Exhausting All Other Alternatives

It was Israel’s great foreign minister Abba Eban who coined the aphorism that “democracies take the right decision only after having exhausted all other alternatives.” This is not a universal truth but, unfortunately, it holds true all too frequently.


By Moshe Arens

(A version of this column appeared in Haaretz on January 28, 2008.)

It was Israel’s great foreign minister Abba Eban who coined the aphorism that “democracies take the right decision only after having exhausted all other alternatives.” This is not a universal truth but, unfortunately, it holds true all too frequently.

It certainly holds true for the Olmert government’s handling of the situation in the Gaza Strip. The rockets and mortar shells keep raining down daily on Sderot and the settlements surrounding the Gaza Strip, and the government seems to be still searching for alternate courses of action without taking the right decision. Israel’s citizens in the South are daily paying the price for this incompetence.

It started with the tragic mistake of the Sharon government, and enthusiastically backed by Ehud Olmert, to uproot the settlements of Gush Katif and those on the southern outskirts of Ashkelon. This, we were told, was going to solve Israel’s problem in the South once and for all. The disengagement was accompanied by dire warnings by the government that hostile activity against Israel from the Gaza Strip was going to bring about the most drastic retribution.

These threats were reminiscent of Ehud Barak’s warnings when he was prime minister and pulled the Israel Defense Forces out of the south Lebanon security zone in 2000. The result then was that rather than serving as an effective deterrent, it only encouraged the Hezbollah and Palestinian terrorists to proceed to terrorize Israel. Unfortunately nothing was learned, and the same mistake was repeated in August 2006.

When the disengagement was followed by the Hamas takeover of Gaza and the intensive firing of rockets at Israel, the Olmert government insisted that the problem would be handled from the air and by small, temporary IDF incursions into the Gaza Strip. When that did not stop the terror against the citizens of Sderot, Olmert and the new defense minister insisted that intensification of these tactics would solve the problem. In other words, the residents of Sderot were told that they would have to get used to it for a certain time.

Next came the theory borrowed from economic textbooks – Israel would put a price tag on Palestinian terror tactics. When that price was upped sufficiently, Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip would do a cost-benefit analysis and conclude that their efforts were counterproductive and the Qassams would stop. But it turned out that the Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip were using a different economics textbook. The more Palestinians killed by Israeli attacks, the more rockets came down on Sderot.

Outrageous ideas were floated that the Gaza population should be subjected to random artillery barrages; that for each Palestinian rocket attack certain sections of the Gaza Strip should be laid waste. Nonsensical slogans were voiced by high-ranking Israeli ministers such as if the children of Sderot cannot sleep at night, the children of Gaza should not sleep either.

And finally, the ultimate stupidity: blockade them, keep supplies from reaching the Palestinian population in the Gaza Strip. Then they will surely pressure the terrorists to stop firing Qassams. “Let them walk, they don’t have to use cars or buses,” Olmert announced. That was supposed to teach them. But the Olmert government was playing chess with itself, and did not count on the reaction of the population in Gaza, Hamas’ next steps and the international reaction.

The wall that was so laboriously built by the IDF separating Gaza from Egypt came down and the supplies came in, and with them weapons, ammunition and terrorists. Israel was checkmated by Hamas. Olmert has exhausted all the alternatives rather than taking the right decision – moving the IDF ground forces in and putting the Qassam rockets out of range.

By now Olmert has also exhausted all the lame excuses for not taking the right decision. These excuses include: There is no magic solution, or there is no bang and it’s over. Or given enough time, what we are doing is going to work. Or that there were Qassams before the disengagement and there will be Qassams after the IDF is in Gaza. And then came: You cannot do it before Annapolis and you cannot do it after Annapolis. Patience, the problem will be solved after the still-under-development anti-Qassam system is deployed in two and a half or three years. And hats off to the brave citizens of Sderot! And then comes the excuse to end all excuses: If the IDF goes in, how in God’s name is it going to get out? Even the great believers in unilateral retreats don’t seem to have the answer to this conundrum.

Having exhausted all the alternatives and all the excuses, what’s next for the Olmert government?

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