Text size

The outgoing chief of staff, "Bogey" Ya'alon, insists that the Palestinian terror campaign against Israel's civilian population that began in September 2000 was a war in every sense of the word - a war intended to bring Israel to its knees. There is no more fitting description for the events that brought terror to Israeli streets and homes for more than four years, that damaged Israel's economy, and that forced Israel to mobilize its military reserves, in addition to its regular military forces, to put an end to the acts of terror.

Ya'alon should know. He is the man who successfully led Israel's armed forces in this war. Politicians and journalists who prefer to treat him with sarcasm rather than with the respect due him, cannot change the facts; the credit for Israel's achievements in this war goes first and foremost to him. That is how history is going to tell it. He prepared the IDF for this war and he led the IDF in this war.

Since March 2002, the bloodiest month of the war, when the government belatedly authorized the entry of Israeli troops into Palestinian cities, the number of Palestinian terror attacks has decreased dramatically, and lately many in the Palestinian leadership, first and foremost Mahmoud Abbas, have begun to admit that the Palestinian campaign of terror against Israel has been counterproductive.

Have we been victorious in this war? Victory and defeat in war are elusive concepts and are frequently in the eye of the beholder, unless the victors on the battlefield can force unconditional surrender on those who were defeated and the perception of the outcome of the military conflict is the same on both sides. The Palestinian population, which provided massive support for the suicide bombers who blew up Israeli civilians on buses and in the streets, are certainly not thinking of unconditional surrender.

The terrorist infrastructure in Gaza and in Judea and Samaria is still in place and may yet be reactivated. There is no doubt that many among the Palestinian population see the planned Israeli unilateral withdrawal from Gush Katif and northern Samaria as the direct result of the Palestinian terror campaign, and therefore a victory for them. In the months to come, this will certainly be the narrative trumpeted by the Palestinian leadership, something that can only encourage a resumption of acts of terror.

It is inherent in the asymmetric nature of the Israeli- Arab conflict and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that most Israeli military successes have not been translated into victories in the accepted sense of the term and put an end to acts of violence against Israel, while leaving significant differences of perception regarding the outcome of the military encounters.

Successive Israeli military successes in the War of Independence, the Sinai Campaign and the Six-Day War were not perceived as the final word in the Arab World and did not lead to the abandonment of Arab plans for further aggression against Israel. To this day, the Yom Kippur War is feted in Cairo as an Egyptian victory. However, in the light of the IDF's success on the battlefield in that war, for more than thirty years Egypt has eschewed plans for aggression against Israel, in full cognizance of Israel's demonstrated military superiority, a superiority that has grown in the intervening years. That was evidently a war that Israel won.

The unilateral withdrawal of the IDF from southern Lebanon may be advertised by some as the height of political wisdom, but it clearly created the perception of an Israeli defeat in Lebanon and among the Palestinians, and encouraged the Palestinians to commence their war of terror against Israel shortly thereafter.

Consequently, it is perception that matters. And as is frequently the case, perception and reality are not the same; certainly not in the Middle East. Israel must not lose sight of this. Jabotinsky saw it 82 years ago when he wrote his essay, "The Iron Wall."

"As long as there remains in the hearts of the Arabs the smallest spark of hope that they can get rid of us, they will not sell this hope for either sweet talk or far-reaching promises," he wrote. Has anything changed?