Shall the Sword Devour Israelis Forever? It Depends

As long as Israel remains reluctant to defeat the enemy, the sword will continue to devour and burn

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A Haifa building damaged in a rocket attack during the Second Lebanon War in 2006.
A Haifa building damaged in a rocket attack during the Second Lebanon War in 2006.Credit: Nir Kafri

The security cabinet is debating how to deal with missile production factories that Iran is setting up in Lebanon. In an attempt to calm the public, the chief of staff said: “There’s no need to be alarmed.”

Reminder: After the Second Lebanon War, when Hezbollah replenished its arsenal with improved missiles, the IDF, which had refrained from foiling this rearmament, used the same words, “There is no need to be alarmed.”

Currently, even without the new factories, Hezbollah has some 150,000 missiles and rockets, about 10 percent of which are described as “strategic.” The IDF may be prepared, the chief of staff said, “with a wide range of tools it’s best not to talk about,” but it’s clear to him, too, that if the enemy strikes first, hundreds of missiles will slip through those “tools.” And one may assume this wide range of tools won’t completely stop the continued missile launches. Because even when Israel absorbs the first blow, its responses are limited and don’t aim for victory. All the wars since the Yom Kippur War attest to that.

As far as we know, the cabinet made no decision about a preventive strike, and probably won’t make one either. Hezbollah – more accurately, Iran – will determine when “out of the north the evil shall break forth upon all the inhabitants of the land.”

Hezbollah’s factories, positions and launching pads are located in schools, hospitals, apartment buildings and mosques. Israel will find it difficult to carry out a preemptive aerial strike – or even a strike in response – on military targets in the heart of a civilian population. Despite past traumas, thus enabling the fatal missile strikes on Israel’s air force, Israel’s current leaders would rather absorb the first strike, as their predecessors did in the War of Attrition and the Yom Kippur War. Israel restrained itself when the Egyptians advanced innovative anti-aircraft missiles to the canal after the 1970 cease-fire agreement, thus enabling the fatal strikes on the Air Force in the Yom Kippur War. Even when this war was on our doorstep, not only didn’t the government approve a preemptive strike lest it be accused of aggression, it also prevented the mobilization of reserve forces.

This must be said: It’s easier for the Israeli leadership to take internal criticism for the loss of people at the hands of the enemy’s first strike than external (and internal) criticism for landing a preemptive strike on the enemy.

In the Second Lebanon War most of the strategic missiles may have been destroyed, but the “regular” missiles also sowed death, destruction, fear and chaos among the population, which panicked and fled en masse from the north. One can imagine what will happen when missiles in much bigger numbers, whose range covers the entire state, are launched in the third campaign.

Military academies and research institutes amuse themselves with the term “asymmetric warfare.” Look how strong Israel is in military power, economy and science. No enemy can beat us, not even a group of states.

As far as states are concerned, this is apparently a valid thesis. But against terror organizations, the asymmetry is reversed. The weak become the strong, especially due to the limitations Israel imposes on itself, even at the risk of a harsh blow to its population, economy and infrastructures.

Many Israelis ask in despair, “Shall the sword devour forever?” It depends. As long as the enemy isn’t defeated, the sword will continue to devour and burn. Also, those who ask this question, who usually also lay the blame on their own state, are encouraging the enemy not to lay down its sword. They carry quite a bit of responsibility for this “forever.” That is the brutal truth.