Too Much to Expect

It was just too much to expect. That Ehud Olmert, the prime minister who brought us the disaster of the Second Lebanon War, had finally learned the lesson of that war.


By Moshe Arens

(A version of this column appeared in Haaretz on March 5, 2008.)

It was just too much to expect. That Ehud Olmert, the prime minister who brought us the disaster of the Second Lebanon War, had finally learned the lesson of that war. That he now understood that the only way to protect civilians from short-range rocket attacks is to have soldiers on the ground at the rocket-launching sites. That there is no substitute for this.

That the “leverage” theory – which holds that the destruction of enemy infrastructure and attacks on the enemy’s civilian population will produce pressure on decision makers to cease their attacks against Israeli civilians – simply does not work in the Middle East. It did not work in Lebanon, and it certainly does not work in Gaza.

That raising the “price tag” that the Palestinian population will have to pay after every rocket attack against Israeli towns and villages has not convinced the terrorists to abstain from further violence, and will not do so. Quite the contrary, it only increases the support that the terrorists receive from the civilian population. Cutting off fuel, cutting off electricity, preventing food from reaching them is both counterproductive and immoral.

These lessons were not learned by Olmert, and it was just wishful thinking to expect that once ground forces began moving into the Gaza Strip last week, they would be ordered to take over the rocket-launching sites and stay there as long as necessary to finally bring peace to the citizens of Sderot, Ashkelon and other communities in the vicinity of Gaza.

The victory parades in Gaza as soon as the Israel Defense Forces withdrew were only to be expected. Like Hezbollah in the Second Lebanon War, whoever gets in the last barrage of rockets is the victor in the eyes of Middle East spectators. And not only in their eyes.

It was another blow to Israel’s deterrence. All the talk about the damage that has been inflicted on Hamas does not begin to equal its perception that it has won its contest with the IDF and the encouragement it will draw from this to engage in further attacks against Israeli civilians.

Hamas will have plenty of recruits to take the place of those who were killed, and lots more rockets, weapons and ammunition will be brought into the Gaza Strip to more than make up for what it lost in the past few days of fighting.

So what about the defense minister, who was expected bring some good strategic sense to the Olmert government? The wishful thinkers among us tend to forget that he was the man who unilaterally evacuated the Israeli security zone in southern Lebanon, which began the cycle that led to the Second Lebanon War. He seems to have learned no lesson from that mistake.

Now, he is checking to see whether directing artillery against the civilian population in the Gaza Strip is permissible under international law. He does not seem to understand that even if it is permissible, it is going to be counterproductive, and that it is impermissible by our moral standards.

And the other member of the governing trio – the foreign minister, Tzipi Livni? She seems to have only one thing on her mind, a Palestinian state. Like Olmert, she believes that Israel is finished unless a Palestinian state is established.

The former defense minister and chief of staff, Shaul Mofaz, who might have been expected to provide the cabinet with some common-sense advice based on his experience, only talks about the need for a new strategy, based on a definition of goals; as if the goal in this case were not crystal-clear – to provide protection for the civilian population living in the vicinity of Gaza. But after all, what should we expect from the man who ordered the IDF to evacuate all Israeli citizens from Gush Katif and the northern end of the Gaza Strip?

Unfortunately, we are stuck with this disaster-prone leadership. Who knows where they are going to take us before they are finally thrown out of office? They are clinging to the seats of power with the support of Shas and the Pensioners, Likud renegades and those who were given a free once-in-a-lifetime ride into the Knesset by Ariel Sharon and Olmert.

People of Israel, grin and bear it!

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