For the first 25 years of its existence, Israel was threatened by the regular armies of the surrounding Arab countries, which repeatedly launched attacked in the expectation of a victory that would lead to the destruction of the Jewish state.
In the last attempt, the circumstances were particularly propitious for the Arabs: In October 1973, on Yom Kippur, Israel was caught by surprise by the simultaneous Egyptian and Syrian assaults. Nevertheless, after three weeks of fighting, not only were the attacks repulsed, but the Third Egyptian Army was encircled, and the Israel Defense Forces stood 101 kilometers from Cairo and within artillery range of Damascus. With total defeat staring them in the face, Egypt and Syria asked for a cease-fire. Since then, for the past 29 years, Israel's neighbors, fully aware of Israel's military superiority on the battlefield, have been deterred from renewing aggression against Israel, while Israel's military superiority has increased and its deterrent posture has been strengthened.
In the interim years, a new and different threat appeared over the horizon. The acquisition of ballistic missiles provided countries sharing no common border with Israel the capability of attacking the country from afar. Some 11 years ago, during the Gulf War, Saddam Hussein fired Scud missiles from western Iraq at a number of Israel's population centers. Despite being in possession of chemical warheads, he was, evidently, deterred from using them by the response he expected from Israel to such an attack. Since then, his capability to cause damage to Israel from a distance has probably diminished as a result of the work of the UN inspection teams for a number of years after his defeat in 1991, although no doubt, he has retained some residual capability. However, during these years, the Iranians have been busy developing longer-range ballistic missiles and are engaged in the development of nuclear warheads.
In the meantime, however, Israel's deterrence against these threats has improved substantially. The launching of Israel's reconnaissance satellite, providing a view of what is happening in distant countries with hostile intentions toward Israel, and the deployment of Israel's ballistic missile interception system pose a dilemma to any hostile regime planning a ballistic missile attack against Israel. The Israeli deterrent is reinforced by the response to be expected from the United States, which views the use of non-conventional weapons as a threat to global stability.
President George W. Bush has already made it clear that the United States intends to prevent these regimes from attaining nuclear capability. Although there is no room for complacency, there is reason to believe that at least for the time being, this second threat against Israel's existence is being neutralized.
But over these past two years, a third threat to Israel's existence has arisen - the Palestinian war of terror launched by Yasser Arafat in September 2000. Although possessing no tanks or aircraft that could begin to match the power of the IDF, Arafat believed that by terrorizing Israel's civilian population, he would manage to bring Israel to its knees.
The suicide bombers were to be the great equalizers that were intended to accomplish, through a war of attrition against Israeli civilians, what regular Arab armies had failed to do in past years on the battlefield. And, in fact, the Palestinian war of attrition has brought death to close to 700 Israelis, has injured thousands more, and has caused serious damage to Israel's economy. An indefinite continuation of this war could threaten Israel's very existence.
Only after the Passover eve massacre in Netanya did the government begin to take effective action, finally realizing that Palestinian terror could not be subdued by remote control. The IDF's entry into Palestinian towns and villages has resulted in a significant decrease in terrorist activity and has brought about a feeling of fatigue and even despair among the Palestinian population, which, until then, had in large measure supported Arafat's war of terror.
Now, the IDF's operations must be vigorously pursued till a decisive victory is attained - an end to Palestinian terror and the removal of the entire Palestinian leadership that launched this war. Such a victory, and nothing less, will serve as a deterrent to a renewal of this threat to Israel's existence in future year. There can be no greater mistake than returning at this time to negotiations with representatives of this leadership. Their removal must be an object lesson to future leaders of the Palestinian cause. Let us not pull defeat from the jaws of victory.
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