Scudding Clouds Over Israel

"Navigating Perilous Waters: An Israeli Strategy for Peace and Security" by Ephraim Sneh, Yedioth Ahronoth Books, Sifrei Hemed, 125 pages, NIS 78

"Navigating Perilous Waters: An Israeli Strategy for Peace and Security" by Ephraim Sneh, Yedioth Ahronoth Books, Sifrei Hemed, 125 pages, NIS 78

It wouldn't hurt the average Israeli citizen to accompany Ephraim Sneh as he embarks on a tour d'horizon of the perils that lie in wait for his small country. From the daily struggle with the Palestinians to the Iraqi and Iranian threats beyond the horizon, from the Palestinian suicide terrorists to the unconventional weapons that the Iraqis and the Iranians are trying to develop. During the 54 years of its existence, Israel has succeeded in overcoming its enemies, but it has not succeeded in eliminating the dangers, to which over time new dangers will be added.

Sneh proposes a prescription of means to deal with these threats - internal strength, deterrent capability, defensible borders and technological superiority - and few will disagree with these recommendations. Yet as usual, the devil is in the details, and when we get down to details, disagreements arise.

Many will disagree with Sneh when he deplores the Israel Defense Forces' withdrawal from Lebanon and the abandonment of our allies in the South Lebanese Army, and when he mentions this phenomenon as an example of the absence of that national strength he says is so essential for the State of Israel. Indeed, this move, which ostensibly was supposed to have spared the lives of our soldiers and increased our deterrent capability, has severely damaged that capability and encouraged the Palestinians to initiate their war against us - a war that has caused hundreds of deaths among civilians and soldiers. Former prime minister Ehud Barak took this step after we had succeeded in silencing Hezbollah activity through air force attacks on infrastructure targets in Lebanon on the night of June 24, 1999, on the eve of his taking office as prime minister and minister of defense. His retreat from the policy of deterrence that had been set then led to the resumption of Hezbollah operations and to additional losses and ultimately to the disgraceful withdrawal. When Barak did not respond to Hezbollah actions after the IDF withdrawal, as he had promised, even when IDF troops were deployed along the international border, Israeli deterrence collapsed entirely. As a result, Hezbollah is continuing its attacks on the Shaba Farms and on the northern border now.

In his book, Sneh does not mention the absence of an Israeli response to the firing of Iraqi Scuds during the Gulf War. The restraint that characterized the lack of response at that time has already been engraved in the Israeli mythology as the pinnacle of diplomatic wisdom, which ostensibly should be repeated on other occasions. However, this restraint was not interpreted in the region as an expression of Israeli strength and has damaged our deterrent image. This is not the place to go into all the details of that chapter in our history. Suffice it to say that during the first two weeks of the war Israel did not have enough intelligence information to carry out an action in western Iraq and there was fear of the breakdown of the coalition President George Bush senior had put together - which also included Arab states. But by the third week, it was already clear to everyone that Saddam Hussein would be defeated, the coalition would not break down and the intelligence at our disposal was enough to land IDF troops in the area from which Scuds were being launched in western Iraq. The action was planned and practiced, and the late Major General Nehemiah Tamari was slated to command it; it is a pity it was not carried out.

Rightly, Sneh attributes great importance to the contribution of the defense industries to the security of the state. Among other things, he complains of the "slowness and awkwardness" of the way the Barak government dealt with the affair of the Phalcon, the Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) airborne early warning system that was sold to China. This important deal was mishandled in a way that ultimately led to its cancellation and damage to IAI. Far worse damage was done to IAI in 1987, when the government of Israel, in a decision that barely scraped by, canceled the Lavie aircraft project after years of great technological effort had been invested in it, and when prototypes of the plane had proved in test flights that it was the best fighter plane in the world. Were it not for this unfortunate decision, the air force would today be equipped with higher quality fighter planes than all of the neighboring air forces and our aircraft industry would be one of the world's aviation giants.

The most controversial issue that appears in this book is the Oslo agreement. Sneh lauds "the historical greatness" of the agreement, which according to him transferred the solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict "From the battlefields and streets of the conflict to the negotiating table." It is hard to believe that this was written in the midst of the Palestinian terror campaign against Jewish citizens of the State of Israel - a campaign that has taken hundreds of victims. Even if the intentions of the initiators of the Oslo agreement were the best in the world, it is clear that the current situation derives directly from the selection of Yasser Arafat, a certified terrorist, as partner for the negotiations.

This man headed the Palestine Liberation Organization, an organization that claims to represent, in addition to the Palestinian population of Judea, Samaria and Gaza, the Palestinian diaspora as well, for the sake of which it demanded and is continuing to demand "the right of return." The outcome shows clearly that the situation of both Israelis and Palestinians is far worse today than it was before the Oslo agreement, and that bringing Yasser Arafat and his people back from Tunis and anointing him as the leader of the Palestinians caused the disaster. And this is what Sneh himself has written: "Arafat's insistence on all the points that have remained in dispute, his clinging to his old rhetoric in the uncompromising, uniform-clad image he has built for himself, his preference for victory over compromise and the struggle for achievements have all ultimately led to the violent crisis in relations between Israel and the Palestinians."

It is interesting that one area of peril is not mentioned at all in Sneh's book: the Arab citizens of the State of Israel. This population, which numbers about 1 million, has been neglected and discriminated against by all the governments of Israel. It should have been clear that the relations with such a large population are perhaps the greatest challenge that faces the state, and the integration of these citizens into Israeli society should have been an urgent priority. In the nature of things, this prolonged neglect led to bitterness and alienation in the Arab population, and in these feelings lie inherent dangers to the State of Israel. These too are "perilous waters" in which one must know how to navigate.