Caution: Myth Ahead

We seem to be on the point of wasting the fruits of what could be a decisive victory over the forces of terror on our doorstep. That would be a grave mistake.


By Moshe Arens

(A version of this column appeared in Haaretz on January 19, 2009.)

One of the casualties of the Israel Defense Forces operation in the Gaza Strip is the collection of myths that have been propagated during the past two years by Israel’s leaders to explain their unwillingness to send ground troops into the Gaza Strip in order to bring to an end the rocketing of Israel’s civilian population in the south. The myths were used to justify the do-nothing policy of the defense minister, and the disastrous six-month cease-fire with Hamas that provided the organization with the breathing space to equip itself with long-range rockets that can strike deep into Israel. These myths have now gone the way of so many other myths that have been used to fool the Israeli public over the years.

The first myth that fell in Operation Cast Lead was that an operation using IDF ground troops in the Strip would result in the loss of the lives of hundreds of Israeli soldiers. A forecast like that is enough to make any Israeli shy away from such an operation. Considering the great sensitivity we rightly have for the welfare of our soldiers, when such warnings are uttered by men with long military experience, almost any alternative seems preferable to the use of ground troops. For some, that even included the continued exposure of the south’s citizens to rocket attacks. And so, the citizens of Sderot, and Ashkelon, and the communities on the periphery of the Gaza Strip were subject to rocket attacks day after day.

Why, one could well have asked, should we expect the casualty rate of an IDF ground operation in the Gaza Strip to be so large? The IDF is vastly superior in numbers and weaponry to the few thousand Hamas fighters there. The IDF had many months to plan and train for such an operation, and Gaza is right next door and well known to us. And indeed, as one should have expected, the warnings about unbearable casualty rates turned out to be baseless. Israel has taken losses, it’s true, but there is no war without losses. In this case, they have been mercifully small.

The second myth was that an IDF ground operation in Gaza would not succeed in putting an end to the launching of rockets against Israel from there. Why this seemingly magic capability was ascribed to Hamas in the Strip, an ability to continue firing rockets even with an IDF presence in the launching areas, was never explained. But the myth was swallowed in whole by many. Once this nonsense is accepted, there would seem to be no reason for launching a ground operation. After all, it presumably will change nothing.

It is true that even now, after the IDF has reached certain parts of the Strip, the rocket launching, though considerably reduced, is continuing. But these rockets come from areas not yet under the army’s control. Were the IDF to continue on to all the launching zones, the rocketing would cease.

The third myth, presented as the ultimate argument against a ground operation, was that once we had entered the Gaza Strip we would not be able to leave – that we would be stuck there forever. Almost anything would seem better than getting stuck in that morass permanently. As long as the Olmert government was unable to come up with an “exit strategy,” the citizens of the south continued to receive their daily dose of rocket punishment. But now that we are there, it suddenly seems as if it will be quite easy to leave. What were we afraid of? All the IDF has to do, if that is what we decide, is to make a U-turn. And indeed, that seems to be what we are about to do. In no time, Israel found the exit strategy that escaped our leaders for so many months. There goes the third myth.

It was the belief in these three myths that allowed our defense minister to lead the Olmert government to agree to the six-month cease-fire with Hamas last summer. As we now know, and should have known already then, that was the period in which they smuggled the longer-range rockets into the Strip, the ones that have been hitting Ashdod and Be’er Sheva in recent weeks. You can trust Hamas to utilize any future cease-fires for similar purposes.

Three myths have been exploded, and now a fourth myth has been produced by our leadership. The ground operation, they say, has achieved all its objectives and there is nothing more left to do. So we might as well go home. Although Hamas continues firing rockets against targets in the south of Israel, our leaders claim that the operation has achieved all its objectives and it is time to pull out. Our foreign minister says that if Hamas will not abide by our unilaterally declared cease-fire after we have withdrawn, our troops will return to Gaza, as if such an operation can be relaunched any day of the week.

We seem to be on the point of wasting the fruits of what could be a decisive victory over the forces of terror on our doorstep. That would be a grave mistake.

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