Israel’s Learning Curve

It is a well-known characteristic of human beings that when faced with repetitive tasks, their performance in accomplishing these tasks tends to improve with time. In the aircraft industry this phenomenon is known as the “learning curve.”


(A version of this column appeared in Haaretz on July 9, 2002.)

It is a well-known characteristic of human beings that when faced with repetitive tasks, their performance in accomplishing these tasks tends to improve with time. In the aircraft industry this phenomenon is known as the “learning curve” – the more aircraft that are built, the more efficient production becomes.

In the month of September 2000, Yasser Arafat launched a war of terror against Israel. For the past 22 months, Israel has been faced with the day-to-day task of combating Palestinian terrorism and winning the war. Israel’s government and the Israel Defense Forces have been on a learning curve. There is no doubt that Israel’s performance has improved over the months of warfare, but considering the elapsed time, the hundreds of Israeli casualties and the extensive cumulative damage to the Israeli economy, it would seem that the learning curve’s slope is too flat: We’re learning too slowly, and at great cost.

For many months, the Israeli war against Palestinian terror was focused on the pinpoint targeting of individual terrorists, while the absence of responses to major terrorist outrages was explained by government announcements that restraint was an expression of power and would presumably be understood as such by the Palestinians. Only after many months and hundreds of Israeli casualties, only after the Passover massacre in Netanya did the government realize that Israel was at war and that the IDF would have to engage in large-scale action in the areas under control of the Palestinian Authority.

During Operation Defensive Shield, the cynics and skeptics learned that the IDF was capable of carrying out operations in Palestinian urban areas, that such operations substantially reduced the level of Palestinian terrorism and the number of its victims, and that much of the world showed an understanding for Israel’s need to defend itself.

It took the resurgence of Palestinian terrorism in Israel’s cities after the IDF’s withdrawal to learn that such a transient operation was insufficient and that if Israel’s citizens were to be protected, an extended, massive IDF presence in Palestinian cities and villages was required. After 22 months, Israel has belatedly come to grips with reality. Hopefully, the learning process is not going to end here.

Israel is not built for a war of attrition. Some 22 months of Palestinian violence have caused serious cumulative damage to Israel’s economy. The numerous acts of terror perpetrated in Israel’s cities, on the roads and in the settlements of Judea, Samaria and Gaza have affected the sense of personal security of Israelis everywhere. Although morale has kept up remarkably well, if all that Israelis have to look forward to is an indefinite continuation of this war, even the country’s spirit is liable to be damaged. It should be clear that the war must be brought to a close by a decisive military victory.

The success of Israel’s military operations has resulted in demands for reform of the Palestinian Authority – a need that is addressed by the United States, the Europeans and even the Palestinians themselves. But all realize that this Palestinian Authority, under Arafat’s leadership, is unwilling and incapable of carrying out such reforms. If the war is to be brought to an end this leadership will have to go. Wars are won by toppling the leadership that started the hostilities. It is not going to be any different in this case.

But even before there has been any change in the Palestinian leadership, the government has now begun discussing an easing of the restrictions imposed on the Palestinian population. As difficult and unpleasant as these restrictions are, they are the inevitable outcome of the wave of violence the Palestinians have started and they should not be eased until the war is won. One wonders if some ministers in the government have not fallen off the learning curve.

The accommodation with the Palestinians that all are seeking will not come until such time as a decisive victory is scored, until the present Palestinian leadership is overthrown. Only a new leadership that has accepted the futility of violence and terror will be a partner for negotiating an accommodation with Israel. A leadership that has learned that violence can only bring ruin and disaster to the Palestinian population will be in a position to combat Palestinian terrorists and set the scene for fruitful negotiations.

All wars must end, and so will this one. It will end only after Israel has scored a decisive military victory and the present Palestinian leadership has been overthrown.



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