication of Israel. Recognizing this state of affairs, in a public opinion survey taken on Wednesday for Channel 2, 88 percent of Israelis said that a ceasefire with Hamas will either not hold at all or hold for only a short time. 74 percent of Israelis opposed accepting a ceasefire.
The other choice is to destroy Hamas. To accomplish this Israel will need to invade Gaza and remain in place. It will have to kill or imprison thousands of terrorists, send thousands more packing for Sinai, and then spend years patrolling the streets of Gaza and arresting terrorists just as it does today in Judea and Samaria.
Whereas the first option is impossible the latter option is not currently viable. It isn’t viable because not enough people making the argument have the opportunity to publish their thoughts in leading publications. Most of those who might have the courage to voice this view fear that if they do, they will be denied an audience, or discredited as warmongers or extremists. So they remain silent or impotently say that Israel shouldn’t agree to a ceasefire without mentioning what Israel’s other option is.
The millions of Israelis who opposed the withdrawal from Gaza do not seek personal vindication for being right. They didn’t warn against the withdrawal to advance their careers or make their lives easier. Indeed, their careers were uniformly harmed.
They did it because they were patriots. They felt it was their duty to warn their countrymen of the danger hoping to avert the disaster we now face. They should be listened to now. And their voices should be empowered by those who shunned them because only by listening to them will we develop the arguments and the legitimacy to do what needs to be done and stop fighting to lose, again and again and again.