Another Defeat

Maybe our chief of staff needs to be reminded of what he said shortly after he assumed his present position: ‘In the next war, there will be no doubt about who won.’


By Moshe Arens

(A version of this column appeared in Haaretz on June 4, 2008.)

It may not be only Ehud Olmert who is so busy worrying about his legal problems that he does not have enough time to address Israel’s urgent security issues. Many Israeli citizens, except of course residents of the South, are probably also completely engrossed in studying the details of the current investigations and have little time left to worry about what really needs to be worried about – the ongoing war in the South. One can only hope that the Israel Defense Forces and its commander, Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi, are continuing to take seriously the awesome responsibility with which they are charged – assuring the safety of the people of Israel.

Maybe our chief of staff needs to be reminded of what he said shortly after he assumed his present position: “In the next war, there will be no doubt about who won.” This was said after his predecessor, Dan Halutz, declared after the Second Lebanon War that “the IDF won on points,” though it was clear that the IDF had actually been defeated in that war by a few thousand Hezbollah fighters. Halutz did not want to recognize the obvious: that when the largest and strongest army in the Middle East is confronted by a mere few thousand terrorists, yet finds itself incapable of protecting the civilian population and reaches a standoff with the terrorists, it is the terrorists who have won the war. That is the terrorists’ perception, and that is the world’s perception. And perception nowadays is reality. It was Halutz’s inability to comprehend this that led to the faulty management of the Second Lebanon War.

After agreeing to a cease-fire with Hezbollah that allowed it to declare victory, rearm and become the dominant power in Lebanon, Israel had a second chance in the war against terrorism: the war in the South against Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists, who, like Hezbollah in the North, are backed by Iran. Again, Israel’s civilian population was attacked by short-range rockets. These attacks have now lasted for many months and are reaching deeper and deeper into Israel.

As during the Second Lebanon War, the IDF tried futilely to stop these attacks via air power. But just as it did then, it became obvious that this mission had to be carried out by ground troops. And having learned nothing from past experience, Israel’s government refused to order ground troops into the Gaza Strip. Residents of the South continue to pay the price.

Should this confrontation also end in a standoff, with Israel agreeing to a cease-fire with the terrorists, it would be another defeat for the IDF. Not a “victory on points,” and not even a victory on points for the terrorists, but a defeat of the IDF by the terrorists. A defeat, pure and simple. That is how it is going to be seen by all concerned. Israel will be seen admitting that it is incapable of defending its territory and assuring the safety of its civilian population.

This is no minor matter. To those who wonder how Israel has been able to survive for many years in the hostile environment of the Middle East, the answer is that it has been able, time and again, to defeat the enemies that have risen up against it. The peace agreement with Egypt that Israel eventually reached was the direct result of the IDF’s victories on the battlefield. The peace agreement with Jordan was based on Jordan’s conviction that Israel could not be defeated on the battlefield.

Thus if Israel’s ability to defend itself should be called into question, this would not only spell the end of any chance to widen the circle of peace, but would also increase the probability of another full-scale war. That is what hangs in the balance in the confrontation with the terrorists in the South. They know – and we must relearn, if we have forgotten – that the life expectancy of a Middle Eastern country that shows it cannot defend itself is likely to be very short.

That is the challenge that faces the IDF and its commander today. Only a decisive victory in the war against the terrorists in the South will assure Israel’s safety. A cease-fire will be a victory for the terrorists and a defeat for the IDF.

Of course, it is the government, even in its present state, that will have to make the decision. But it is the chief of staff who must tell the government that he is capable of scoring a victory that will leave no doubt over who won this war.

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