If Recent Israel-Gaza Escalation Isn't War, What Is?

The firebreak between Ashdod and Tel Aviv is temporary. Our failure to smash Gaza ensures that the situation in the south will soon be enacted in the Dan megalopolis.

The pundits are correct: The recently concluded round of hostilities in Gaza between Israel and Islamic Jihad will have sequels coming soon to a shelter near you, especially as both Islamic Jihad and Israel have claimed victory.

When both sides claim victory the real loser is either lying or hallucinating. It pains me to attack Benjamin Netanyahu precisely at a moment when he confronts a coordinated assault , calculated to dissuade Israel from launching a preemptive strike against Iran's nuclear program. Having criticized the prime minister's Kadima predecessors for similar misguided havlaga, restraint, toward Gaza, though, it would be intellectually dishonest to whitewash Netanyahu.

The self-congratulations from both the government and the Israel Defense Forces recall a famous incident in World War II. Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov was Hitler's guest in Berlin in November 1940. The Fuehrer's foreign minister, Joachim Von Ribbentrop, attempted to persuade the USSR to enter the conflict, and divide the British Empire with Germany, as Britain was "finished" in any case. Their discussion was interrupted by a British air raid, compelling the foreign ministers to remove to a shelter where Molotov questioned Ribbentrop about his assessment of Britain: "If that is so - then why are we in this shelter - and whose bombs are they that are falling?"

A latter-day Molotov could puncture Netanyahu and Barak's satisfaction with a similar query: "If that is so, why were a million Israeli citizens in shelters and whose missiles are they that fell?"

We have been comforted that the highlight of the fighting was actually the highly successful performance of the Iron Dome system in field conditions. The kill rate of incoming missiles exceeded the free-throw percentage of some professional basketball teams. This view was even sustained by Hamas' Khaled Meshal, who griped to Turkish Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week that Israel was using Gaza as a proving ground for her weaponry, which included Iron Dome. The success of Iron Dome was indeed heartening, and the system will definitely reduce casualties and ensure the survivability of forces and infrastructures in a general war. Missile intercepts, and a resilient rear front cannot provide victory, however; only the infliction of unbearable damage to the enemy can accomplish this. Israel unfortunately did not achieve or even aspire to victory.

Amid the success of Iron Dome and the surgical strikes by the Israel Air Force, one remains paradoxically envious of the imprecise weaponry targeting Israel from Gaza. Such imprecision ensured that all Israelis within range were indiscriminately targeted so that when a missile struck a (fortunately empty ) school or a day-care center, the blase reaction was, Katyushas will be Katyushas. Israel's reputation for surgical precision is fallacious (war is not an operating theater ) and burdensome because any collateral damage inflicted by the IDF will immediately spur an internal and international inquiry. Israel is expected to engage in counter-force attacks against combatants only while the Arab side is free to adopt a counter-city strategy deliberately targeting civilians. As southern Israel took cover, the Gazans could go about their business with impunity unless they blundered into proximity to the missile-launch squads. The ultimate absurdity was that during the fighting, supplies flowed without interruption from Israel to Gaza, until the Gazans themselves targeted the crossing points.

How do we expect foreign opinion to take our claims that attacks on Israeli civilians are intolerable when we ourselves display excessive tolerance? Our normally thoughtful ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren, unwittingly contributed to the misconception that Iron Dome had made missile strikes on Israel tolerable by writing in Politico that, "Iron Dome relieved Israel of the need to send troops into Gaza. It not only saved lives, it prevented wars." If a country is not "at war" when inundated by 300 missiles, with better and improved missiles on the way from Sinai, the word "war" requires redefinition.

It is natural that Israelis temporarily beyond missile range do not empathize fully with the plight of those targeted. One Be'er Sheva resident told Israel Radio that he had felt the same way when missiles landed on the Gaza perimeter but before Be'er Sheva became a target. The firebreak between Ashdod and Tel Aviv is temporary and illusory, and our failure to smash Gaza ensures that the situation in the south will soon be enacted in the Dan megalopolis.

The ultimate excuse is Iran, and the justification is that nothing - including missiles from Gaza - must distract from Iran. Here Netanyahu is repeating the mistake made by J Street honoree Ehud Olmert, who went to Annapolis in 2008 and gave away the store in terms of territorial concessions, internationalizing the Temple Mount and admitting Arab "refugees." Olmert's position at the time was defended as being motivated by the need to shore up the front against Iran. In return he received the National Intelligence Estimate questioning whether Iran was even pursuing nuclear weapons and paralyzing an energetic Western response.

Netanyahu's restraint over Gaza has elicited "NIE II" in the form of leaks to The New York Times and an analysis by Yedioth Ahronoth's Nahum Barnea that the prime minister is all talk. Netanyahu did not promote Israel's cause by holding back in Gaza, he merely failed a million Israeli citizens.

Dr. Amiel Ungar writes a monthly column in Haaretz English Edition.