What Is Israel Doing to Stop the Next War?

When Israelis stand atop smoldering ruins in Tel Aviv or Be'er Sheva, everyone will be able to say ‘we told you so’ - but only a few think this could have been prevented.

Elia Leibowitz
Elia Leibowitz
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Rockets are fired from the Gaza Strip toward the Israeli city of Be'er Sheva, August 23, 2014.
Rockets are fired from the Gaza Strip toward the Israeli city of Be'er Sheva, August 23, 2014.Credit: Ilan Assayag
Elia Leibowitz
Elia Leibowitz

It’s said that making predictions is difficult, especially about the future. The implied assumption is that it’s much easier to “predict” past events. But sometimes the opposite is true. For example, it’s easy to predict that Israel, which is currently celebrating 67 years since its founding, will find itself in the near future embroiled in a bloody war of ruin and devastation.

The intolerable ease of making this prediction is borne out by the fact that it is foretold by all the factions in this country. It is shared by the prime minister and his ministers, even though they rarely talk about it, by senior defense establishment figures, including top military brass, by political right wingers and by violent right wingers in this country, as well as by most centrists and leftists. In fact, there is not a peep from anyone doubting the inevitable unfolding of this prediction.

This prediction will come to pass. If Israel survives, the same scenario will repeat itself time and again, as long as Jewish settlement on the other side of the Green Line (1967 boundaries), symbolized by the city of Ariel, is not dismantled and its residents return to live to the west of this line. The prophecy of war will be fulfilled even if, due to some pathological twist in regional or global politics, some paper emerges stating that Israel has become a binational state or a state of all its citizens, as this creature is termed by some.

Thus, the future is easy to predict. Not so the past. When Israelis stand atop smoldering ruins in Tel Aviv or Be’er Sheva, everyone will be able to say “we told you so.” Nevertheless, there will still be arguments over whether the war broke out despite the actions or inactions of Israel’s government, or because of them. There will be those who say, probably the same people saying this now, that Israel’s governments, especially the last one, made every conceivable effort to prevent the war, including bestowing widespread building permits in Judea and Samaria. A small minority, which is currently miniscule, will lay the bulk of the blame at the government’s feet, since it had the power, authority and capability of preventing it yet chose not to.

In the postwar world there will be no signpost to help decide this hypothetical argument. After the battles subside, the hindsighted “prediction,” in other words the description of the past, will be hard if not impossible. We, our children and our grandchildren will never be able to know what brought the war upon us. Even a historian at the end of the 21st century will be unable to decide if most Israelis were right, the ones who believed that war was inevitable and who elected the next government, whatever form it takes, or whether the negligible minority, utterly powerless in Israel’s current, 20th Knesset, was correct in believing that perhaps there is a way of avoiding the oncoming war.

Konrad Adenauer, Germany’s first post-World War II chancellor, said, “History is a sum of all the things that could have been prevented.” Reality is mute in its essence, giving no clues, certainly not clear ones, which may help us decide if Adenauer was right. This decision rests with each individual. In Israel at 67, this question has some direct and immediate significance that affects the personal fates of its 8 million citizens and of millions of others. Every Israeli has to decide for himself or herself, using reason and understanding of human nature, if indeed the next war is preventable, or whether it will enter the history books in accordance with Adenauer’s maxim.

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