A License to Kill

Israel has had experience with fighting two-front wars, and even three-front wars. It was tough, but Israel had no choice – and it won them all.


By Moshe Arens

(A version of this column appeared in Haaretz on September 17, 2007.)

To the innumerable excuses the Olmert government has offered for not using ground troops to push the Qassam rockets launched from the Gaza Strip out of range, and finally fulfilling its obligation to provide security to the Israeli citizens in Sderot and the neighboring settlements, has now been added another lame excuse: We do not want to open a second front, in addition to the one up north. After all, we do not want to get caught fighting a two-front war.

This will remind those who still remember World War II of the two-front issue then. Hitler did not want to fight a two-front war so he signed, to the amazement of all, the Ribbentrop-Molotov non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union. The pact gave him the chance to knock France out of the war before taking on the Soviet Union. After the Germans plunged into the Soviet Union, Stalin and his many admirers campaigned for the opening of a “second front” in the west so that Hitler would be forced to fight a two-front war.

But this is where the similarity with Israel’s present predicament ends.

It so happens that Israel has had experience with fighting two-front wars, and even three-front wars. It was tough, but Israel had no choice – and it won them all. But to describe the Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists in the Gaza Strip as a “second front” that Israel must at all costs avoid, even if it is at the expense of the school children in Sderot, is ridiculous. Does anybody seriously suggest that Israel is incapable of dealing with the Gaza terrorists while simultaneously remaining alert and prepared in the north? That such a challenge would bring the IDF to the limits of its capability? In the north we face the Syrian army, not the best army in the world, but, nevertheless, a substantial military force. In the south we face a rag-tag terrorist force in the Gaza Strip, which the IDF knows how to handle. To propose that dealing effectively with them would prejudice our ability to handle the Syrians, if that were required, is disingenuous.

In essence, what government spokesmen are suggesting is that as long as Syria or Hezbollah in Lebanon represent a potential threat we cannot deal effectively with the Qassam attacks in the south. If you add the concern for what is happening in Iran, the children in Sderot may never be able to go to school in safety. Israel’s enemies have presumably brought Israel to the limits of its capability. Anybody who does not take seriously the plans that are being made for putting everybody into shelters and for developing rocket interception systems that will shoot down anything that flies, must be seriously concerned for Israel’s future if this strategy is to prevail.

What is this strategy doing to Israel’s deterrence? We evidently are unable to deter the launchers of Qassam rockets in the Gaza Strip, but the shoe is actually on the other foot. With this strategy, it is the Syrians who are deterring us from doing anything about the Qassams from Gaza. All they need to do is to keep up a semblance of tension in the north and they’ve got the IDF immobilized in the south. Even hints by government spokesmen about the dangers of “miscalculations” will do the same.

But worst of all is the effect this is having on the terrorists in the Gaza Strip. They feel that they can go on endangering the lives of Israeli civilians with impunity. Even launching Qassams at an Israeli army base or at “strategic targets” near Ashkelon won’t get the IDF to act. They have been given a license to kill.

Deja vu? Of course. The same thing that happened with Hezbollah in the north for a number of years is now happening with Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the south. And as in the north, it will not become easier to do what needs to be done as time goes by. Smuggling weapons into the Gaza Strip, training with the aid of Iranian instructors, fortifying their positions, Hamas and Islamic Jihad are steadily preparing themselves for what they know will be coming sooner or later. And later it will be much more difficult than it is now. It may yet end up really being a second front.

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