Between Gadot and Sderot
The constant distress of Sderot, Nir Am, Netiv Ha'asara and many other communities in the western Negev and the Lachish area during the past seven years arouses wonder at the difference between the North and the South, between Tel Azaziat and Beit Hanun, and perhaps between Gadot and Sderot.
The Golan Heights were captured in the Six-Day War not so much because of the activity of the Syrians during the days of the war itself, when they claimed that Israel was about to attack them, but mainly because it was an opportunity to make them pay for their deeds in the years prior to the war.
Everyone remembered the infuriating pictures, in the press and the newsreels, of the children's houses under fire and the damaged cow barns in the kibbutzim Gonen and Gadot. Although the real background to the clashes was more complex and less unilateral (senior members of the General Staff later admitted Israeli responsibility for most of the incidents), the popular anger at the bad guys in Damascus was genuine: They sit on top, with their cannons, and fire down from there on the peaceful farmers, their wives and their children.
Even when Levi Eshkol's government was preoccupied by the main front in Sinai, and the front which joined it, Jerusalem and the West Bank, and was afraid that the Israeli invasion of the Syrian Heights would lead to Soviet involvement, this ideological preparation was enough to convince it that the war should not come to an end without holding on to the dominating territories in the North.
The persuaders, jointly, were the head of Northern Command, David (Dado) Elazar, and the spokesmen for the residents, with a direct connection to Eshkol and his ministers from the Mapai (the forerunner of Labor), Ahdut Ha'avoda and Mapam parties, who broke down an open door at the cabinet meeting.
The constant distress of Sderot, Nir Am, Netiv Ha'asara and many other communities in the western Negev and the Lachish area during the past seven years arouses wonder at the difference between the North and the South, between Tel Azaziat and Beit Hanun, and perhaps between Gadot and Sderot. With steep-trajectory weapons, Katyushas and Qassams and mortars, there is no longer any significance to dominating territories. Flat Gaza can hit the Negev no less than the Syrian Heights hit the Israeli valleys. The situation is determined by policy rather than artillery. The indices of absorbing blows are different.
Present-day Israel, with its experience of wars and occupations, territories and withdrawals, is less naive than the Israel of those days. But the social and political elite has changed as well. The lobby of the residents of Sderot and Nir Am is weaker in the Olmert government than that of the kibbutz members in the valleys and the Galilee in the Eshkol government.
The head of the Southern Command, Yoav Galant, who is now in the position of Dado in the mid-1960s, is an obedient soldier. If he still has political connections from his years as Ariel Sharon's military secretary, about which he wrote a journal that has been put away in a safe, he does not use them to lobby for a campaign that in his opinion is no longer avoidable.
Galant is not a rapacious hawk. According to the best security tradition, he is in favor of defensive goals and offensive means. After the kidnapping of Corporal Gilad Shalit, Galant was sober enough to assess that the crisis would not be solved with a quick military operation.
In discussions in the General Staff he said at the time that a possible solution lies in coming to an agreement with the Hamas government headed by Ismail Haniyeh, on three principal issues: the release of Shalit in exchange for prisoners, a cease fire, an end to the strengthening of Hamas and the smuggling from Egypt. Then chief of staff Dan Halutz was in overall agreement with him, but Olmert was more belligerent than they and tried to silence the voices emerging from the Israel Defense Forces, until he gave in and joined them.
Neither Galant nor his officers in the Southern Command are deceiving themselves that there exists one quick and decisive military step, with few casualties, that will solve the ongoing problem of Gaza's war against the Negev; but they also recall the principles of Israel's defense philosophy, which has always preferred short and intensive battles to wars of attrition.
In Lebanon in 2006 the IDF began with an intensive strike but was dragged into attrition on counter-strike. The result was devastating. The concealment of the Qassam launching pipes below the ground, in imitation of Hezbollah, invites the IDF - almost forces it - to embark on a ground operation.
Galant, the former commander of Shayetet 13 (the naval commando special forces), spends his free Shabbatot sailing on the Sdot Yam coast together with a colleague from the ground forces, the head of the Operations Directorate Tal Russo. Major General Russo is thought to be hesitant, at the present time, about a major campaign whose end cannot be foreseen, and thus agrees with the opinion of Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi. Galant is therefore working against the current, but without being subversive.
Until yesterday: It seems that after the injuries sustained by the Tuito brothers in Sderot, his clear but downplayed recommendation within the establishment has merged with the vocal protest of the citizens. The Olmert government and Ashkenazi's General Staff will have difficulty withstanding this pressure.
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