Forgot Everything, Learned Nothing

The battle must be taken into enemy territory, with the army taking over a strip of five to eight kilometers in the northern Gaza Strip. It is the only way to protect the population of Sderot and the western Negev.


By Moshe Arens

(A version of this column appeared in Haaretz on May 21, 2007.)

Experience is not everything despite the claims of some of the politicians currently aiming for the top job and advertising their qualifications. By now nobody in Israel has the experience in dealing with security crises that the Olmert-Peretz team has accumulated. They are the only ones to have run a war – the Second Lebanon War. Does that mean they are the best-qualified politicians to lead the nation at this critical time? Not only is their experience one of failure, but they have forgotten everything and learned nothing. In effect, they are starting from a clean slate, repeating their mistakes and learning at the expense of the people of Sderot. What is happening in Sderot these past few months is proof, if any was needed, of their incompetence.

The first mistake, still under Ariel Sharon’s stewardship, was the uprooting of the three Israeli settlements, Nisanit, Elei Sinai, and Dugit, at the northern tip of the Gaza Strip back in August 2005, which quickly turned into launching sites for rockets against Israel. The military imperative was to immediately return the Israel Defense Forces to these evacuated areas. But those responsible for the disengagement were not about to admit their mistake. So to this day some of the rockets being launched against Israel are being launched from this area. But not only from this area. The vast majority of the Qassam rockets being launched against Israel, and those that have turned Sderot into an embattled border outpost and terrorized its population, have a range of five to eight kilometers and are being launched from points at that distance from their targets.

What has already not been tried? Massive shelling by IDF artillery into empty areas in the Gaza Strip with no apparent results. Surgical strikes by the IAF against organizers and crews carrying out the rocket attacks, but the rocketing goes on. The agreement to a cease-fire by the IDF some months ago has permitted Hamas to increase its arsenal with impunity and train its forces in the intervening period, while Islamic Jihad continued the attacks. Now Hamas has joined them. Attempts to strengthen and arm the Fatah forces in the vain hope that they would stop the launching of rockets from the Gaza Strip have brought zero results.

So what is left? The tried and true two-part security doctrine enunciated by David Ben-Gurion. First, priority must be given to the protection of Israel’s civilian population; that comes before anything else. That is the mission of the IDF. Second, the battle must be taken into enemy territory. In this case it means the army taking over a strip of 5 to 8 kilometers in the northern Gaza Strip. The specious argument being offered by those opposing such action, that we already have been in the Gaza Strip and there were rocket launchings then as well, deliberately ignores the fact that no rockets were launched from areas under the control of the IDF, and that in an area under IDF control the IDF should be able to prevent such launchings. Can such an operation be carried out without casualties? Not very likely, but it is the only way to protect the population of Sderot and the western Negev. It will be more difficult now than it would have been six months ago before the recent buildup of Hamas forces, and it will be still more difficult six months from now. Better now than later.

As for those who can’t stop worrying about how we are going to exit the areas occupied by the IDF, I would suggest they adopt the age-old adage “first things first.” First, let’s provide protection for the inhabitants of Sderot; when and how to leave the area we occupy will depend on the behavior of the Palestinians.

The government’s inaction is an exact repeat of the mistakes of the Second Lebanon War. Not understanding that the only way to suppress the launching of short-range rockets is for ground forces to reach the launching sites, the Galilee was exposed to Hezbollah rockets for over five weeks, and the war was lost. Now the same mistake is being repeated. Nothing has been learned. Then, because our ministers’ minds were being obfuscated by the stupid slogan that “we shall not again get stuck in the Lebanese quagmire,” and now the slogan is that “we we shall not return to Gaza.” This is war, and you cannot fight a war based on dogmatic slogans.

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