Of all the countries in the world, only two have not yet reconciled themselves to Israel's existence in the 1967 borders, with minor, mutually agreed adjustments: Iran and Israel.
This is the reality on the fifth anniversary of Hezbollah's kidnapping of Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, which sparked the Second Lebanon War: The most serious security problems facing Israel are Iran and Israel itself. But this fact will be repressed at the upcoming meeting of the Israel Defense Forces high command to discuss "IDF strategy." The government, whose intentions the army is barred from questioning, has no strategy, yet without formulating working assumptions the army will have trouble planning its forces and operations.
Iran's revolutionary Islamic regime is the last remaining obstacle preventing Israel from waking up. Its all-out war against Israel is a matter of principle that has nothing to do with Israel's territorial extent. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has not yet decided to develop nuclear weapons. But he is making technological, industrial and military progress toward the "safety zone" that would enable him to decide to race forward and close the tiny remaining gap between having nuclear capability and realizing it.
All that stands between desire and the weapon itself is Khamenei's judgment. The big question is to what degree this judgment will be influenced by his assessment that Israel will not show restraint in the event Iran approaches the safety zone - which, once reached, would offer deterrence against an attack that would cause enormous environmental damage.
Israeli deterrence may carry some weight, but Khamenei is likely more deterred by the force that U.S. President Barack Obama could bring to bear under certain circumstances, most of which relate to the broader regional and global context rather than Israel. In other theaters, contrary to conventional wisdom, Israeli deterrence is weak.
The outgoing GOC Northern Command, Maj. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, often said the primary goal of his command sector was "long-term deterrence and maintenance of the security status quo over time." In his view, accomplishing this goal would constitute "victory." Anything more would be impossible, he would say, quoting David Ben-Gurion: "We can't change the situation in Lebanon and Syria via military action."
But the effective cease-fire on the Lebanese border since mid-August 2006 - by Hezbollah fiat - is not really deterrence. Rather, it amounts to leaving the initiative to Hezbollah, thereby signaling that Israel will let the organization arm itself to its heart's content - and force Israel into a permanent state of alert, with all the attendant security and economic ramifications - until such time as Hezbollah deems the conditions ripe for a renewed assault.
Exactly the same is true of Hamas: Its decision to stop firing rockets for the time being after the blow it took in Operation Cast Lead has improved life in the Negev. But it merely whets the sword hanging over most Israelis living in Tel Aviv and southward, whose handle is not controlled by Israel. The lull is a temporary respite, not a real solution.
Sparing human life is important, and avoiding military campaigns (there hasn't been a real war here since 1973 ) is vital. But the burden of conscription, reserve duty and the defense budget illustrates the costs, and limitations, of deterrence.
After withdrawing from south Lebanon and from the Gaza Strip, Israel shrank from making the requisite changes to its policy on the use of military force. The Barak, Sharon and Olmert governments were all afraid to acknowledge the contradiction between the illusions that accompanied these withdrawals and the need to scrupulously prevent violations, even at the cost of reoccupying evacuated territory.
As a result - and, some IDF officers would add, because of the philosophy that put Gilad Shalit's tank at Kerem Shalom and Regev and Goldwasser on patrol, instead of replacing them with innovative technologies - Shalit was abducted, Israel responded with hesitation and Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah took courage to launch his own cross-border kidnapping on July 12.
Israel proper, in the 1949 armistice lines, was recognized by the most of the world after passing the double test of the 1967 Six-Day War and the 1973 Yom Kippur War. But greater Israel, including the territories and the settlements, is preventing Israel proper from making a maximal effort to obtain peace and security. An extremist minority within it has deterred the politicians, who secretly agree with the moderate majority but give priority to electoral considerations. The ambitious goal of deterring external enemies is a bitter joke when Israel's leadership is paralyzed at home.
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