In Gaza, Israel Will Exchange Quiet for a Lie

It won’t be 'quiet for quiet,’ as Benjamin Netanyahu says, and Israel surely didn’t win. The country needs to revamp its diplomatic and military policy.

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A man looks at cars destroyed by mortar fire in Kibbutz Nahal Oz, on the Gaza border with Israel, during the 2014 conflict.
A man looks at cars destroyed by mortar fire in Kibbutz Nahal Oz, on the Gaza border with Israel, during the 2014 conflict.Credit: AP

Two friends are walking on the banks of the Yarkon River, goes the old joke. Frogs are jumping all around. “I’ll bet you 100 shekels I can catch a frog and swallow it,” one friend says.

So they bet, the first man swallows a frog, and 100 shekels passes from one friend to the next.

They keep walking. “I’ll bet you 100 shekels I can catch a frog and swallow it,” the loser challenges his friend, kicking himself for agreeing to the first bet.

So they bet, he swallows a frog, and the 100 shekels goes back where it came from. Everything is the same except that each guy has a frog in his belly.

In the 50-day Gaza war, the two sides have swallowed frogs, but for Israel the experience has been more stomach-turning. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will now make a huge effort to portray the outcome as a success. If he believes himself, he will be one of the very few. Quiet will not be exchanged for quiet, but for a lie.

What Netanyahu and his colleagues have brought down on Israel, in a conflict between the region’s strongest army and an organization numbering 10,000, is not just a defeat. It’s a downfall.

“Veni, vidi, vici,” Julius Caesar said. “Benny, Bibi, Bogie,” goes the Israeli version — military chief Benny Gantz, Bibi Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon. They came, they saw, they were defeated.

Netanyahu must make an accounting for the agenda he tried to dictate in recent years, first with Ehud Barak as defense minister, and in the last year and a half without him. There was the Iran craze, which sucked up billions. If Bibi had budgeted for Gaza-area kibbutzim Nirim and Nahal Oz one one-hundredth of what he had budgeted for Iran’s Natanz nuclear plant, Israelis would have been safer.

Israel wasn’t properly prepared for fighting in tunnels and against mortars; it must start today by preparing for the next operation, but not another Protective Edge. Such preparations must start with the top floor: policy. Israel needs to define its core objectives and set the desired boundaries – what Israelis are ready to fight for, what they are killing for, what they are being killed for.

The world won’t let Israel and Hamas be dragged into a dogfight over and over again. The visit by retired Marines Corps Gen. John Allen is a heavy hint in that direction. Allen preaches the use of American influence selectively but resolutely in conflicts like the Israel-Arab conflict.

American leverage in weapons and money has no meaning if in times of crisis these resources aren't used. In President Barack Obama’s two years left to make his mark, he could finally intervene in the conflict. This might save Israel from itself, or from leaders who can’t break the tie in their own cabinet.

Fifty days against Hamas provided another shock to Israel’s security doctrine. Israel needs first-rate specialists from outside politics and the military to revisit its diplomatic and military operations. It needs people like former minister Dan Meridor and reserve major generals like Uri Saguy, Shlomo Yanai and Giora Eiland.

A decision must be made in a few weeks, no later than at the end of the High Holy Days in the fall, on the appointment of the Israel Defense Forces’ next chief of staff. This way, the candidate – and the only one is Maj. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot – can get a head start revamping the army. Because the next frog will have to be swallowed soon enough.