Replace the Captain

Israel's large army, which is endowed with a bounty of resources, is incapable of preventing Hezbollah and Hamas from making Israelis’ lives an ongoing hell

Israeli Minister of Education Naftali Bennett arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the prime minister's office in Jerusalem, November 18, 2018.
Abir Sultan/Pool via AP

Other than the 1948 War of Independence, all of the wars that the Arab countries have waged against us have ended within days – in a clear victory on our part. The most difficult and painful among them, the 1973 Yom Kippur War, lasted 21 days. On the other hand, when it comes to the terrorist organizations, which have tailed us unceasingly for decades, we don’t have a remedy.

The armies of Hezbollah and Hamas don’t (for the most part) have well-funded intelligence services or (skilled) personnel. (And in our powerlessness, we have permitted them to become armies for all intents and purposes, including the ability to produce and aim advanced weaponry at us.) They don’t have fighter planes or helicopters or submarines or warships or tanks.

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Nevertheless, Israel's large army, which is endowed with all of these resources, is incapable of preventing Hezbollah and Hamas from making Israelis’ lives an ongoing hell. Speaking to high school students living near Gaza, the commander of the Israeli army’s Gaza division, Brig. Gen. Eliezer Toledano, said: “I can’t promise you that it will be quiet. ... This neighborhood won’t be clean … some say for another 70 years.”

Three, four decades ago, there were Israelis, mostly in the north of the country, who bore the heavy burden of Katyusha rocket attacks and infiltrations, while over the past decade and a half it has been mainly residents of the south who have suffered the powerlessness of statesmen and military leaders. Israel has been conducting failed, indecisive military campaigns against the armies of Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad that have caused the civilian population and the Israeli army losses, as well as emotional and economic damage, exceeding that of any war that regular armies have waged against the country since 1949.

A few of the reasons for this sorry situation were presented in this week’s speech by Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett, in his climb-down from the threat to pull his party out of the coalition if he wasn’t named defense minister. He remarked on the confusion and lack of determination and lack of fighting spirit that are clearly apparent at the moment. Benjamin Netanyahu, along with the Israeli army brass, haven’t managed to explain how, after a dozen years of fighting the State of Hamas, it has had the power to decide when to start hostilities against the population of the south, what the dimensions of the fighting will be, when it will take place and what price Israel will pay to end it.

Another of Bennett’s comments is also worth noting. The Israeli security ship of state is not sailing in the right direction and needs to change course. Netanyahu – rather than the yes-men defense ministers who have consented to the indecisive policies that he has led, is at the helm of this failed security ship. If we don’t want the terrorist states to continue posing a challenge as they please deep inside Israel, the security ship needs to make a U-turn. And Netanyahu, who is now also defense minister, and is a prisoner to his psychological inhibitions and complexes, is not the person to carry it out. It is now necessary for another ship captain to take charge on the bridge.

This needs to be someone of standing and values, one who has the benefit of the appropriate political backing and who will not allow Netanyahu to continue to pursue his containment policy even after he is no longer also serving as defense minister.

Bennett is seeking that position. He is promising that he would succeed where his predecessors have failed (or tripped themselves up). Maybe so. His main task, if he gets the job, is to change the mindset – a mindset of confusion characterized so well by the frank and defensive, pessimistic comments of Brig. Gen. Toledano – before students, of all audiences.

If there are signs that we have freed ourselves from these self-imposed fetters of confusion, it will be clear to Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah and Hamas’ Yahya Sinwar that challenging Israel again will end in their demise personally and for the state-like entities they have established. Those 70 more years of hostilities will be wondrously shortened. And most importantly: There will be no need to prove it with an all-out war.