For over a month now, since June 12, Israel has experienced a series of linked security events. Like every period of crisis this one, too, will pass, but it is liable to return, in some form or another. Life will be gauged, as always, between the rounds, in the lulls in firing.
The Israel Defense Forces’ second chief of staff, Yigael Yadin, once said that the Israeli citizen who serves in the military reserves is “a soldier on annual vacation 11 months of the year.” Six decades later, the whole country has submissively reconciled with the crazy situation in which it is inducted forever, but allowed out of the base for 11 months a year.
In the seesaw of forces between offense and defense, spanning ancient times up until the era of the tank, jet and missile, this is a propitious time for defense, exemplified by the Iron Dome system.
Like in Chad Gadya, the cumulative Passover song that describes how one animal is vanquished by another, so it goes with the air force. The Israel Air Force reached its peak in 1967 when it destroyed the Egyptian air force right in its bases. But the achievement went awry with the land-based operation that followed, which was perceived as exploiting that success but left Israel in the territories. The Arab armies learned the lesson: Restrained in air battles due to their inferiority of their forces, they invested in surface-to-air and surface-to-surface missiles. Thus, in the 1973 Yom Kippur War they restored a balance, neutralizing Israel’s military advantage and deterrent capabilities.
In fighting Syria in the 1982 first Lebanon war, the IAF again had the upper hand in its crushing victory in air combat and air-to-surface warfare; and again the ground operation entangled the situation. Meanwhile Israel continued to downplay the rockets, even though the two-week barrage of Kiryat Shmona in 1981 forced Menachem Begin into forging a cease-fire agreement with Yassir Arafat brokered by the United States and Saudi Arabia The military failures had a diplomatic price. The first Lebanon war led to the Reagan plan of September 1982 – a bad plan for Begin, although a good one for Israel. Israel’s helplessness in the face of the Iraqi missiles in 1991 coerced then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir into going to the Madrid Peace Conference, which in essence strived to reach a “land for peace” formula. The Oslo process was a diversion from Madrid, to a large extent due to the political demise of Madrid’s initiators, George Bush and James Baker — though Shamir had an indirect responsibility, as the prime minister who finally blocked Jordan’s King Hussein from conducting the Palestinians’ affairs, and encountered the first intifada.
Air superiority had momentary grace in the 90s, especially in Bosnia. But there the NATO alignment needed 78 days of bombing. Such a period of time is not Israel’s prerogative.
Every conclusion, and its opposite, can be drawn from the success of Iron Dome. Those who oppose a peace compromise will say it has proved that there is no reason to fear a continuation of the diplomatic standstill. Those who support a compromise for peace will argue that Iron Dome has clearly demonstrated that it is possible to withdraw from territories, because the rockets fired at us rarely hit their target.
The consideration that should overridingly decide in favor of the second approach is time, which is working against Israel. The perpetuation of the rounds of warfare, even if each one ends in some kind of tie, means that Israel loses in terms that are not quantifiable – in spirit, quality, the younger generation’s hope for a different and better future – while the other side gets stronger from round to round and acquires offensive capabilities, not necessarily rockets, that can bypass the defense.
All Benjamin Netanyahu is offering Israel is wasted time in unwinnable rounds of warfare and lulls. Winston Churchill was banished home twice by his nation and party, each time after about four years, and for the second time, for good. Netanyahu has reached Churchill’s cumulative balance. He belongs at his home in Caesarea, not in the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem.
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