Opinion

For the Glory of the State of Israel

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett with Military Secretary to the Defense Minister Ofer Winter at a weekly government meeting at the Knesset, November 12, 2019.
Emil Salman

“A cease-fire without a cessation of terror isn’t deterrence, it’s surrender,” Naftali Bennett said at a cabinet meeting on July 15, 2018 (and on dozens of other occasions). Now, on his third day as defense minister, he has fallen in line with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policy of restraint and declared that the recent operation in the Gaza Strip restored Israel’s deterrence and its freedom of action.

“Israel didn’t give Islamic Jihad anything,” a “high-ranking” government official was quoted as saying. It didn’t give anything? That’s the last thing one could say.

Contrary to all logic and combat doctrine, at the very moment when its forces were starting to be depleted, when its rocket arsenals began to empty, when its lines of communication were disrupted, when demoralization began to spread through its ranks — at precisely these critical moments for victory, Israel’s leaders, including Bennett, returned to the routine of previous rounds: halting the operation without conditioning it, as Bennett had demanded in the past, on the cessation of terror.

Now, just like Hamas in the past, Islamic Jihad will be able to recover, renew its ranks and resume manufacturing the rockets that had begun to be depleted from its arsenals. In agreeing to all this, Israel proved to its enemies that it is the one that was deterred, not Islamic Jihad.

Yoram Cohen, the former head of the Shin Bet security service, said on a radio show hosted by Yaron Dekel and Amit Segal that Israel was aware in real-time that machinery for making rockets and other weapons was being smuggled into the Gaza Strip — or in other words, that a Palestinian version of Israel Military Industries was being established there. Cohen, a stickler for protocol, wasn’t willing to answer a question about why, if this was known, the security services weren’t instructed to disrupt it.

But the answer, unfortunately, is well-known: The government, which for the past 10 years has meant Benjamin Netanyahu, opted for restraint, and thereby enabled the Palestinians to set up a military industry that makes thousands of rockets and other weapons that deprive residents of the south — and, as was proven this week, also residents of the center of the country — of security and sleep. For years, according to former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Netanyahu had also prevented the elimination of Baha Abu al-Ata, the senior Islamic Jihad commander who was killed this week, allowing him to accumulate power, attack Israel and recruit more than 10,000 fighters.

Cabinet members boast of Islamic Jihad’s many fatalities. True, but the result of a military operation is not determined by the number of deaths. From Israel’s perspective, it’s measured primarily by whether the cease-fire will bring long-term tranquility and remove the threat to its citizens’ lives, dignity and quality of life.

As long as none of this has been assured — and it hasn’t — statements like Bennett’s about the restoration of Israel’s freedom of action in Gaza are not credible. Israelis, particularly those living in the south, know that even this latest mini-war, which was waged against a small, vulnerable terrorist organization, contributed very little, if anything, to preventing the next round.

In recent years, Bennett has been the main critic of the mindset — whose main components are restraint and containment — that has guided successive governments and the security services both in Gaza and toward Hezbollah. But even if political circumstances allow Bennett to remain in his post, as long as Netanyahu is the one making the decisions then every additional round of fighting will be accompanied by unnecessary, expensive and embarrassing disruptions to life in Israel and will end, for the umpteenth time, in a cease-fire rather than victory.

And if this is what happened against Islamic Jihad, one can only imagine the horror that will grip the country when the attackers are Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran or all of them together. In sum, this latest campaign, like its predecessors, won’t go down in history as redounding to the glory of the State of Israel.