Nothing Learned, No Regrets

It is the statesman’s job not only to think of the moment but also to attempt to look forward before making a decision.


By Moshe Arens

(A version of this column appeared in Haaretz on December 8, 2008.)

In justifying his do-nothing policy in the western Negev, our defense minister has repeatedly announced that he does not regret a single day of quiet that has resulted from the cease-fire agreement concluded with the Gaza terrorists. He made similar statements in the past regarding the presumed advantages of the unilateral withdrawal he ordered in 2000 from the security zone in southern Lebanon when he was prime minister, which brought intermittent periods of quiet to the north of the country, before that quiet erupted into the Second Lebanon War. One can also imagine Neville Chamberlain not regretting a single day of the peace he achieved in Europe with the Munich agreement, but it did not take long before the enormous mistake he had made became clear even to him.

Sometimes, looking back can indeed give a rosy impression of the situation, but it is the statesman’s job not only to think of the moment but also to attempt to look forward before making a decision.

Looking back, of course, is easier, and hindsight is said to be 20/20, although even that is not always the case. Looking forward means staring into uncertainty, and attempting to evaluate possible alternate scenarios. One must be careful to discount the value of anticipated future events, just as anticipated future profits need to be discounted in making business decisions. But how else are decisions to be made?

Buying a few days or weeks – or even a few years – of quiet may at the moment seem like a good strategy, but when properly evaluated, it may be understood that this strategy is no better than a prescription for future disaster.

As for the situation in the south, it is not too difficult to anticipate some future developments that should be cause for considerable concern. Hamas is using the cease-fire to train and arm its troops. Having learned how effective its rockets are when directed against Israel’s civilian population, the organization is following the example set by Hezbollah in Lebanon and preparing for renewed massive attacks against Israel’s towns and villages in the south. The hesitancy of the defense minister to take military measures to eliminate this danger only serves to encourage Hamas in pursuing its designs.

The cease-fire is being utilized by the group, as should have been foreseen, to amass a stockpile of rockets of increasingly longer range and to fortify its position in the Gaza Strip against eventual Israeli military action. Hence, every day that passes makes the unavoidable IDF military action in the Gaza Strip more difficult, while endangering the civilian population in the south in the meantime.

So what to make of the defense minister’s frequent ambiguous and sometimes self-contradictory utterances? Is he trying to confuse the enemy or is he succeeding only in confusing the residents of the south whom he is charged with defending?

On one occasion, he states that every day brings us closer to significant military action in the Gaza Strip. On another occasion, he self-righteously declares that he is the minister of defense and not the minister of war, insinuating that he does not intend to engage in war against the Gaza terrorists – but leaving unanswered the question of just how he intends to defend Israeli civilians in the western Negev from terrorist rocket attacks. Long forgotten are his promises two years ago that within two years Israel would deploy a rocket interception system that would serve as a protective umbrella over the towns in the western Negev and make unnecessary the entry of troops into the Gaza Strip. Get used to it, is what he seems to be saying now to the civilians subjected to rocket attacks.

When he was advocating the cease-fire with the terrorists in the Gaza Strip, which removed Israel’s strongest card for the release of Gilad Shalit, he said the quiet would lead to intensive negotiations for Shalit’s release. Now, months later, with the cease-fire broken by the terrorists many times each day, he says that a military operation will risk the continuation of the negotiations for his release.

When after another rocket attack, in violation of the cease-fire, he says that the situation is intolerable, before adding that decisions should not be made hastily, what are we to conclude? Of course, the situation is intolerable, but that is the way it has been throughout the two years of his tenure as defense minister. As for not making hasty decisions, he has had two years to cogitate on what course to follow to assure the safety of the residents of the south. He certainly cannot be accused of haste – if anything, he is procrastinating on a matter of great urgency.

So, maybe in the knowledge that this government is about to be replaced, and that somebody else will be taking over the position he now holds, what the defense minister is actually doing is simply passing on this hot potato to the person who will succeed him.

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